Costs of War Project

The Costs of War Project is a nonpartisan research project based at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University that seeks to document the direct and indirect human and financial costs of U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and related counterterrorism efforts. The project is the most extensive and comprehensive public accounting of the cost of post-September 11th U.S. military operations compiled to date.

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  • Summary of findings - Some of the Costs of War Project’s main findings include:
  • At least 801,000 people have died due to direct war violence, including armed forces on all sides of the conflicts, contractors, civilians, journalists, and humanitarian workers.
  • Many times more have died indirectly in these wars, due to ripple effects like malnutrition, damaged infrastructure, and environmental degradation.
  • Over 387,000 civilians have been killed in direct violence by all parties to these conflicts.
  • Over 7,050 U.S. soldiers have died in the wars.
  • We do not know the full extent of how many US service members returning from these wars became injured or ill while deployed.
  • Many deaths and injuries among US contractors have not been reported as required by law, but it is likely that approximately 8,000 have been killed.
  • 38 million people have been displaced by the post-9/11 wars in Afghanstan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and the Philippines.
  • The US government is conducting counterterror activities in 85 countries, vastly expanding this war across the globe.
  • The post-9/11 wars have contributed significantly to climate change. The Defense Department is one of the world’s top greenhouse gas emitters.
  • The wars have been accompanied by erosions in civil liberties and human rights at home and abroad.
  • The human and economic costs of these wars will continue for decades with some costs, such as the financial costs of US veterans’ care, not peaking until mid-century.
  • Most US government funding of reconstruction efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan has gone towards arming security forces in both countries.
  • Much of the money allocated to humanitarian relief and rebuilding civil society has been lost to fraud, waste, and abuse.
  • The cost of the post-9/11 wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, and elsewhere totals about $8 trillion. This does not include future interest costs on borrowing for the wars.

Quotes aboutEdit

(most recent first)

  • In 2010, I was one of about two-dozen people—including social scientists, an Iraqi medical doctor, a journalist, and two human-rights lawyers—who started the Costs of War Project at Brown University's Watson Institute for International Studies. We were nearly a decade into the U.S.-led wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan, initiated in response to the September 11, 2001 attacks by President George W. Bush and being carried on at the time by President Barack Obama. Anthropologist Catherine Lutz, political scientist Neta Crawford, and I were then concerned that Americans weren't paying enough attention to what those wars were costing in lives and dollars... the Pentagon frequently failed to keep track of the money it spent, while its officials often entered made-up numbers in logs supposedly tracking supplies (like weaponry) to... influence future congressional funding. As we were soon to discover, the Department of Defense routinely failed even to keep track of whom it owed money to, no less how much... What's more, congressional funding for additional expenses unrelated to overseas wars, while stuffed into the Pentagon base budget, was regularly justified by this thing called “terrorism" that was everywhere (and nowhere) at once. Those terror wars of ours increased that base budget by at least $884 billion from 2001 to 2022.
  • Some 10 years after the Costs of War Project's initial launch, the project, now led by Stephanie Savell, Catherine Lutz, and Neta Crawford, is 50-people strong and has tracked so many things, including the more than 929,000 people killed in those wars of ours, almost half of them civilians, and the $8 trillion spent on them. That figure, however, doesn't even include future interest payments on war borrowing, which we have estimated may total $6.5 trillion by the 2050s... Every American should check out the Costs of War Project website to see how much money we're still spending on military operations and decide for themselves whether it might not be better spent domestically.
  • Large government bureaucracies are often slow to adapt to changing realities, such as the catastrophic threats we face in a warming world. The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is no exception. New research from Brown University’s Costs of War Project shows that the DHS has been overly focused on foreign and foreign-inspired terrorism, while violent attacks in the US have more often come from domestic sources. A combination of willful ignorance and institutional inertia caused the agency to miss the rise in white supremacy and domestic terrorism that led to the January 6, 2021, insurrection at the US Capitol.
    The new data from Dr Erik Dahl, Associate Professor of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School, show that just one of the 46 failed terror plots in the US from 2018 through 2020 was directed by a foreign organization. In contrast, 29 plots were planned or carried out by domestic groups.
  • The Costs of War project was founded in 2010 by Catherine Lutz, professor of anthropology and international studies, and Neta Crawford ’85, professor and chair of political science at Boston University. The project aims to be a useful addition to the “United States’ and the world’s understanding of war,” Crawford told The Herald. “It was 10 years into the post-9/11 wars and there really wasn’t a discussion in the public (asking) … ‘what are we doing still at war?’” and probing deeper into the costs of these wars, said Stephanie Savell PhD ’17, a co-director of the project who joined in 2017.
  • The Costs of War project has assessed that the post-9/11 wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria and elsewhere have cost $8 trillion so far, which includes $2.2 trillion in funds for medical care and disability payments for veterans that have not yet been paid out, Savell said. The project calculates the human death toll to be “up to 929,000 people killed directly through the weapons of war,” she added. This number does not include those killed indirectly, such as through environmental contamination, displacement and destruction of infrastructure, she said.

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