£20bn: Bill for Iraq and Afghan conflicts

BRITAIN's continuing military commitments in Afghanistan came under increased scrutiny yesterday after it emerged the cost of the nation's presence there and in Iraq over the past decade has soared beyond £20 billion.

• British Forces in action in Afghanistan

On the eve of an emergency Budget that promises painful public spending cuts, government figures revealed the vast bill for Britain's ongoing fight against international terrorism.

With the death toll among our armed forces in Afghanistan one short of the grim milestone of 300, defence analysts warned the eventual military, diplomatic and reconstruction costs would be even higher.

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Opponents of the wars condemned the "obscene" cost to taxpayers and pointed out that Britain's involvement in Afghanistan remained very expensive, at a time when the government was having to make billions of pounds of savings.

The bill for the British presence on two front lines since the terrorist attacks of 11 September, 2001, includes 18bn for military operations, on top of the normal defence budget, as well as hundreds of millions of pounds on aid and security for UK officials.

But it does not cover expenses such as troops' basic salaries or long-term care for the seriously wounded.

Between April 2001 and March 2010, the UK's expenditure in the two war-torn countries was at least 20.34bn, the Whitehall figures show. Of that, 9.24bn was spent in Iraq and 11.1bn in Afghanistan.

The Treasury provided 8.22bn out of its reserve for the military mission in Iraq between 2002-3 and 2009-10, in addition to the core Ministry of Defence budget, which was 35bn in 2009-10.

Operating in Iraq also cost the Department for International Development 557m between 2002-3 and 2009-10 and the Foreign Office 283m between 2002-3 and 2008-9. A further 147m went on spending in Iraq through cross-government programmes such as the "global conflict prevention pool".

Funding the military in Afghanistan accounted for 9.9bn from the Treasury reserve between 2001-2 and 2009-10. The UK also spent 1.2bn on humanitarian, reconstruction and development assistance for the country over the same period, according to the Foreign Office.

With 10,000 British troops still in Afghanistan and no end in sight to the bloody Taleban insurgency, the total cost will continue to rise.

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Former chancellor Alistair Darling said in March that more than 4bn was being allocated from the 2010-11 Treasury reserve to pay for military operations in Afghanistan.

The Foreign Office set aside 118m towards its efforts in Afghanistan for this financial year.

Professor Malcolm Chalmers, a defence analyst with the Royal United Services Institute, calculated that about 30 per cent of the UK's total defence budget was currently devoted to operations in Afghanistan.

"They have been long and sustained operations in difficult geographical locations with often quite determined enemies," he said. "Simply maintaining thousands of people in such a location takes a lot of money on logistics before you have even started."

On top of the cost of the military mission, there will be extra expenditure over the decades to come to look after troops who have been badly wounded or suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, he said. "There are long-term costs, but we don't know how big they are," he added.

Prof Chalmers said the Treasury would be looking closely at expenditure on the British military mission in Afghanistan and he predicted it would probably become cheaper in the years to come.

The influx of 20,000 United States Marines into Helmand Province allowed the UK to concentrate its forces in the centre of the province, reducing the cost of maintaining remote bases.

Prof Chalmers added: "I think questions are being asked about the scale of our commitment to Afghanistan and the timing of any withdrawal.

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"It's not simply a case of whether we should be there or not, but how big our commitment should be."

As well as the huge expense of the wars, the cost in UK troops killed and badly injured has been very high.

A total of 179 UK personnel died in the Iraq conflict between the March 2003 invasion and the end of combat operations in April last year.

The British death toll in Afghanistan since the start of operations in October 2001 currently stands at 299.

Critics questioned why the UK was spending so much on the conflict when the public finances were in such a dire state.

Ken Livingstone, who is bidding to be Labour's candidate in the next London mayoral election, said: "The true cost of our policy of international adventures is now being shown."

Lindsey German, convener of the Stop the War Coalition, also condemned the cost of Britain's involvement in the conflicts.

She said: "People will be astonished that the government has the cheek to call for public spending cuts when such an obscene amount has been spent in Iraq and Afghanistan."

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Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT transport union, said ministers could not cut jobs and services while the "grotesque waste of money" in Iraq and Afghanistan was allowed to dominate spending priorities.

He said: "While new hospital schemes are scrapped, young people are consigned to the scrap heap of the dole and key transport projects are kicked into the long grass, billions are being poured into the death and destruction of wars many miles from home.

"The money that's been drained away on illegal war-mongering is only outstripped by the cash ripped off in the bankers bail-out."

John McDonnell, Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington, said: "Health workers, firefighters, teachers, police officers and many other public service workers will now be paying for the legacy of this war with their jobs, as services are cut to make up the cost of this disastrous mistake."

Jeremy Corbyn, Labour MP for Islington North, said: "More than 20bn, half a million dead, Britain's foreign policy besmirched all over the world – what have we achieved?"

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: "Afghanistan is the government's highest foreign policy and national security priority. It is essential that we contribute to the international campaign there."

PM calls on public to back military 'more loudly and proudly'

THE public should express its appreciation of Britain's military "more loudly and more proudly", David Cameron has said ahead of next week's Armed Forces Day.

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The Prime Minister said the country had a "social responsibility" to shows its thanks – invoking the spirit of the two world wars.

And he called for "an explosion of red, white and blue" across the country on Saturday when celebrations will be held across the country – with the main event in Cardiff.

Mr Cameron said his recent trip to Afghanistan had been a powerful reminder of the risks faced by troops.

And he said he was determined not to allow the conclusions of the Bloody Sunday inquiry to "cloud the reputation of our armed forces and the pride they inspire".

Citing a number of military heroes from the Afghan conflict, he said: "These people know all about duty – they've lived it. Now we as a country must do our duty by them.

"Over the past few years, there's been an increasing appreciation of what our armed forces do. But still I believe that we should do more."

He said the government was playing its part through policies such as doubling front-line troops' operational allowances, renewing the military covenant, improving health and housing services for families and better co-ordinating treatment for veterans suffering mental illness.

"But supporting our armed forces isn't just a government responsibility – it's a social responsibility," he said.

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"In the First World War, those at home didn't just sing 'keep the home fires burning', they practised it. In the Second World War, the military occupied a huge place in the national consciousness, partly because everyone knew someone in uniform.

"I believe as a country at war we should see the same appreciation today, with the military front and centre of our national life once again.

"There is huge respect for the armed forces community out there, and I want that expressed more loudly and more proudly."