Counting the cost of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan
The Daily Telegraph and other media are today reporting newly released figures that, out of its reserves, UK has spent £8.22 and £9.9 billion respectively for the military missions in Iraq (financial years 2002/03 to 2009/10) and Afghanistan (financial years 2001/02 to 2009/10); and that the former chancellor had allocated more than £4 billion from the 2010/11 Treasury reserves to pay for military operations in Afghanistan.
In the table below, I set the above costs from Treasury reserves against the cumulative number of personnel-years and military fatalities that UK has sustained in Iraq and Afghanistan. Costs are not inflation-adjusted, and so are not as directly comparable as one would wish them to be – especially when comparing 2010/11 to past years.
However, the main message from the table is that the tempo of military operations in Afghanistan - as judged by our military fatality rate per 1,000 personnel-years - is considerably greater (by a factor of two) than in Iraq.
Britain has been engaged in major combat in Afghanistan since 1 May 2006 and, unsurprisingly, the cost to our reserves in 2010/11 is correspondingly high – but our deployment of 10,000 troops to Afghanistan in the financial year 2010/11 alone represents around 30 per cent of our cumulative deployment to Afghanistan hitherto; and a quarter of our erstwhile total deployment to Iraq.
The question is whether UK’s higher reserve spending on military operations in Afghanistan in 2010/11 will be sufficient to moderate down significantly our troops’ currently high fatality rate per 1,000 personnel-years.
* based on Bird SM. UK statistical indifference to its military casualties in Iraq. Lancet 2006; 367: 713-715.
** see supporting analysis here
Sheila M. Bird is from the MRC Biostatistics Unit, Cambridge CB2 0SR