Study puts total price tag for Iraq, Afghanistan wars at more than $4 trillion

The final cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars will be between $4 and $6 trillion — and most of those costs have yet to be paid, according to a new study out of Harvard University.

The report from Harvard Kennedy School professor Linda Bilmes finds the Iraq and Afghanistan wars together will be the most expensive in U.S. history when long-term medical and disability costs for service members are factored in.

“The legacy of decisions taken during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars will dominate future federal budgets for decades to come,” Bilmes wrote.

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The study says that the United States has already spent nearly $2 trillion on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But that bill is only “a fraction” of the total war costs, Bilmes wrote.

“The single largest accrued liability of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is the cost of providing medical care and disability benefits to war veterans,” she said. “Historically, the bill for these costs has come due many decades later.”

The report noted that the peak year in compensation for World War I veterans was 1969, and World War II veterans saw the largest payments from the government in the late 1980s. 

Payments to veterans of Vietnam and the first Gulf War are still rising, Bilmes wrote.

A key factor in the cost growth for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is the expansion in quantity, quality and availability of medical benefits for U.S. troops since 9/11, according to the report.