Washington’s “global war on terror” has cost the country at least $430 billion over the past five years in military and diplomatic efforts, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the watchdog arm of the US Congress.

The GAO warns that future costs may be difficult to estimate because of irregularities in how the Pentagon does its accounting and because of unforeseen events in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The report comes only weeks before the fifth anniversary of the September 9/11 attacks. The figures are important because they show how much the war is still costing the US in Iraq and Afghanistan. The money spent could have helped fund employer health insurance for 107.5 million US citizens. The figures are also notable because before the March 2003 US invasion of Iraq, top officials in Bush administration said they expected the invasion not to burden the US budget and predicted that Iraqi oil sales would pay for reconstruction and some expenses associated with military operations.

The report explains that since 2001, the Department of Defence (DOD) alone received $386 billion for its military operations, while other agencies, including the State Department and the Agency for International Development (USAID), have received about $44 billion to fund reconstruction and stabilisation programmes. Of that money, Iraq received the lion’s share at $34.5 billion.

Afghanistan received nine billion dollars, while an additional $400 million were slated to be used in both countries. For 2007, the Pentagon has requested another $50 billion for military operations, and other US government agencies have requested $771 million for reconstruction.

The congressional watchdog signalled its concern over how the Pentagon reports the costs associated with the war on terror, which adds to the difficulty of estimating future costs. It says that through April 2006, the Pentagon reported $273 billion in incremental costs, which differ from the GAO findings on money allocated to operations.

“DOD’s reported GWOT (Global War on Terror) costs and appropriated amounts differ generally because DOD’s cost reporting does not capture some items such as intelligence and army modular force transformation,” says the report.

GAO says the US war on terror will likely involve the “continued investment of significant resources”, requiring decision makers to consider difficult trade-offs as the country faces increasing fiscal challenges in the years ahead.

“Our nation is not only threatened by external security threats, but also from within by growing fiscal imbalances due primarily to known demographic trends and rising health care costs,” David M Walker, the US comptroller general, said. It is not known how much money other US government agencies will need to help form governments and build security forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. He said that Iraqi needs are greater than anticipated.

Additional expenses facing the US include the new US embassy in Baghdad, which is projected to cost a whopping $592 million, but the full cost of establishing a diplomatic presence across Iraq is still unknown. In Afghanistan, the army and police programmes could cost up to $7.2 billion to complete and $600 million annually to sustain, the GAO says. — IPS