The Cost of a Dead Osama Bin Laden


As you likely know,  it was announced last night that earlier in the week Osama Bin Laden was killed by a small U.S. Navy SEAL team in a luxury compound in Pakistan.

I won’t pull punches – this makes me extremely happy. I’m not overly gung-ho about war, but in this case, I’m proud his life was ended by an American bullet to the head.

As I took a break to watch some television and internet coverage last night, the issue of the “cost” of the war and effort to find Bin Laden was brought into light.

The best research I could do found these statistics:

  • 1,000+ Coalition troops & contractors killed
  • 1,100+ U.S. Soldiers killed in Afghanistan
  • 2,974 American civilians killed in 9/11.
  • 3,000+ Injured American troops
  • 15,000+ Afghan troops & civilians killed
  • 45,000+ Injured Afghan troops
  • $400,000,000,000+ spent.

These rough estimates only account for Afghanistan. By all accounts, when you add in the Iraq war, the numbers just get bonkers.

$400 billion dollars. That’s a lot of money, but doesn’t even come close to the value of the lives lost along the way.

No matter how you do the math, over the last nine and a half years we’ve paid a hefty price tag.

This begs the question… Was it worth it?

How do we define worth in a situation like this? How do you measure value? Is this a pyrrhic victory or cause for true celebration?

In my opinion, this had to happen. Bin Laden needed to be found and killed.

Because there’s only one question scarier than asking about the cost of killing Bin Laden…

What’s the cost of not killing Osama Bin Laden?

Thanks to an elite group of Navy SEALS, we no longer have to ponder that question.

It will be interesting to see if any policy changes come in the next few months.

Let’s keep our fingers crossed.


photo by ssoosay

64 thoughts on “The Cost of a Dead Osama Bin Laden”

  1. I believe the more pertinent question is “What will the terrorists do now and will THAT be worth killing Bin Laden for?” You know they will not just quietly fade into oblivion now that Bin Laden is dead.

    1. I agree with the others here. Not killing him wasn’t going to end terrorism, just as killing him won’t. BUT, he was the leader, the person who orchestrated the greatest act of terrorism against the United States, and he needed to be brought to justice.

  2. I used to support this effort. I supported Afgahn more than IRAQ. But it’s been such a debacle. I think most of us have been seriously misled on all intel regarding everything going in and why we’re still there.

    But don’t get too carried away America. Bin Laden was just a poster child. That’s like killing Ronald McDonald & expecting McDonalds to shut down.

      1. It’s more like taking the emblem away from McDonalds, it won’t cause it to shut down, but does make it a less visible presence in the world.

  3. Mike Key is right. Al Queda isn’t an organization of which Bin Laden was head. It’s a movement of which he became the living symbol, in death he will still be a symbol. Though this movement is a terrorist movement now, like the IRA before it, it had injustice at its roots. Hopefully this Arab Spring may begin to remove injustices so that freedom and prosperity can grow, and since free, happy peoples have no gripes with anyone then the world can live in peace…….in theory anyway.

    BTW there was no connection whatsoever between the war in Iraq and the defence of the innocent in Afghanistan, nor the search for Bin Laden. That was all lies and whitewash.

    1. Linda, I agree with you on the majority. I’m also not suggesting a direct connection – however without Osama and 9/11 – there’s likely a FAR less likely chance we’d be in Iraq. So while there may not have been one there – we made one now.

      1. You’re right. But get ready, all the hype today, as me firmly believing that this is all another pretext to expand our wars. Everyone is so happy we got the boggy man, but wait, theres more, now we have to watch out, cause other boggy men might get us if we don’t do something about that.

  4. Why do we kill people who are killing people, to show that killing people is wrong?

    While getting revenge against him may give us some momentary please (“Take THAT, you piece of beeep!”) I believe you will find that it has solved nothing at all. We are no safer than before. It has not ended our problems with the Middle East one bit. We are throwing good money after bad by staying engaged with the M. E.

    The people I admire most in the world are Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr., H. H. Dalai Lama, and others who tell us that you can’t make peace by making war. It’s madness to think that a solution that has never worked before is suddenly going work.

    That’s all I will say on this topic, because it’s like a lot of other spiritual and political issues…people have their own beliefs. You have yours, I have mine.

    1. Great comment. I love this idea and theory, but in practice – I can’t imagine just turning a blind eye and letting Bin Laden run around without consequence.

      I believe in justice for the crimes and murders he helped lead and mastermind. And there’s no way he was coming in alive.

