War on Terror

$7,700 Is Your Share of the Wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria So Far

Including homeland security, domestic surveillance, TSA harassment, veterans benefits, and interest on associated federal debt: $61,000 per taxpayer


Dana Rothstein/Dreamstime

How much have our post-9/11 wars on terror cost? This year's National Defense Authorization Act ordered the government to collect and calculate that information, and the results are in. The Pentagon estimates that so far the war in Afghanistan has cost $753 billion, amounting to a cumulative cost per taxpayer of $3,785. Iraq and Syria are $770 billion, or $3,955 per taxpayer. That adds up to a grand total of more than $1.5 trillion and $7,740 per taxpayer. So far.

At Defense One, Marcus Weisberger notes: "Americans paid the most for the wars in 2010, an average of $767 apiece. The annual amount declined through 2016 to $204 per taxpayer, before growing again as the U.S. ramped up its airstrike campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria."

These figures vastly understate the ultimate monetary costs of the wars. In Reason piece last year headlined "The High Price of Security Theater," James Bovard included the costs of Homeland Security, Transportation Security Agency harassment at airports, and FBI, CIA, and NSA surveillance to come up with a total cost of $4 trillion.

The Costs of War Project at the Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs at Brown University calculates that "through 2017, the US federal government has spent or been obligated to spend $4.8 trillion on the post-9/11 wars, including medical and disability payments to veterans over the next forty years." The researchers at the Watson Institute further noted that the wars had generally been financed by borrowing. "Unless the US changes the way it manages that debt, future interest will exceed $8 trillion by the 2050s," they report.


Assuming 210 million taxpayers, the Watson Institute figures suggest that, if these trends continue, that the cost of our wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria will amount to $61,000 per individual taxpayer by 2050.

President Donald Trump wants to increase the Pentagon's budget by $54 billion. Below see Reason TV's "3 Reasons Conservatives Should Cut Defense Spending Now":

NEXT: California Wants to Ban All Gas-Powered Cars

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 Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Reason would leave the homeland defenseless to save a penny. Freedom isn’t free No, there’s a hefty fuckin’ fee. And if you don’t throw in your buck ‘o five, who will?

    1. Buck o’ five? Freedom costs a buck o’ fiiiiiive?

  2. Afghanistan has been a lost cause for 2,000+ years. We need to abandon it. Not our problem anymore.

    “through 2017, the US federal government has spent or been obligated to spend $4.8 trillion on the post-9/11 wars”

    That 4.8 trillion from 15 years of war would cover like one or two years of single payer healthcare, to put just how expensive single payer healthcare in perspective.

    1. If Soviet Russia pulled the fuck out of Afghanistan, what the hell do we expect to accomplish?

      Although, if memory serves there was an old geological survey that the good ‘ol USSR did that found one of the worlds largest deposits of Lithium there that wasn’t terribly useful at the time that we might have some interest in now.

      Not saying that’s the reason but I imagine it sure doesn’t hurt. Plus, where else are you going to get your heroin?

  3. $61,000 per taxpayer

    If only it were so evenly distributed. Or not. Maybe what we really need is good ol’ fashioned volunteerism. Those who want the war can all kick in.

    1. I dream of a day when the Air Force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber… and public schools have to hold a competing bake sale to buy books. Mostly on principle, but also partly because i have a weakness for baked goods.

      1. I haven’t had one of those cupcakes cooked into a sugar cone since I was a lad.

        1. What an elaborate euphemism.

  4. that’s per “tax payer”, but about half of them receive enough benefits to pay nothing at all in reality.

    do you provide any positive value in this world? if so, you’re paying a lot lot more.

    1. Awesome username.

  5. Can I just write a check and get off the train for the future? I would do that right now if it was an option.

    1. In what universe?

    2. In what universe?

  6. President Donald Trump wants to increase the Pentagon’s budget by $54 billion

    As long as none of that money goes to icky transgenders I am okay with this.

  7. Kudos to Mr. Bailey for this article. Breaking government spending down per taxpayer like this provides great context compared to just reporting how many billions this or that costs.

    I wish this was done more. I seems like a good way to keep focus on what matters and also to not get distracted with noise that’s indented to distract us and generate lots of outrage and conflict, that wouldn’t make even the smallest dent in reducing our annual tax bills.

  8. Assuming 210 million taxpayers
    Everyone who buys stuff, works, drives, flies, invests, etc. is a taxpayer.

    1. You can’t recognize the poetry of Dan Fogelberg’s lyrics?

    2. An estimated 44% of U.S. households will pay no federal income tax in 2016. Some individuals or households do not
      pay federal income taxes because their income was below the filing threshold. Other individuals or households filing
      federal income tax returns pay no federal income tax due to either structural features or special provisions in the tax
      code. A 2011 analysis found that of tax units with zero or negative liability, about half were made s special provisions in the tax code such as credits and deductions. The other half were made nontaxable by structural features of the income tax system, namely the standard deduction and personal exemptions.

      Many tax units with no federal income tax liability have positive payroll tax liability. But in 2016, an estimated 27% of tax units have zero or negative federal tax liability, EVEN when BOTH income and payroll taxes are considered.

      For these tax units, it is possible that refunds from the income tax system offset or more than offset positive payroll tax liability.

      The proportion of tax units with no income or payroll tax liability in 2016 is estimated at 18%.

      1. So for close 20% of all households, the only direct federal taxes they are paying are the excise taxes on their gas, cell phone, and cigarettes.

        And for 44% of all households, they are only paying those excise taxes and their “contribution” to Social Security and Medicare.

        When such large numbers have no skin in the game, or all but, it’s easy to demagogue tax cuts as “for the rich” and to demand more tax credits.

  9. Well, now we know that jobs that will replace the jobs we loose through automation.

    To put this in perspective, the War on Drugs costed American taxpayers $1 trillion since 1971.

  10. What’s my share of Obamacare going to be?

    How about the War On Drugs?

    How about the equally effective War on Poverty?

  11. Why did you not include the Korean War? We’ve still got troops there participating in the on-going efforts?

  12. So, a new contender for the title of Tax Collector of the Welfare State; Bob Dole smiles!

  13. Saya memimpikan suatu hari ketika Angkatan Udara harus mengadakan penjualan kue untuk membeli pembom … dan sekolah umum harus mengadakan penjualan kue pesaing untuk membeli buku. Sebagian besar pada prinsipnya, tetapi juga sebagian karena saya memiliki kelemahan untuk dipanggang.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.