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Report: Nearly $5 trillion and counting spent on Iraq and Afghanistan wars

U.S. troops from Company B, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry, are silhouetted against the sun during the push north to Baghdad in March, 2003.

JOSEPH GIORDONO/STARS AND STRIPES FILE PHOTO

By ALEX HORTON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 12, 2016

SAN ANTONIO -- The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have cost U.S. taxpayers nearly $5 trillion and counting, according to an independent analysis conducted by a political science professor at Brown University.

The calculations by Dr. Neta Crawford extend beyond the typical accounting of overseas contingency operations for the Defense and State Departments, which amounts to $1.7 trillion through 2016, according to her report issued late last week.

Crawford also tabulated base and future budgets for the Defense Department, along with war-related Department of Homeland Security and Department of Veterans Affairs spending, which ballooned as the wars escalated and troops rotated home with injuries.

The estimate includes budget requests in 2017 for operations in Afghanistan, where President Barack Obama has slowed troop reduction this year, and in Syria and Iraq, where airstrikes pound Islamic State group positions ahead of operations in Mosul and elsewhere to retake territory from the terror organization.

The Pentagon requested $66 billion for operations in those three countries next year, according to the report.

A strict count of dollars spent on ongoing conflicts “understate the wider budgetary impact of the wars and their long-term implications for U.S. federal and state government spending,” Crawford wrote.

For instance, Crawford cites a $1 trillion price tag for VA costs through 2053 as the agency continues to add younger veterans seeking care despite a dip in overall veteran population.

VA “had not anticipated the number nor the complexity of the new veterans’ medical needs,” the report stated, alluding to combinations of traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder and complex blast injuries such as amputations, which were less survivable in earlier conflicts and require expensive lifetime care.

“The expenditures noted on government ledgers are necessary to apprehend, even as they are so large as to be almost incomprehensible,” she wrote.

Crawford notes the long tail of conflict escapes quantification.

“[O]f course, a full accounting of any war’s burdens cannot be placed in columns on a ledger,” Crawford wrote, including the mental toll on troops and a seemingly endless legacy of buried bombs and mines looming under the feet of civilians long after the conflicts end.

Crawford also notes a looming cost for the wars: interest on borrowed funds, which will reach $7.9 trillion by 2053 “unless the U.S. changes the way it pays for the wars,” she wrote.

Taxpayer dollars spent on the wars will likely extend further than Crawford’s end date of 2053.

Irene Triplett, an 86-year-old daughter of a Civil War veteran, still collects her father’s pension of $73.13 a month, according to VA spokesman Randy Noller. That war ended in 1865.

If the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which began in 2001 and 2003 respectively, were to end today, a similar benefit could be paid out to a survivor of those conflicts—in the year 2167.

Horton.Alex@stripes.com
Twitter: @AlexHortonTX
 

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