When congressional cost-cutters meet later this year to decide on trimming the federal budget, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq could represent juicy targets. But how much do the wars actually cost the U.S. taxpayer? Nobody really knows.
Yes, Congress has allotted $1.3 trillion for war spending through fiscal year 2011 just to the Defense Department. There are long Pentagon spreadsheets that outline how much of that was spent on personnel, transportation, fuel and other costs. In a recent speech, President Barack Obama assigned the wars a $1 trillion price tag.
But all those numbers are incomplete. Besides what Congress appropriated, the Pentagon spent an additional unknown amount from its $5.2 trillion base budget over that same period. According to a recent Brown University study, the wars and their ripple effects have cost the United States $3.7 trillion, or more than $12,000 per American.
Lawmakers remain sharply divided over the wisdom of slashing the military budget, even with the United States winding down two long conflicts, but there's also a more fundamental problem: It's almost impossible to pin down just what the U.S. military spends on war.
To be sure, the costs are staggering.
According to Defense Department figures, by the end of April the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — including everything from personnel and equipment to training Iraqi and Afghan security forces and deploying intelligence-gathering drones — had cost an average of $9.7 billion a month, with roughly two-thirds going to Afghanistan. That total is roughly the entire annual budget for the Environmental Protection Agency.