Explore Harvard's Nieman network Nieman Fellowships Nieman Lab Nieman Reports Nieman Storyboard

War cost reports said to be incomplete, understated

COMMENTARY | April 30, 2006

The Congressional Research Service says the total cost for Iraq and Afghanistan will soon be $439 billion; $7 billion that the Pentagon ‘couldn’t track’ is now up to $11 billion.

By Winslow Wheeler
Director, Straus Military Reform Project
of the
Center for Defense Information

This report first appeared on the Web site of the Center for Defense Information.

The Congressional Research Service has just released a new report on the past and possible future costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Pending Congressional action on the new emergency supplemental, which should complete fiscal year 2006 expenses, the costs will be up to $439 billion by the end of this year. But that's just the tip of the iceberg.


If Congress approves the $71 billion emergency supplemental to pay for the ongoing cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the new total for the war expenses will be $439 billion, according to the CRS report, released on April 24. For the war in Iraq, $320 billion will have been spent; $89 billion for Afghanistan, and $26 billion will have gone toward enhanced security, including combat air patrols, in and over the United States.

The Department of Defense (DOD) estimates its "burn rate" of monthly expenses at $6.4 billion in Iraq and $1.3 billion in Afghanistan. CRS points out that DOD did not include the cost of replacing worn out equipment and upgrades to facilities in theater. Adding those and a few other costs calculates to a monthly "burn rate" of $8.1 billion in Iraq; $1.6 billion in Afghanistan, and a total burn rate of $9.9 billion per month.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has made projections for possible future costs. That agency projects total additional costs of $371 billion for the years 2007 to 2016, making a grand total of $811 billion. (This CBO estimate assumes an almost immediate downturn in annual war costs; however, it is questionable whether we have crossed that peak.)

DOD's accounting methods continue to be problematic. The $7.1 billion that CRS reported earlier it could "not track" continues to go untracked. It appears that CRS found another $4 billion that it could "not track" (see page 8). Furthermore, DOD's reports on war costs are incomplete and "understate expenses by over $20 billion because DOD's financial system for tracking war costs has excluded certain types of expenses" (see page 32).

DOD also refuses to provide any comprehensive estimate for the costs to replace and repair all worn out equipment. There has been discussion of an "in-house" Army estimate of its "reset" costs at $36 billion; the Marine Corps has estimated $11.7 billion for themselves. However, these estimates do not appear to be comprehensive (see pages 18-19).

Public estimates of the number of troops deployed for Iraq do not always include those performing support in Kuwait and elsewhere in the region. CRS estimates total troop deployments for Operation Iraqi Freedom in September 2005 to be 260,000 (see pages 28-29).

Average per troop costs for Iraq are between $355,000 and $360,000 per individual, per year; this dollar amount has been increasing since 2003 (see page 30).

Can you put a price on success?
Posted by Bryan Tate -
06/12/2006, 10:40 PM

I believe Shane summed it up nicely; offering some badly needed historical perspective to this discussion.

Any way, China and Japan are paying for most of this war/peace by buying our debt.
(3-4% of GDP-Scary?)

If 20 years from now, everything works out well in Iraq, then the financial and human costs would be worth it. If, on the other hand, Iraq turns in to Lebannon, then it was all a total waste of money, and lives.

Too early to determine which course it turns out to be, but how we allocate money is the least of our problems.

The NiemanWatchdog.org website is no longer being updated. Watchdog stories have a new home in Nieman Reports.