We Will Keep Spending Trillions on the Afghanistan War Long After the Last Soldier Leaves
We may finally be nearing the end of America’s long military misadventure in Afghanistan—but we are a long way from being done paying for it.
The post-9/11 wars begun by President George W. Bush and carried on by three subsequent administrations were largely financed by adding the cost to America’s national debt. That means that the official cost of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq—about $2.26 trillion, though the Pentagon’s accounting is famously fuzzy—doesn’t tell the whole story.
“The costs of these wars continue long after we withdraw, since they are debt-financed and we will be paying interest on that debt for years—even decades—to come,” Heidi Peltier, project director for the Costs of War Project at Boston University, tells Reason.
Peltier’s research shows that the interest costs of the post-9/11 wars in Afghanistan and Iraq had already topped $1 trillion. By the end of the current decade, interest on the war debt will likely exceed the final official tally of the wars’ cost. And the final price tag for those operations could eventually exceed $6 trillion—with American taxpayers still paying the tab when the 50th anniversary of 9/11 arrives.
Of course, the fiscal costs are only part of the whole story. An accurate accounting of the war in Afghanistan must take into account the roughly 2,400 American service members, 3,800 American contractors, 66,000 Afghan security forces, 47,000 Afghan civilians, and others (including journalists and aid workers) who were killed. In all, the Costs of War Project estimates that at least 238,000 people died as a result of the war in Afghanistan.
There will also be ongoing costs to cover the medical treatment for the four million veterans of the two post-9/11 wars, many of whom are injured or disabled. Those obligations will eventually total $2 trillion, according to an estimate from Linda Bilmes, a researcher at Harvard University’s Kennedy School and a longtime critic of the official esti
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