The Ongoing Cost of War

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The early months of the Obama Administration are likely to be dominated by debates over massive amounts of new domestic spending. But we also will be continuing to pay another big bill. Mark Thompson has an illuminating look at the more than $1 trillion we will soon have spent fighting the wars that have started since 9/11.:

Even after adjusting for inflation, that’s four times more than America spent fighting World War I, and more than 10 times the cost of 1991’s Persian Gulf War (90 percent of which was paid for by U.S. allies). The war on terror looks set to surpass the cost the Korean and Vietnam wars combined, to be topped only by World War II’s price tag of $3.5 trillion.

The cost of sending a single soldier to fight for a year in Afghanistanor Iraq is about $775,000 — three times more than in other recent wars, says a new report from the private but authoritative Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. A large chunk of the increase is a result of the Administration cramming new military hardware into the emergency budget bills it has been using to pay for the wars.

Of course, as Mark notes, the real cost to this country of these wars is the nearly 5,000 troops who have lost their lives, and the many more who have been wounded. In that sense, that trillion dollars is merely a down payment:

The trillion-dollare figure does not, for example, include long-term health care for veterans, thousands of whom have suffered crippling wounds, or the interest payments on the money borrowed by the Federal government to fund the war.

UPDATE: Commenter 53_3 asks:

I wonder if you know what is being spent on the “contractors”?

After all, they get paid far more then the average soldier, there are more of them in Iraq than there are soldiers, and there is no oversight whatsoever that I have ever heard of regarding the money that they get.

And, I might point out, the CEO of Blackwater has been on the list of richest men in the world for a while.

I emailed our Pulitzer Prize-winning Pentagon correspondent Mark Thompson, and here’s what he has to say:

I asked Steve Kosiak, the fellow who did the study for CSBA, if the tripling of spending on a per-soldier basis was, in fact, due to the high reliance of the US military these days to hire contractors to do what had, in the past, been done by other soldiers. He said, no, that the big hike in per-soldier spending is due to weapons and other stuff — not necessarily linked to the war — being crammed into these supplemental appropriations. I’ve noted in my travels to Iraq that the troops do indeed eat well, and we certainly don’t begrudge them that. And while some, like Blackwater guards, make good money –$100,000 or more a year — most contractors employed by the US military in both Iraq and Afghanistan tend to be folks from India, Pakistan and the Philippines, who are cooking and ladling the food, doing the laundry etc. The CBO estimated last summer that these contractors cost US taxpayers about $100 billion, or roughly 20 percent of the war’s to-date cost.

UPDATE2: The contractor report.