      1. Dealing with charismatic terroristic leaders has always been a problem for those who feel that if we ignore them—they will simply go away. Reality is they only seem to go away at death (as we saw in Stalin &Hitler). Cut off the head (even a figurative head) and the snake slithers and then perishes.
        After losing nine friends to bin Laden plots- I am happy to see him gone.
        The rest of the story can only be written by us- and our addiction to oil. That is what the wars have really been about- IMHO.

    2. Jennifer, it isn’t an issue of killing people who kill people. Or using violence to react to violence. The crime he committed required justice.

      Sure, someone else will take his place and orchestrate terrorism around the world. But he still committed a heinous crime, and he needed to be brought to justice, whether that was capture and trial, or death.

  5. If this was the final outcome desired by the people then we should have done a better job at it by applying basic general business rules. If you are not able to get the job done then pay an “expert” to do it right the first time. In this case, I believe a better option would have been to hire a crack team (like blackwater or similar) and pay them the bucks. Some where in the vicinity of a billion dollars w/expenses. This goal/outcome would have been done years ago and saved many of innocent lives in the process. Makes you wonder what the leaders agenda(s) of those countries really is. I have my guess. What’s next – Trump?

  6. I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if Bush had skipped the whole Iraq and Afghanistan wars and just focused intelligence on killing bin Laden from Day 1. The costs you just laid out would have been almost zero. All this time and money and lives, and all it took was a few helicopters and a SEAL team? Seriously…

    1. I agree, I think removing the Taliban and bringing justice to the leaders of the attacks were both very important. It’s too bad we got so remarkably tangled up for the last decade. 🙁

  7. Thanks for bringing the numbers. It took a lot of intelligence to make this happen. I’m not the kind of person to shout hip-hooray about killing someone, but I agree that this had to happen.

  8. The cost is much higher than your estimate – consider too the lives lost post-911 of the responders who survived and are now dying of respiratory diseases and cancers due to their exposure on that day.

    His death is a milestone, however important, but merely that. The war continues, and wherever the battle, it is not one we sought. But there are those in the world who wish us dead, and healf-measures and platitudes will not dissuade them in the slightest.

    The full story will come out in time, and it will be the grunt work by soldiers capturing enemy combatants, interrogators, intelligence gathers, analysts, planners and operators who performed this task. It is one of many in a greater battle.

    When I read comments that suggest a peaceful non-violent approach will work at all times and all places, I recall vividly the video of Daniel Pearl being beheaded. Sometimes a proper application violence is just the needed solution.

    And if you imagine that the U.S. choosing to isolate itself from world affairs will make us more beloved, you need to stay in your house for good.

    If anyone imagines this brings a close to these wars – they need to go home right now.

    1. I was eager to comment on Baker’s post, but when I saw Jay Skiles’ feedback, I knew I’d only be echoing him.

      The reporting of bin Laden’s death has more meaning when considering the timing than the impact. Between the 2012 elections, the dollar’s spiralling value and the fact Charlie Sheen no longer holds our attention, bin Laden is the shot in the arm so needed by the news.

      Sorry Baker, but his death impacts virtually nothing in terms of war expenditures. Don’t hold your breath for the headline “US Packing Up; Selling All Their Crap.”

      Maybe after “You vs. Debt” you could do “U.S. vs. Debt”? 🙂


  9. I don’t even begin to have a good answer on what $$ value to put on this kind of news today. At this point in his life I think he was really only symbolic, and the expenditures continue to be about fighting a war of cultural and religious ideals.

    I do think today we celebrate that a tyrant crossed from life to death and realized that his warped version of his faith turned out to be a lie. I’m sure he is painfully aware of this now in his new location in the afterlife.

    Thank you to all the military personnel who have served so valiantly, despite any of our concerns with the validity of the mission. I hope this news brings some measure of comfort to any of the families of the victims and military that gave their lives.

  10. I really hope that this means that we will bring our troops home from Afghanistan. It was a mistake for President Obama to conduct a surge in Afghanistan like we did in Iraq.

    The strategy behind the Afghanistan war was always about killing terrorists, not creating a democratic regime. On the other hand, in Iraq the mission was always about creating a stable country in the Middle East which required a troop surge.

  11. I’d love to see some US policy changes regarding the “war” on terror. But, I doubt we’ll see any scaling back of this ridiculous farce we’ve been on in search of “safety.” If anything, I feel that the assassination of bin Laden is closing a definable chapter on this war in order to allow the government to begin a (more) nebulous, hard-to-define one from which we will never escape.

