How Many Billions Will Bombing ISIS Cost? What About Other Radicals?


While the Obama administration splits hairs over whether literally having armed American soldiers on Iraqi soil counts as "troops on the ground" (hint: It does) and quibbles about whether it's a good idea to arm so-called moderate rebels in Syria to fight ISIS (hint: The CIA says it's not), the U.S.'s primary strategy in Iraq War III has been airstrikes. How many billions of dollars is this going to cost America, though?

It's an important question posed by Foreign Affairs, which calculates that "current estimates put the yearly price tag for ISIS bombings at anywhere between $2.7 billion, if the current pace continues unchanged, and $10 billion, if the United States escalates the air campaign and expands it into Syria." Obama has suggested that fighting the Islamic state will take three years. The U.S. began conducting air surveillance over Syria last month, but so far has not dropped bombs.

Foreign Affairs contrasts this war with the March-October 2011 bombing campaign in Libya, which "was shared among several allies," and cost about $1.1 billion. The global price tag of bombing the Islamic State will rise since France just initiated its own campaign today.

Foreign Affairs

The journal has put together some impressive data on this war alongside comparisons to the U.S.'s other air campaigns in countries like Yemen and Somalia, and notes that "in the sheer number of strikes, the intensity of the U.S. effort against ISIS has already exceeded both of these much longer campaigns." The U.S. has already conducted 174 strikes in about a month's time (two since this Wednesday), compared to 350 in Pakistan, which we've been bombing since 2008. 

Also notable is that in past campaigns, "airstrikes took a small but significant toll on the civilian population."

The three-year war plan makes a big assumption that things go smoothly, which looks less and less likely as more volatile groups emerge.

There are now over 50 Iran-backed Shiite Muslim militias fighting ISIS, which is Sunni Muslim. Foreign Policy notes that these "highly ideological, anti-American" groups commit human rights violations that make them hardly better than the Islamic State. They're doing just as much as their enemy to undermine the Baghdad government's claim to authority, and they're throwing a huge wrench in "Obama's stated goal of working with an inclusive Iraqi government to push back [ISIS]."

There's a big can of worms, and the president can't seem to resist opening it. 


NEXT: Ronald Bailey Asks is the Shale Revolution a 'Ponzi Scheme' or the End of Peak Oil?

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. War by committee!!

    A BLUE RIBBON committee, no less.


    1. Committees don’t get any better than that! Man, am I appeased.

    2. Le Cordon Bleu!

  2. Perhaps the clever thing to do is what we did during the Iran-Iraq war: support the weaker side just enough to keep the other from winning. Let’s face it, when Sunni and Shiite Islamists kill each other, the USA wins.

    1. : support the weaker side just enough to keep the other from winning.

      Gosh, and then people wonder why when they take up terrorism to attack their enemies, they include Americans in the crosshairs?

      1. They will do that whether we do anything or not. It’s in their religion and their culture to hate the US and what we stand for, and they tend to hold grudges. They’re still pissed at Spain for what happened there 500 years ago.

        1. What exactly is it that we stand for that they hate so much? Maybe it’s more the fact that what we claim to stand for (freedom, democracy, human rights) is completely inconsistent with our track record on foreign policy, particularly when it comes to the Middle East, where we’ve pretty consistently sided with brutal, repressive dictatorships (Egypt, Saddam’s Iraq in the 80s, the Shah of Iran, and so forth). Abstract concepts like “our freedoms” are much harder to use to stir up hatred than things like “they’ve droned our weddings and funerals, killing many innocent women and children, they’ve taken our natural resources, they’ve propped up the feudal monarchy that oppresses us, and so forth”.

          1. Sayyid Qutb heard “Baby It’s Cold Outside” at a co-ed church dance in Greeley, Colorado (a dry town) in 1948, and later joined the Muslim Brotherhood and wrote about the West’s hedonism, promiscuous women, the breakdown of the family, and the gladiatorial nature of American sports.

            Not everything in radical Islam is about US foreign policy.

  3. A billion here, a billion there…

    What difference, at this point, does it make?

    We’re just borrowing it from ourselves, so it really doesn’t count, anyway.

  4. How many billions of dollars is this going to cost America, though?

    Each one of those bombs is like a multiplier going off in your mouth and everyone’s invited. There will literally be windows breaking.

    1. And yet some of these places are too poor to afford windows. Clearly we need a Marshall Plan to glaze the Middle East, break the windows and replace them.

      1. Turn the whole place into one big window, one that’s flat on the ground.

  5. How Many Billions Will Bombing ISIS Cost? What About Other Radicals?

    I think we’ve just about run out of old bombs by now, so what do new bombs cost? Imma bet a helluva lot more.

    Also, how will we know the difference between ISIS and the other Radicals? I’m pretty sure they look the same from 20,000′. Maybe we could send them some really cool flags that they’d be proud of flying?

    1. Also, how will we know the difference between ISIS and the other Radicals?

      Look for the ‘Sunni’ or ‘Shia’ flair.

    2. When you drop a bomb, you have to treat its cost as the cost of the replacement bomb.

      That is, if the government were using sane accounting system…

  6. This is an Obo-war; it won’t cost anything. Only wars under Rethug admins cost money.

    1. Only Rethug wars cost lives, too. Well, any that are worth mentioning, anyway.

  7. One man’s cost is another man’s revenue.

  8. *What About Other Radicals?*

    Neutron Bombs.

    “Hold on, hold on, no need to push your way to the front of the line–there’s enough ionizing radiation for all of ye”.

  9. So when is Obama’s costs of war making going to catch up with W’s?

    1. Since when is it a race? I don’t think anybody recently has caught Lincoln or Roosevelt in inflation adjusted war expense, but why would you want to?

  10. Why do we keep letting politicians drag us into these moronic political fights? They have been doing it since the 1950s and we just keep going along with them. The three groups at war in Iraq, Sunni, Shiite and Kurds have been at war for over 1000 years. The war mongering neo-cons are trying to convince us ISIS is a threat. Okay why? Well for one, we have a sieve for a southern border. However that is easy to fix and doesn’t require us traveling half way around the world. Then they say if ISIS wins the entire region would be “unstable”. Okay, so what are we protecting, oil and our political puppets? We have all the oil we need here if we tell the greenies to shut up and drill for it. As for the region being unstable, seem to to me that has been the problem since the end of WWI. All the US needs to do is make it clear, attack us and you will be wiped off the face of the earth. If ISIS or some other group ignores the warning, we do what we said, and tell the UN to #### off. We would only need to do it once. The concept is called total war and it is what won WWII in 4 years once the US entered.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.