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A war audit: Accounting of U.S. military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan

Ten years ago this week, U.S. forces launched airstrikes against terrorist training camps in Afghanistan, backed with unrivaled firepower but also a nation united. • "In the months ahead, our patience will be one of our strengths," President George W. Bush said on Oct. 7, 2001. "Patience with the long waits that will result from tighter security, patience and understanding that it will take time to achieve our goals, patience in all the sacrifices that may come." • A decade later, the patience is still being tested. • National joy surrounding the daring mission to kill Osama bin Laden this year faded as fast as it came on. In a cruel twist, 22 Navy SEALs, many belonging to the same Team 6 unit that took out the al-Qaida leader, were killed in August when their helicopter was shot down by an insurgent rocket. • Saddam Hussein is long gone in Iraq. The nation is rebuilding, haltingly, riven by ethnic factions. But U.S. troops remain there as well. In June, 14 soldiers were killed due to hostile actions, the most in one month since 2008. • This is the story of 10 years at war — a series of swells and depths. We are at once safer and more worried about the threats around us. The casualties continue but have faded from the headlines. • Airport security checks are seen as a necessity but also a rude government intrusion, one more thing standing in the way of vacation. We salute the troops, but do it so often and gratuitously — the shout-outs at ballgames — that the meaning has been watered down. • The following is an effort to put the wars into perspective, to count up the costs in financial and human terms, to compare what political leaders said then with their feelings now, to assess the personal freedoms sacrificed and to examine the mistruths that led to one war and distracted another.

Sen. Bob Graham Democrat

Supported Afghanistan, opposed Iraq

THEN: Said U.S. military action in Iraq would distract from the war on terrorism. "We've gotten focused on the fact that Saddam Hussein is evil. But the reality is that he is not the only evil in the Middle East or Asia."

NOW: "I was always suspicious of whether there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. I wouldn't necessary use the word dupe. There has been a long tradition in America of accepting what the president says relative to foreign engagements. I hope the American people will be dealt with more honestly by its national leaders in future potential uses of military force."

Rep. C.W. Bill Young Republican

Supported Afghanistan and Iraq.

THEN: "He is cruel, he is vicious, he has murdered members of his own family. I believe time is up."

NOW: "It's easy to be a Monday morning quarterback. But at the time, those who were making the decisions based them on the best intelligence we had. If we would have let Saddam Hussein continue and let al-Qaida have a home base we would have been in more danger. ... It's been very costly in dollars and lives and injuries: Every time I see one of these kids so badly hurt, I say, Is it worth it? We're going to have a large obligation to them for a long, long time."

Rep. Jim Davis Democrat

Supported Afghanistan and Iraq.

THEN: Called the war "a solemn mission," suggesting it was needed to "eliminate the threat posed by Saddam Hussein."

NOW: "The decision to go into Iraq, I look back at that with a lot of regret. I sat in a briefing with the CIA with (a picture of) the centrifuge pipes in front of me. They said Saddam Hussein was using it to spin uranium. ... Afghanistan then and unfortunately now was a harbor for terrorism. You have to deal with that."

Rep. Mike Bilirakis


Supported Afghanistan and Iraq.

THEN: “None of us wanted to see this. When I vote yes, it is with a heavy heart." He said the resolution was crucial because Iraq had an arsenal of dangerous weapons.

NOW: "What we should have done is gone into Afghanistan, gone after that guy and done our job there. I feel the president felt there were weapons of mass destruction (in Iraq). During World War II, we did an awful lot of things that we look at today, like the Japanese incarcerations, and feel pretty bad about it. At the time there's a lot of excitement, a lot of fear, a lot of emotion and sometimes you strike maybe without thinking it out as well as you should have."

Sen. Bill Nelson Democrat

Supported Afghanistan and Iraq.

THEN: "I think Saddam Hussein is a menace and he needs to go. I do believe he has chemical and biological weapons, and I think he would have nuclear weapons if he could get his hands on them."

NOW: "Neither I nor a lot of senators would have voted to go into Iraq had we not been assured by the secretary of defense, the secretary of state, the national security adviser that there were weapons of mass destruction."

Rep. Karen Thurman


Supported Afghanistan and Iraq.

THEN: "It's a tough vote," she said after agreeing to go along with the war in Iraq. "Any time you're dealing with sending men and women into harm's way, it's not easy."

NOW: "One of the biggest disappoints for myself was not being there to ask the tough questions after I left (Congress in 2003). I don't think we saw much of that happening. Until we're actually removed, it's hard to know if there was good or bad done."

Rep. Adam Putnam


Supported Afghanistan and Iraq.

THEN: "There is enough evidence now to support action to disarm Hussein and bring about a change in leadership."

