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Afghanistan civilian at a funeral in Kabul

A man grieves during a mass funeral for members of a family was killed in a U.S. drone airstrike, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Aug. 30, 2021. (Photo: Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times)

Estimated Cost of Post-9/11 US Wars Hits $8 Trillion With Nearly a Million People Dead

"What have we truly accomplished in 20 years of post 9/11 wars, and at what price?" asks co-director of the Cost of War Project.

Jon Queally

With the final U.S. soldiers leaving Afghanistan earlier this week after nearly 20 years of occupation and war, a new analysis released Wednesday shows the United States will ultimately spend upwards of $8 trillion and that nearly one million people have lost their lives so far in the so-called "global war on terror" that was launched after the attacks of September 11, 2001.

"What about the people left behind in Afghanistan, in Iraq—after a drone strike in Somalia—what about them? Do they get any care? Do they get any compensation? Absolutely not. So what would be the cost of war if that was actually the priority for the United States?" —Dr. Maha Hilal, Justice for Muslims Collective

According to Brown University's Costs of War Project, which has been releasing reports on the financial and human costs of the post-9/11 wars at regular intervals since 2010, the total cost of the war and military operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan, and elsewhere over the last two decades have directly killed at least 897,000 to 929,000 people—an estimate the researchers say is conservative.

"The deaths we tallied are likely a vast undercount of the true toll these wars have taken on human life," said Dr. Neta C. Crawford, co-director of the Costs of War Project, in a statement. "It's critical we properly account for the vast and varied consequences of the many U.S. wars and counterterror operations since 9/11, as we pause and reflect on all of the lives lost."

The study calculates that of the $8 trillion estimated costs in the wars waged by the U.S. since 9/11:

  • $2.3 trillion is attributed to the Afghanistan/ Pakistan war zone;   
  • $2.1 trillion is attributed to the Iraq/Syria war zone; and   
  • $355 billion was attributed to other battlefields, including Libya, Somalia, and elsewhere

Above those figures, another $1.1 trillion was spent on Homeland Security programs and $2.2 trillion is the estimated obligation for the future care of U.S. veterans who served in the various wars.

Detailing the report for The Intercept, journalist Murtaza Hussain writes:

The staggering economic costs of the war on terror pale in comparison to the direct human impact, measured in people killed, wounded, and driven from their homes. The Costs of War Project's latest estimates hold that 897,000 to 929,000 people have been killed during the wars. Of those killed, 387,000 are categorized as civilians, 207,000 as members of national military and police forces, and a further 301,000 as opposition fighters killed by U.S.-led coalition troops and their allies. The report also found that around 15,000 U.S. military service members and contractors have been killed in the wars, along with a similar number of allied Western troops deployed to the conflicts and several hundred journalists and humanitarian aid workers.

The question of how many people have lost their lives in the post-9/11 conflicts has been the subject of ongoing debate, though the numbers in all cases have been extraordinarily high. Previous Costs of War studies have put death toll figures in the hundreds of thousands, an estimate tallying those directly killed by violence. According to a 2015 estimate from the Nobel Prize-winning Physicians for Social Responsibility, well over million have been killed both indirectly and directly in wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan alone. The difficulty of calculating death tolls is made harder by the U.S. military's own refusal to keep track of the number of people killed in its operations, as well as the remoteness of the regions where many of the conflicts take place.

The researchers behind the project emphasized that while the total number of direct deaths caused by the more recent wars are less than the World Wars and the Vietnam War, the post-9/11 conflicts are different because of the long-term damage they have done to the societies that have suffered under many years of constant bombings, death, and destruction.

“What have we truly accomplished in 20 years of post 9/11 wars, and at what price?” asked Dr. Stephanie Savell, co-director of the project, in a statement. "Twenty years from now, we'll still be reckoning with the high societal costs of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars—long after U.S. forces are gone."

The Costs of War Project's report arrived on the same day as a similar study unveiled by the National Priorities Project which showed that overall spending on increased militarization—both abroad and domestically in the U.S.—has soared since 9/11. In that study, as Common Dreams reports separately Wednesday, overall spending on increased military operations, domestic surveillance, border security is estimated at $21 trillion.

An online event with the report's lead researcher Dr. Neta Crawford and other experts to discuss the findings of the report was held Wednesday morning.

Hosted by The Intercept's Hussain, the panel also featured Dr. Catherine Lutz and Dr. Linda Bilmes of the Costs of War Project, and Dr. Maha Hilal of the Justice for Muslims Collective. In addition, remarks will be made by Senator Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), David Cicilline (D-R.I.), and Ro Khanna (D-Calif.).

Watch the livestream below:

Speaking during the panel discussion, Dr. Hilal said that the money on war spent since 9/11 is, to her, "$8 trillion dedicated to the murder of Muslims, and I see no better way to make this sound any better or different."

"We talk about what will happen to the veterans when they come back," she continued, "obviously that's important to address. But what about the people left behind in Afghanistan, in Iraq—after a drone strike in Somalia—what about them? Do they get any care? Do they get any compensation? Absolutely not. So what would be the cost of war if that was actually the priority for the United States?"

In conclusion to her remarks, Hilal quoted from the 2013 testimony of a 13-year-old boy from Pakistan named Zabir, whose family had been targeted by U.S. drones, when he told Congress: "I no longer love blue skies. In fact, I now prefer gray skies. The drones do not fly when the skies are gray."

"This is the cost of war," said Hilal. "That a young boy, 13 years old, can never look at the sky the same way that people who haven't been bombarded with violence can. And this, to me, is one of the things that has been totally neglected."

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