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Cost of Iraq, Afghanistan and anti-terrorism operations


The death of Osama bin Laden and the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks have prompted public reflection on the costs, both political and economic, of the wars and counter-terrorism operations that have taken place during this era.

A March 2011 Congressional Research Service report, “The Cost of Iraq, Afghanistan and Other Global War on Terror Operations Since 9/11,” analyzed the financial outlays that have been made for the conflicts during this nearly decade-long period. The report focuses on expenditures related to Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) Afghanistan and other counter terror operations; Operation Noble Eagle (ONE), providing enhanced security at military bases; and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). The report’s total does not include supplementary economic, food and military aid to Pakistan or assistance to several countries in Africa.

The report’s findings include:

  • The price tag through fiscal year 2011 for such purposes as military operations, base security, reconstruction, foreign aid, embassy costs, and veterans’ health care will be $1.283 trillion.
  • Of this total through fiscal year 2011, an estimated 63% will have been spent on Iraq ($806 billion) and 35% on Afghanistan ($444 billion).
  • If the fiscal year budget for 2012 is approved, the total global security and conflict-related costs will be $1.415 trillion. If overall deployed troop levels come down to 45,000 by 2015 and stay there through 2021, the total two-decade cost will be $1.8 trillion.
  • Following the Afghanistan surge announcement in 2009, Defense Department spending on Afghanistan has increased 50%, going from $4.4 billion to $6.7 billion a month. During that time, troop strength has gone from 44,000 to 84,000, and it is expected to be at 102,000 for fiscal year 2011.
  • The total operational cost for Afghanistan from the beginning of the conflict in 2001 through 2006 only slightly exceeds the amount spent in 2010 alone — $93.8 billion. The projected total cost relating to Afghanistan in fiscal year 2011 is expected to be $118.6 billion.

The Congressional report includes a number of recommendations to achieve better transparency for defense spending, noting that “there continue to be unexplained discrepancies in [the Department of Defense]’s war cost reports.”

Tags: war

    Writer: | Last updated: May 3, 2011

    Citation: Belasco, Amy, "The Cost of Iraq, Afghanistan and Other Global War on Terror Operations Since 9/11", Congressional Research Service, March, 2011, PDF.

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    Analysis assignments

    Read the issue-related USA Today article "Elation Over Bin Laden’s Death Gives Way to Reflection."

    1. If you were to rewrite the article based on knowledge of the study, what key changes would you make?

    Read the full Congressional Research Service report "The Cost of Iraq, Afghanistan and Other Global War on Terror Operations Since 9/11."

    1. Summarize the study in fewer than 40 words.
    2. Express the study's key term(s) in language a lay audience can understand.
    3. Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example: Do the results conflict with those of other reliable studies? Are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)

    Newswriting assignments

    1. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study.
    2. Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
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    4. Spend additional time exploring the issue and then write a 1,200-word background article, focusing on major aspects of the issue.