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The Unanticipated Costs of the Wars In Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya
Raymond Richman, 6/22/2011

Under Pres. Obama’s leadership, the US, France, and the U.K., went to war with Libya under the pretext that  Libya’s ruler Col. Gadhafi was “killing civilians” in Libya. Shortly afterward, the three nations managed to get NATO to sign on. What Gadhafi appeared to be doing was putting down a rebellion successfully. In the New York Times, June 10, 2011, it was reported that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates sharply criticized NATO nations for what he said were shortages of military spending and political will.

Even with the United States leading from behind and playing an alleged currently secondary role, by mid-May its operations in Libya had already cost $664 million according to press reports citing Pentagon sources. On the same day, it was reported in USA Today that Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton stated at a meeting in Abu Dhabi of top officials from the more than 30-member Contact Group on Libya, that “We are working with our international partners through the U.N. to plan for the inevitable: a post-Gadhafi Libya.” Guess who will pay at least 75 percent of the costs of repairing the hundreds of millions of dollars of  war damaged infrastructure and buildings in Libya and who will finance the new government, its police, and armed forcers through the five years that it will take to establish a functioning government. A reason estimate of the costs that will be borne by the U.S. is a trillion dollars, based on the costs of the war and rebuilding of Iraq and Afghanistan.

What is surprising is that the administration was already under pressure to balance the federal budget and Libya posed no threat to the U.S. To the contrary, Libya renounced its ambitions to build nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction. It was an operation that the Secretary of Defense opposed. It was a State Department initiative. Given the fact that the administration pretended to want to reduce the federal budget deficit, the President’s decision to embrace another costly war is inexplicable.    

As the following table shows, the US spent $802 billion on the Iraq war from 2003 to 2011, most of it after the new Iraqi government took power on July 1, 2004. Nobel prize-winner in economics, Princeton professor Joseph Stiglitz and Prof. Linda Bilmes of the Kennedy School of Government, in their book The Three Billion Dollar War, calculate the cost of the Iraq war at three trillion dollars to the US. Before we exit Afghanistan, we can expect the expenditure to amount to somewhat close to two billion dollars.   

In Afghanistan, the war cost less than $100 million officially until the US government in its wisdom decided that Afghan be built in its image and banned the production of poppies, Afghanistan’s  leading agricultural crop, in 2007. It was the Taliban’s ban on the growing of poppies in 2001 that caused the U.S. Army to be welcomed as liberators. The when we banned the growing of poppies and the Taliban reversed its position and promised to encourage the growing of poppies, they became the liberators and we became the foreign invaders and oppressors. The drug traffickers financed the Taliban and Afgfhan War II began, a war that, as we stated on this site a few weeks ago, we cannot win .  

According to the Center for Defense Information, the estimated cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will reach $1.29 trillion by the end of fiscal year 2011.


In billions of budgeted dollars


2001+ 2002



































Enhanced security












Unable to allocate

















1. Includes $5.5 billion of $7.1 billion appropriated in DOD's FY2003 Appropriations Act (P.L. 107-48) for the global war on terror that CRS cannot allocate and DOD cannot track
2. Of the $25 billion provided in Title IX of the FY2005 DOD appropriation bill, CRS includes $2 billion in FY2004 when it was obligated and the remaining $23 billion in FY2005. Because Congress made the funds available in FY2004, CBO and OMB score all $25 billion in FY2004.
3. Includes funds in the FY2007 Supplemental (H.R. 2206/P.L. 110-28), Title IX, P.L. 109-289, FY2007 DOD Appropriations Act (H.R. 5631) designated for war and funds for other agencies in H.J. Res 20, P.L. 110-50, the year-long Continuing Resolution. VA Medical estimates reflect VA FY2008 budget materials and CRS estimates. Amounts for foreign and diplomatic operations reflects State Department figures.
Source: "The Cost of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Other Global War on Terror Operations Since 9/11," Amy Belasco, Congressional Research Service Report for Congress, RL33110, p. CRS�9).

But these are minimum figures. As Prof. Siglitz and Prof. Bilmes point out, the cost of the war and nation-building for the Iraq war along is $3 billion.  

Add an estimated $1.5 billion for Afghanistan and $1 billion for the Libyan misadventure and the cost of these adventures comes to $5 trillion. What is worse is that the outcome of these wars is uncertain. Were we to leave Iraq, Afghanistan, or Libya without leaving forces behind, what will be have accomplished? In each case, it is likely that a future government will be anti-U.S.

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Comment by Susan, 6/23/2011:

It appears to not faze our elected officials when they are using the American peoples hard earned tax dollars. I say we vote for a reduction in salaries across the board for all of our elected officials. Let them live on the median income of the American people and then maybe they will think twice before they have their hand on our bank accounts. It is almost as if Washington has the keys to the bank and they can spend as much as they want of the American peoples tax money. The only power we have is in voting out all incumbents that do not want to represent the American people in a fiscally conservative constitutional based way.

Comment by Ruth Anne Hicks, 3/31/2013:

Please give the amount spent on Iraq & Afganistan wars during Obama's term: 2009 thru 2012.

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