Charts: The Real Cost of Killing Bin Laden

<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/20371597@N00/5570510654/">daniel_littlewood</a>/Flickr

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In a message released in November 2004, Osama bin Laden declared, “We are continuing this policy in bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy.” The United States’ reaction to the September 11 attacks, he reasoned, proved that terrorism’s power lay not simply in its potential for carnage but in its ability to prod a superpower to incur costly, crippling financial expenses in its pursuit of security. “The real loser,” he concluded, would be “the American people and their economy.”

Bin Laden was killed a year ago, ending what was arguably the most costly manhunt in history. However, his death did not mark the end of the massive expenses racked up during the decade following September 11, many of which will be with us for the forseable future. A quick look at the numbers:

Estimated amount Al Qaeda spent on the September 11 attacks:
$400,000 to $500,000
Estimated homeland security spending, 2002-2011:
$690 billion
Estimated costs of airport delays due to security screening, 2002-2011:
$100 billion
Estimated economic impact of the September 11 attacks on New York City:
$82.8 billion

 

Freedom Isn’t Free
Homeland security expenditures and opportunity costs (in billions of 2010 dollars)

Share of federal terrorism cases since September 11
that did not involve any terrorism-related charges:
53%
Estimated cost of US military operations in Afghanistan, 2001-2011:
$443.5 billion
Estimated annual cost per soldier of US operations in Afghanistan in 2011:
$694,000
US soldiers killed in action by hostile forces in Afghanistan, 2001-2012:
1,507
US soldiers wounded in action in Afghanistan, 2001-2012:
15,560

Outspending the Cold War
Pentagon spending including supplemental funding and overseas operations after 2002 (actual and projected, in billions of 2011 dollars)

Reported US drone strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan, 2004-2012:
296
Estimated share of drone casualties who were not militants:
17%
Civilians killed in Afghanistan, 2006-2011:
12,793
Death toll on September 11:
3,389

Sources:

Cost of 9/11 attacks: 9/11 Commission (PDF)

Homeland security costs: John Mueller and Mark Stewart, Slate

Economic impact of 9/11: New York City Comptroller (PDF)

Homeland security costs (chart): John Mueller and Mark Stewart, Slate

Terrorism prosecutions: Mother Jones (See our special report on these cases.)

Costs of military operations in Afghanistan: Congressional Research Service (PDF)

US military casualties: Department of Defense

Pentagon spending (chart): Congressional Budget Office (PDF)

Civilian casualties: United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, The Guardian

Drone attacks and casualties: Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann, New America Foundation

9/11 death toll: the New York Times (Does not include hijackers.)

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THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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