The cost to British taxpayers of fighting, diplomacy and reconstruction in Afghanistan and Iraq since the 9/11 attacks passed £20 billion, official figures reveal.
This includes £18 billion 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 the total does not cover expenses like troops’ basic salaries or long-term care for the seriously wounded, and the final price is likely to be much higher.
Opponents of the wars condemned the ”obscene” cost and pointed out that Britain’s involvement in Afghanistan remains very expensive at a time when the Government is slashing billions from public spending.
Former London mayor Ken Livingstone said the cost of the conflicts was the same as that of scrapping student tuition fees in England for 10 years.
Bob Crow, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and 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.”
Between April 2001 and March 2010, the UK’s expenditure in the two war-torn countries was at least £20.34 billion, Whitehall figures show.
Some £9.24 billion of this was spent in Iraq and £11.1 billion in Afghanistan.
The Treasury provided £8.22 billion out of its reserve for the military mission in Iraq between 2002-03 and 2009-10, in addition to the core Ministry of Defence budget, which was £35 billion in 2009-10.
Operating in Iraq also cost the Department for International Development (Dfid) £557 million between 2002-03 and 2009-10 and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) £283 million between 2002-03 and 2008-09.
A further £147 million went on spending in Iraq through cross-Government programmes like the ”global conflict prevention pool”.
Funding the military in Afghanistan accounted for £9.9 billion from the Treasury reserve between 2001-02 and 2009-10.
The UK also spent £1.2 billion on humanitarian, reconstruction and development assistance for the country over the same period, according to the FCO.
With 10,000 British troops still deployed to Afghanistan and no immediate end to the bloody Taliban insurgency in sight, the total cost will continue to rise.
Former chancellor Alistair Darling said in March that more than £4 billion was being allocated from the 2010-11 Treasury reserve to pay for military operations in Afghanistan.
The FCO set aside £118 million towards its efforts in Afghanistan for this financial year.
Professor Malcolm Chalmers, a defence analyst with the Royal United Services Institute, calculates that about 30% of the UK’s total defence budget is 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 said.
The analyst said the Treasury would be looking closely at expenditure on the British military mission in Afghanistan and predicted that it would probably become cheaper in the coming years.
The influx of 20,000 US Marines into Helmand Province allowed the UK to concentrate its forces in the centre of the province, reducing the cost of maintaining remote bases.