War on Terror Facts, Costs and Timeline

Whose Wars Are More Expensive? Bush or Obama?

The War on Terror was a reaction to the 9/11 attacks. Credit: Getty Images

Definition: The War on Terror (WoT) is a military campaign launched by the Bush Administration in response to the al Qaeda 9/11 terrorist attacks. The President announced it on September 20, 2001, in this speech to Congress. "Our war on terror begins with Al Qaeda," he said,"but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped, and defeated." (Source: "Bush Addresses Nation," Washington Post, September 20, 2001)

Between 2001 and 2017, $1.778 trillion was spent on or budgeted for the War on Terror. That's emergency funding added to the base budget for the Department of Defense. Congress approves the supplemental funds, but they aren't subject to sequestration restrictions. For total spending, see U.S. Military Budget. It adds spending on the War on Terror to the DoD base budget and supporting departments (Homeland Security, the Veterans Administration, and the State Department).

War on Terror Timeline and Costs

Here are the War on Terror costs by year. The sources are the DoD budgets and the OMB Historical Tables. The specific estimates for the War in Iraq and Afghanistan War are taken from the 2011 Congressional Budget Report.

FY 2001 - $28.7 billion: Bush asked for $20.8 billion to launch the Afghanistan War. At first, the attack was confined to air strikes to eliminate the threat from al Qaida's leader, Osama bin Laden.

 The Taliban government was replaced with Hamid Karzai in December 2001. 

FY 2002 - $16.9 billion: Although ground troops pursued bin Laden in the Afghan foothills, Bush shifted his focus to gaining Congressional approval for the Iraq War, which he received in October 2002. In November, Congress passed the Homeland Security Act to create the Department of Homeland Security, a stand-alone, Cabinet-level department to coordinate terrorism intelligence and unify 22 agencies that handled domestic security.


FY 2003 - $72.5 billion: The U.S. launched the Iraq War on March 19 with "Shock and Awe," which cost $53 billion. Homeland Security officially opened its doors in March. The Hussein regime fell in April. The U.S. spent $14.5 billion in an effort to end its involvement in the War in Afghanistan, and turn it over to NATO's peacekeeping mission.   

FY 2004 - $91.1 billion: The War in Iraq escalated to control insurgents, costing $75.9 billion. Photos revealed torture at the Abu Ghraib prison fueled greater resistance. Afghanistan created a Constitution while bin Laden threatened another terrorist attack. The U.S. spent $14.5 billion on Afghanistan and $0.7 billion on enhanced security.  

FY 2005 - $78.8 billion: The Afghan War costs were spent to protect Afghans from Taliban attacks for their first free election. (Note:The 2011 Congressional Report said the Iraq War cost $85.5 billion, but FY 2016 DoD and OMB reports only list $78.8 billion spent on both wars.)

FY 2006 - $124 billion: Iraq War costs rose to $101.6 billion.

Costs in Afghanistan dropped slightly to $19 billion despite increasing violence.The new government struggled to provide basic service, including police protection. NATO was criticized for not providing more soldiers.

FY 2007 - $169.4 billion: A surge of 20,000 additional U.S. troops were flown into Iraq to keep the peace until the U.S.-backed Shiite leaders could gain better control. This increased costs to $131.2 billion. The Afghan War spending nearly doubled to $38.2 billion. 

FY 2008 - $186.9 billion: Violence escalated in Afghanistan, boosting costs there to $43.5 billion.  while costs in Iraq rose to $142.1 billion. 

FY 2009 - $153.1 billion: President Obama took office in the middle of this budget year. He sent 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan in April, promising to send another 30,000 in December in addition to the 68,000 in place. He changed strategy to address Taliban and al Qaeda forces hiding in Pakistan. This added $59.5 billion to Bush's FY 2009 budget. Karzai was reelected, although this time amidst accusations of fraud. Obama announced a drawdown of troops would start in 2011. Costs for Iraq fell for the first time to $95.5 billion.  

FY 2010 - $163.4 billion: Obama funded an orderly wind-down to end the War in Iraq. Surge forces were sent to Afghanistan, raising costs there to $91.8 billion, the highest so far.  NATO agreed to turn over all defense to Afghan forces by 2014. For the first time, the President used the OCO to add $300,000 for support departments.

FY 2011 - $159.5 billion: Osama bin Laden was killed by special forces on May 1, 2011. Obama announced he would withdraw 10,000 troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year, and 23,000 by the end of 2012. Nevertheless, costs rose to $109.5 billion, while $49.3 billion was spent in Iraq to end the war there. 

FY 2012 - $126.6 billion:  The War in Afghanistan dragged on. Obama announced the withdrawal of another 23,000 troops in the summer, leaving 70,000 troops remaining. Both sides agreed to accelerate U.S. troop withdrawal to 2013 as their presence becomes more unwelcome. OCO funding for support departments skyrockets to $11.5 billion. (Source: NYT, Afghanistan War Timeline, June 22, 2011.) 

FY 2013 - $93.1 billion: U.S. forces shifted to training and support role. Taliban and U.S. reignited peace negotiations, causing Karzai to suspend his negotiations with the United States.

FY 2014 - $91.9 billion: Obama announces final U.S. troop withdrawal, with only a goal of only 9,800 remaining at the end of the year. (Source: Afghanistan War, Council on Foreign Relations)

FY 2015 - $74.7 billion: This includes $53.4 billion to support 11,661 troops to continue training Afghan forces, $300,000 to support a small presence in Iraq, and $4.9 billion to fund various other international terrorism combat activities. (Source: DoD 2015 OCO Amendment)

FY 2016 - $73.7 billion: This amount includes ongoing training efforts in Afghanistan, as well as training and equipment for Iraqi and Syrian opposition forces. It also includes support for NATO, and responses to terrorist threats. OCO support department funding was a record $15 billion. (Source: DoD 2016 OCO Amendment)

FY 2017 - $73.7 billion: The DoD requested $58.8 billion for Operation Freedom Sentinel in Afghanistan, Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq and the Levant, increased European support, and counterterrorism. OCO funding for support departments was $14.9 billion. (Source: DoD 2017 OCO Amendment)

Who Spent More: Bush or Obama?

Obama campaigned on defense reduction, dropped the phrase "War on Terror," and was even awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for pulling troops out of Iraq. However, his OCO spending since FY 2010 is $857 billion. It's nearly as much as President Bush's expenditure of $921 billion. 

Effect on the U.S. Economy

The War on Terror added nearly $1.8 trillion to the $19 trillion U.S. debt. That's a 10% increase for war spending alone. It does not include  the DoD base budget, the expenses incurred by other departments, such as the FBI or State Department, or the cost to run Homeland Security and the VA -- all of which kept the nation secure.

The War in Iraq lasted longer than the Vietnam War. More important, 4,488 U.S. soldiers were killed and 32,226 were wounded. More than $800 billion was spent on the Iraq War alone. (Source: ABC News, Final U.S. Troops Leave Iraq, March 19, 2013)

The true cost of the War on Terror is not just what it has added to the debt, but also the lost jobs that could have been created with those funds. Every $1 billion spent on defense creates 8,555 jobs and adds $565 million to the economy. However, that same $1 billion given to you as a tax cut would have stimulated enough demand to create 10,779 jobs and put $505 million into the economy as retail spending. And $1 billion in education spending adds $1.3 billion to the economy and creates 17,687 jobs. Perhaps for the health of the U.S. economy, the best defense is a good offense.

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