The Cost of American Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan

Civilian 1.3 million civilian deaths in Iraq and AfghanistanCasualties

Most people would consider the deaths of 1.3 million civilians a holocaust. We in the USA hardly hear of the toll our two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have taken on civilians there. But according to a long and detailed study by the Physicians for Social Action,[1] this is the number of civilians killed there and in Pakistan by those wars. And this does not count people injured.

It is little wonder that Muslim countries look with disfavor on US military intervention in their territory—and in fact, do not like the USA at all.

55 civilian deaths from terrorism in USA since 9/11

In contrast, the 9/11 attack on the US in 9/11 killed approximately 3,000 civilians and wounded another 6,000. Between then and
the end of 2015 there have been exactly 55 American civilians killed through Islamic terrorist acts. To put this in perspective, it is estimated that this is about the same number of people who have been killed by having a piece of furniture fall on them.

Military Casualties

From a military standpoint, our retaliation against Al Qaeda cost vastly more American lives than Al Qaeda destroyed.

American military casualties

9/11 Iraq Afghanistan Iraq + Afghanistan
Americans Killed 3000 4491 2326 6817
Americans Injured 6000 32000 17674 49,674

Financial Costs

The financial costs are equally appalling.  Costs to USA:

USA financial costs of wars

9/11 Iraq and Afghanistan
Direct costs $55 billion $1.6 trillion
Indirect costs $123 billion $4-6 trillion

Furthermore, these costs have not yet been paid for. It will be our children who pick up the tab.

Terrorist objOsama Bin Ladenectives have never been a secret. Osama Bin Laden said openly in October, 2004:

“We are continuing this policy in bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy… All that we have to do is to send two mujahedeen to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written al Qaeda, in order to make generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic and political losses without their achieving anything of note other than some benefits for their private corporations… So the war went ahead, the death toll rose, the American economy bled, and Bush became embroiled in the swamps of Iraq that threaten his future.”[2]

What Have We Gained?

What have we gained for this huge price? In Iraq these wars created ISIS. We got rid of a brutal dictator, but one who was not a direct threat. In his place, our misguided fixation on democracy, which ignored the power dynamics in Iraq, put the majority Shiites into power who used it to slaughter thousands of Sunnis. This has polarized the nation even further and allowed ISIS to emerge.

In Afghanistan the Taliban remain a force. But we weakened it enough so that ISIS is now moving in, seeking to establish dominance there—as it does wherever it sees weakened states.

So does this war policy make sense—or was Osama Bin Laden right? Is this a misguided refusal to accept the realities of the world and the limitations of our own power? I am not advocating a capitulation. There is a way out of this quagmire. Limited military action can help. But it cannot be the whole solution. There are other things we can and must do. The first step is to understand something about Islamic civilization and what it is going through now. We will never deal with the threats of its extremists if we don’t understand them. That will be the subject of subsequent papers.

[1] “Body Count: Casualty Figures after 10 Years of the ’War on Terror’ Iraq Afghanistan Pakistan.” Dr. Hans C. von Sponeck, editor, Report by Physicians for Social Responsibility, First International Edition, Washington DC, Berlin, Ottawa, March 2015.

[2]  Full transcript of bin Laden’s speech in Aljazeera,, last viewed 2/24/16.

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