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225,000 Dead and $4 Trillion Spent on Iraq and Afghanistan -- That's Now the Conservative Estimate

Just how much have America's wars in Afghanistan and Iraq cost since 2001? The truth is that we don't yet know -- but the estimates keep spiraling.

Just how much have America's wars in Afghanistan and Iraq cost since 2001?

The truth is that we don't yet know. This is due to the sloppiness, both intentional and unintentional, of bookkeeping on the part of the Pentagon and other United States governmental agencies, and troops are still there and may remain in reduced numbers for years to come. The nature of multi-year appropriations also make a definite accounting impossible at this point.

But one thing is sure. It is going to be more, a lot more than anyone originally thought. Thus, those cost estimates of a decade ago look like the projections of Candide-like cost counters, seeing the best of all possible worlds

To cite just one example, back in December 2002 William Nordhaus, an economics professor at Yale University wrote an article that was a shortened version of a longer study, "The Economic Consequences of the War with Iraq". In this article Nordhaus, at the time considered a pessimist for his projections, detailed many of the costs not being factored into the estimates being produced by the George W Bush administration.

Back then, according to Nordhaus "it is difficult to see how a successful occupation of Iraq could be less than five years and it might easily extend for two decades". Thus, a minimum cost could range from $75 to $500 billion. When one factored in the costs for reconstruction and nation-building the total could range from a minimum of $25 billion to as much as $100 billion.

You can be sure there any number of budget analysts looking back at that estimate as the idealism of an age of innocence, reflecting an optimism that was not supported by subsequent reality.

To grasp the bill US taxpayers will eventually have to pay try multiplying Nordhaus' 2002 estimate 30 to 40 times. That is the preliminary bottom line in a study [1] released June 29 by the Watson Institute of Brown University, a new multi-author study of the costs of the post-September 11, 2001 wars.

Just to date the study has found that appropriations have been between $2.3 and 2.7 trillion; with an additional $884 to $1,334 billion already incurred for future costs for veterans and their families. This makes a total, incurred thus far, of from $3.2 Trillion to $4.0 trillion in inflation-controlled 2011 (constant) dollars through FY 2011. [2] The final bill, going out to 2020 will run at least $3.7 trillion and could reach as high as $4.4 trillion.

It bears noting that these are budget costs to the federal government, not the broader economic costs to the economy or even other costs to state and local governments.

All wars costs generally look at only easily quantifiable costs; usually in terms of the people and equipment of the military forces fighting them.

The Brown study is unusual in that also addresses those broader costs, such as the human costs in terms of civilian dead, the wounded, refugees, and more. It found that at least 137,000 civilians have died and more will die in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan as a result of the fighting at the hands of all parties to the conflict.

Putting together the conservative numbers of war dead, in uniform and out, brings the total to 225,000. But those numbers only consider direct deaths - people killed by bombs or bullets. They exclude indirect deaths, such as those who die due to shattered health care systems.

And millions of people have been displaced indefinitely and are living in grossly inadequate conditions. The current number of war refugees and displaced persons totals 7.8 million.

There were other costs that the study did not include. Among them were:

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