Editor's Note: Click here to listen to this feature, which aired on public radio's Marketplace on February 22, 2011.
A. $67,000 per year
B. $132,000 per year
C. $685,000 per year
D. $1.2 million per year
A. $67,000 per year is not correct.
$67,000 per year was the cost per troop at the peak of World War II (adjusting for inflation to today's dollars). World War II involved a full-scale mobilization of the U.S. armed forces, with troop ranks rising to over 12 million in 1945. In that year, the war consumed 36% of U.S. GDP, or $810 billion in today's dollars.
B. $132,000 per year is not correct.
$132,000 per year was the cost per troop (also in today's dollars) at the peak of the Vietnam War in 1968. The United States deployed nearly 790,000 troops to Southeast Asia — at a total cost of $104 billion in today's dollars, or just 2.3% of GDP at the time. As was the case in World War II, a draft was in effect during most of the conflict in Vietnam.
C. $685,000 per year is not correct.
Before the United States began drawing down its forces, the average cost in Iraq was $685,000 per year per U.S. troop — over ten times the cost of a soldier deployed in World War II, according to the Washington-based Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.
The cost per troop today is much higher than in World War II or Vietnam because we live in a very different era militarily. Since the United States no longer has a draft, it has to rely on an all-volunteer force, which is more expensive to recruit and retain. And the way the country fights wars has become much more technologically intensive, which means weapons are more costly. As a result, the United States has to invest considerably more in training its troops to use those weapons.
D. $1.2 million per year is correct.
The average cost per troop in Afghanistan over the past five years is $1.2 million per year. The United States currently has about 100,000 troops in Afghanistan — about three times as many as when President Obama took office.
While Iraq features difficult terrain and challenging conditions, the sheer lack of infrastructure in Afghanistan — and its geographical position as a landlocked nation — makes operating in the country extraordinarily expensive for the U.S. military. In addition, the high-tech weapons systems that are being used involve an enormous logistics trail for everything from fuel to spare parts. Fuel costs alone are estimated to account for between $200,000-350,000 of the cost per troop deployed.