NOW: "It was very frustrating to learn how poor the intelligence was in the run-up. I think a lot of improvements have been made." Overall, he said the outcome has been worthwhile and said it's evident in the uprising in the Middle East. "I think seeing Saddam Hussein removed reminded people that you can topple a tyrant. It bred homegrown resistance, which is the most powerful kind."

Civil costs

Security measures: The wars have triggered sweeping changes that affect Americans every day. Tighter security at airports, including body scanners and pat-downs, and restrictions on what can be carried in luggage. There is also higher security at everything from sporting events to local government offices.

The USA Patriot Act, passed a month after the 9/11 attacks with little debate, granted federal officials broad authority to monitor suspected terrorist activity by eavesdropping on phone calls and other communication and obtaining records.

It allowed the federal government to detain non-U.S. citizens suspected of terrorism for up to seven days without specific charges and expanded measures against money laundering by requiring additional record-keeping for certain transactions and identification of account holders. The act also tripled the number of Border Patrol and customs and immigration inspectors at the northern border of the United States.

In 2011, Congress extended three provisions that were set to expire, including the use of "roving" wiretaps to track unidentified suspects; the right to obtain library records and other personal information; and to follow foreigners who have no known terrorism connections.

The Patriot Act has become controversial with civil libertarians and others who say it has gone too far. "Mr. Speaker, the war on terrorism will be won," U.S. Rep. Connie Mack, R-Fort Myers, said in a 2005 speech on the House floor. "But America must continue to be a shining beacon of freedom, security and prosperity for the world. It is the job of this esteemed legislative body to strike the proper balance between liberty and safety. We ascended to our current world position by being a cradle of freedom — now is not the time to turn our backs on that fundamental principle."

Monitoring of Americans: In 2005, the New York Times revealed a secret domestic surveillance program President George W. Bush authorized shortly after the 9/11 attacks. Under the program, the National Security Agency monitored Americans' international e-mail messages and phone calls without court approval. Amid great controversy, Congress in 2008 changed law allowing much of the activity to continue.

Claim: Saddam Hussein was trying to get uranium from Africa for use in nuclear weapons. President George W. Bush, State of the Union address, Jan. 28, 2003

Truth: In 2006, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence concluded: "Postwar findings do not support the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) assessment that Iraq was 'vigorously trying to procure uranium ore and yellowcake' from Africa. Postwar findings support the assessment in the NIE of the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) that claims of Iraqi pursuit of natural uranium in Africa are 'highly dubious.' "

Claim: "Saddam Hussein is determined to get his hands on a nuclear bomb. He is so determined that he has made repeated covert attempts to acquire high-specification aluminum tubes from 11 different countries even after inspections resumed." Secretary of State Colin Powell in a speech before the United Nations, Feb. 5, 2003.

Truth: In 2004, a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report concluded: “Much of the information provided or cleared by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) for inclusion in Secretary Powell's speech was overstated, misleading, or incorrect."

Claim: "We found the weapons of mass destruction." President Bush in May 2003 after the discovery of two mobile labs in Iraq.

Truth: From a Washington Post summary of October 2004 government report on Iraq and weapons: "Two trailers that were found in Iraq after the U.S.-led invasion were intended to make hydrogen for weather balloons, not biological weapons, as a CIA paper that the administration publicized widely alleged."

On Oct. 7, 2004, Bush acknowledged: "Iraq did not have the weapons that our intelligence believed were there."

Claim: Al-Qaida and Hussein were working in concert. Numerous government officials, including the president, in the run-up to the war.

Truth: The 9/11 Commission Report concluded there was no evidence that contact between Iraq and Osama bin Laden "ever developed into a collaborative operational relationship. ... Nor have we seen evidence indicating that Iraq cooperated with al-Qaida in developing or carrying out any attacks against the United States."

By the numbers*

Years at war in Afghanistan:
10 years

Years at war in Iraq: 8 years, 5 months

Americans killed
in action:

Afghanistan: 1,779

Iraq: 4,482

Floridians killed: 330

Americans wounded in action:

Afghanistan: 14,239

Iraq: 32,195

Americans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11:
2.3 million

Cost so far:
$1.3 trillion.

Since it was all borrowed, unlike past wars when taxes were
raised, roughly $1.3 trillion has been added to the national debt.

Projected cost through 2017:
$2.4 trillion

Independent experts' projection: $4 trillion

Number of veterans qualified to receive disability compensation: 600,000

Estimated bill for future medical and disability costs: $600 billion to $900 billion

* Numbers updated through Friday.

A war audit: Accounting of U.S. military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan 10/01/11 [Last modified: Friday, October 7, 2011 8:40am]
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