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article imageNew study puts cost of Afghan and Iraq wars at $4 to $6 trillion

By Ken Hanly     Mar 29, 2013 in World
Cambridge - A new study from the Kennedy School, at Harvard University, puts the total costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars at from $4 to $6 trillion with much of that amount yet to be paid.
The US war in Iraq has been over now for some time and combat troops will all be out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014 as that war winds down. However, costs of the wars continue.
The author of the study Linda Blimes, senior lecturer in public policy at Harvard, notes that so far about $2 trillion has been spent on the two wars. However, the costs of continuing care for veterans continues to mount and will be ongoing for years. During the period of the wars Blimes claims that the Veterans' Affairs budget has tripled in size. Blimes remarks:"Assuming this pattern continues, there will be a much smaller amount of an already-shrinking defense budget available for core military functions."
Blimes notes that estimates of war costs continue to escalate together with the costs of continuing care for veterans:"What has happened is the number of injuries and the number of claims and the complexity of claims...in these conflicts has been much higher than in previous wars." After the Vietnam war claims averaged 2.5 to 3 conditions per claim, but at present claims are averaging over 8 conditions per claim.
Nearly 1.6 million troops have been discharged from the wars. Of those, over half have received Veteran's Affairs medical treatment and they will also receive benefits for the rest of their lives. The cost of medical and disability benefits to the vets will eventually cost more than $836 billion. These medical costs peak long after the conflict. Disability payments to World War I veterans peaked in 1969 and to World War II veterans in the late eighties.
Other continuing costs involve interest on debt and replacing worn out equipment.
Blimes notes: "If you look at some of the costs that are baked into the system as a result of the wars—military pay raises, military health benefits, expanding the TRICARE system—it's more expensive to have personnel in the Defense Department," It is hardly surprising that the Obama administration is adopting a policy that looks to high tech weapons such as drones and select special forces as a means of projecting US power rather than massive numbers of boots on the ground. Some on Capitol Hill may see the sequestration cuts as a way of reducing the number of armed forces personnel or their benefits.
Estimation of the present costs of the war vary. The Harvard study places present expenditures at about $2 trillion. The Congressional Budget Office claimed that as of last October only $1.4 trillion had been appropriated though some areas are not included. The Costs of War project at Brown University estimates the total cost of the two wars at about $4 trillion.
In the past, projections have been far too low. A study in 2003 notes:"[Congressional Budget Office] estimates a price tag of $14 billion for the war itself and $8 billion to $10 billion a month, for an unspecified period, after hostilities cease." The Bush administration put the cost of the war at $50 to $60 billion including reconstruction and clean up. In 2013 the Cost of War project at Brown estimate expenses at $1.7 trillion almost 30 times the pre-war estimate. However, this figure does not include all the future costs of veteran benefits as does the Blimes' study from Harvard. The Veterans' care expenditures associated with Iraq, about $45 billion, are almost as much as the Bush administration's estimates for the total costs of the war.
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