PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Nearly 20 years after the United States’ invasion of Afghanistan, the cost of its global war on terror stands at $8 trillion and 900,000 deaths, according to a new report from the Costs of War project at Brown University.
The Costs of War project, founded more than a decade ago at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs and co-directed by two Brown scholars, released its influential annual report ahead of the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania, the impetus for an ongoing American effort to root out terrorism in the Middle East and beyond.
“The war has been long and complex and horrific and unsuccessful... and the war continues in over 80 countries,” said Catherine Lutz, co-director of Costs of War and a professor of international and public affairs at Brown, during a virtual event hosted by the Watson Institute on Wednesday, Sept. 1. “The Pentagon and the U.S. military have now absorbed the great majority of the federal discretionary budget, and most people don’t know that. Our task, now and in future years, is to educate the public on the ways in which we fund those wars and the scale of that funding.”
The research team’s $8 trillion estimate accounts for all direct costs of the country’s post-9/11 wars, including Department of Defense Overseas Contingency Operations funding; State Department war expenditures and counterterror war-related costs, including war-related increases to the Pentagon’s base budget; care for veterans to date and in the future; Department of Homeland Security spending; and interest payments on borrowing for these wars. The total includes funds that the Biden administration requested in May 2021.
The death toll, standing at an estimated 897,000 to 929,000, includes U.S. military members, allied fighters, opposition fighters, civilians, journalists and humanitarian aid workers who were killed as a direct result of war, whether by bombs, bullets or fire. It does not, the researchers noted, include the many indirect deaths the war on terror has caused by way of disease, displacement and loss of access to food or clean drinking water.
“The deaths we tallied are likely a vast undercount of the true toll these wars have taken on human life,” said Neta Crawford, a co-founder of the project and a professor of political science at Boston University. “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.”