Monday, March 19, 2007

The Cost of Four Years of Fighting in Iraq

WASHINGTON — From the outset, when the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq began in March 2003, President Bush cautioned that the conflict "could be longer and more difficult than some predict."

Whether the war was necessary and how it has been managed, it is — without a doubt — costly.

American taxpayers are on track by the fall of next year to spend $532 billion on the war, which so far has cost the lives of nearly 3,200 U.S. troops and wounded another 24,000.
A look at the costs:

American casualties

As of March 18, the Pentagon reports that 3,197 American troops have died in Iraq. Of those, some 2,580 were killed in action; others died from accidents, disease or other causes. Another 13,357 troops were wounded and returned to duty within 72 hours, while 10,685 received wounds too serious to be returned to duty in that time.

Iraqi casualties

There are no official numbers on the number of Iraqis killed, but the London-based group, Iraq Body Count, tallies an unofficial count. The group records civilian deaths corroborated by at least two independent news reports. The group estimates that between 58,862 and 64,682 Iraqi civilians have been killed — largely in sectarian and insurgent conflict — since the war began.

The Bill so far

Four years of fighting have cost U.S. taxpayers $351 billion. Bush has requested an additional $68 billion to continue operations through Oct. 1 of this year. That includes $5.6 billion to fund the 21,500-troop increase he announced in January, when there were some 132,000 troops in Iraq. Bush has asked for $113 billion to fund Iraq operations for the 2008 fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 — for a total of $532 billion.

Military readiness

Neither the Pentagon nor Central Command — the U.S. military operations responsible for the Middle East — provided figures on the total number of U.S. troops who have participated in the Iraq war since 2003, but 1.5 million have served in both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the Pentagon reports.

That figure includes 631,000 combat troops who have served in Iraq. Many have served two or three tours of duty. The workload has taken its toll on training and preparedness.

"I have seen the classified-only readiness reports," Rep. Solomon P. Ortiz, D-Texas, chairman of the readiness subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, said last Wednesday. "We as a nation are at risk of major failure, should our Army be called to deploy to an emerging threat."

Replacement costs

Tanks and other vehicles, aircraft, weapons and other equipment have been worn out, destroyed, lost or turned over to Iraqi units over the course of the war.
Replacing that equipment will cost taxpayers an estimated $60 billion over the coming five years.

"Some of our C-130Es (large cargo planes) can no longer deploy to combat because we have literally flown the wings off of them," Gen. John Corley, the Air Force's vice chief of staff, testified before Ortiz's committee.

The costs down the road

About one in five of U.S. troops injured in Iraq have suffered serious wounds such as loss of a limb or an eye, massive burns, spinal or head damage or other potentially debilitating injury.

The cost of providing medical and other support for these wounded veterans over the course of their lifetimes is projected to run into the hundreds of billions of dollars. These costs have not been factored into U.S. budget projections, but there are early indicators.

In 2000, veterans of all eras posted 578,000 disability claims with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Last year that figure was 806,000, an increase of 228,000 claims, or 38 percent.

Mental health

Separately, veterans seeking specific VA assistance for mental health issues are expected to rise, from 155,000 requests last year to a projected 209,000 this year and 263,000 in 2008.

The VA is requesting $2.96 billion for mental health spending in fiscal 2008 — up $545 million, or 23 percent, over fiscal 2006 levels.
The spending reflects widespread problems that returning Iraq war veterans face with mental health issues ranging from substance abuse and depression to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The VA's Michael Kussman, acting undersecretary for health, told a House panel on March 8 that nearly 40,000 Iraq war veterans have symptoms of PTSD, the results of which can range from suicide to difficulty in sustaining jobs and relationships.
The number of PTSD cases is certain to rise, as the condition often manifests itself years after a soldier returns from combat.

"We've seen it in Vietnam veterans and every era, including World War II veterans," said Al Batres, the chief officer for readjustment counseling services.
View a biography and photo of each of the coalition forces who lost their lives in Iraq and listen to AP correspondents as they discuss the state of Iraq four years after the start of the war at

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