NEW YORK CITY -- It took 3,519 days since September 11, 2001, for U.S. forces to finally kill Osama bin Laden, the chief architect of the terrorist attacks that define that date.
During that time period, two wars were launched in the Middle East, each with the stated purpose of fulfilling the objectives of a larger “war”: that on terror. Bin Laden’s capture doesn’t halt those operations. But it does provide an end point to a chapter that was politically contentious, emotionally exhausting and quite costly.
How much money did the United States spend to capture bin Laden in the operation that took place Sunday? That precise a figure is difficult (perhaps impossible) to pinpoint. A much easier price tag, however, can be placed on the costs of foreign operations that were launched in response to the 9/11 attacks.
According to a March 29, 2011 Congressional Research Service report, Congress has approved a total of $1.283 trillion for “military operations, base security, reconstruction, foreign aid, embassy costs, and veterans’ health care for the three operations initiated since the 9/11 attacks.” Those three operations include Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) Afghanistan; Operation Noble Eagle (ONE), providing enhanced security at military bases; and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF).
Broken down individually, the government has spent $806 billion for Iraq, $444 billion for Afghanistan, $29 billion for enhanced security and $6 billion on “unallocated” items. The vast majority of all the money appropriated has gone to the Department of Defense, and of that money more and more is being spent on Operation & Maintenance (O&M) funding, which went from $42 billion in FY2004 to $79 billion in FY2008. Only $67 billion (or 5 percent) went to the State Department or USAID. Only $8 billion (or 1 percent) went to veterans' care, via the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Because U.S. troop presence will remain at relatively high levels in Afghanistan and, to a lesser extent, Iraq in the years ahead -- and because veteran health-care needs will likely only get worse -- the price will continue to rise. If Congress also approves the president’s FY2012 war-funding request, the cumulative cost of post-9/11 operations would reach $1.415 trillion. The Congressional Budget Office -- the nonpartisan accountant for lawmakers -- estimates that over the next ten years, total costs “could reach $1.8 trillion by FY2021.”
Bin Laden, of course, was found in neither Iraq nor Afghanistan but in neighboring Pakistan. And he was killed not by army personnel but by a covert Navy SEALS unit aided by CIA intelligence. Budgets for those agencies and entities were not covered in the CRS report. However, the study did look at money spent on counter-insurgency funds for the government of Pakistan. Since 9/11 the United States has appropriated money for that purpose just once: a $400 million expenditure in FY2008.
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