The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will together be the most expensive conflicts in U.S. history, with total costs between $4 to $6 trillion, according to a new study from Harvard University.
“One of the most significant challenges to future U.S. national security policy will not originate from any external threat,” states the report, written by Harvard public policy professor Linda J. Bilmes. “Rather it is simply coping with the legacy of the conflicts we have already fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
The total estimate includes not just the direct costs of combat and replacing equipment that was lost, damaged or destroyed, but also the money that will be needed to fund health care and benefits for the wars’ veterans — in many cases for most of the rest of the century — as those injured or disabled as 19- and 20-year-olds grow older.
“Historically, the bill for these costs has come due many decades later,” the report says, noting that the costs of veterans’ disability payments tend to peak decades after the wars they fought in have ended.
“Payments to Vietnam and first Gulf War veterans are still climbing,” the report notes.
Miss Bilmes‘ estimate also includes the costs of repaying the debt incurred by the decision to finance the wars through foreign borrowing.