    If I was being optimistic, I’d say this opens the door for huge defense budget cuts and an end to some of this TSA nonsense that would put us on the road to financial solvency…but I don’t think that will ever happen.

  12. I found this post in extremely bad taste. Yes, Bin Laden is a symbol of evil in this world. So much death in this world can be attributed to him. Yet a celebration of his death as we are seeing will only fuel Islamic extremist more. Do not forget Amercia is seen a symbol of what is wrong in the world by many. This type of bragging will do nothing to change that view in the eyes tof the world.

    I am so upset that you had the nerve to write this garbage that shows such Amercian arrogance I have ended my feed to your blog and encourge others to do the same.

    You were doing some nice work, but this is way off base and way out of line. If you loss some support and $, maybe you will learn to watch what put out there for public consumption.

    1. Thanks for sharing your opinion, Gord.

      I’m glad to have built my business and community by writing about what I felt, when I felt it. Honest and transparent. I’ve never let “support and $” lead what I write – and I’m not about to now.

      1. Have to agree with you here, Baker. I disagree with you on Bin Laden, but respect your right to have a different opinion. Heck – if you can’t say what you feel on your own blog, where can you say it?! 🙂

        Personally, the tone of the celebrations makes me uncomfortable. I agree that Bin Laden needed to be held accountable and brought to justice – but that’s why we have an international court system. To celebrate so joyfully the death of another person – no matter how reprehensible that person – isn’t a road that I think we should go down.

        Plus, it’s hard for me to justify the cost of this effort, not just monetarily, but in human lives. I can’t see a solution to the equation where it makes sense to trade thousands of lives for this one and cheer in the streets over it.

  13. All really wonderful, thoughtful comments. I’m so torn and inarticulate about the complexities it all that I’ll just leave it to a personal hero:

    ‎”I will mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
    ~Martin Luther King Jr

  14. Your blog’s name is Man vs. Debt. If I wanted a world news report then I would go or or the like in a blog format: There are certainly millions of them.

    Sure, it is a huge worldwide event: But you didn’t write an entry for Japan’s Tsunami.

    You have a great website/service/project/etc here. That is why I am a frequent reader of it. DO NOT mix it with news/politics/religion… You don’t have to.

    My 2 cents. Thanks.

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Gus. You are correct in pointing out I didn’t write about the Japanese Tsunami – but I did help consult two different charity sales which I openly promoted on Facebook and Twitter.

      I’ve done similar things with the earthquakes in Christchurch and *did* write about the earthquake in Haiti.

      It’s rare I talk about any “events”, but this WILL happen in the future, too. If I’m compelled to write about an issue I’m struggling to balance. I will write it.

      1. Your blog…post whatever you want, man. 🙂 My 2 cents. Plus, Man vs. Debt stopped being strictly about “personal finance” a LONG time ago, I see a few readers still haven’t noticed. 😉

  15. UnecessaryEvil

    I hope people realize that these wars cost over 2 trillion dollars a year to fund. We have over 1 million dead Iraqis, and close to 5,000 dead U.S. troops; the Afghan War is currently our LONGEST fighting war, exceeding Vietnam; we’ve been trying to find Bin Laden since 1998 – nearly 13 years.

    Was it worth it just to kill one guy? NO, it never has been since the start, and never will. If we had a humble non-intervention foreign policy and not have even gotten involved in the Middle East-Asia, we would have never had to worry about what people would call “Muslim-extremist”. This is all caused by our corrupt interventionist foreign policy, and could have been avoided. We have lost 4500 American soldiers, there thousands wounded, and not to forget our huge financial burden that lays on our shoulders thanks to these wars. All that to find and kill one guy.

  16. They were saying in the news that the “war on terror” is not over — now that Bin Laden has been killed, they want Ayman al-Zawahiri, who was referred to as “the real mastermind behind global terrorism”. They even said that he is more dangerous than Bin Laden…

  17. I not only studied terrorism in college and received awards for much of my work (read, papers and studies), I am a former Marine sniper, entering the Corps during the Vietnam war.

    I’m proud that the man behind the actions taken against our citizens and on our soil has been put to bed, permanently.

    I’m always amazed at the younger generation that rails against war of any kind. I’m glad these people aren’t running the America I know and love. We were attacked on our own soil and a response was not only required, it was critical.

    This is not going to end terrorism, but it is certainly going to put those hell-bent on harming us on our soil that they will be held accountable. JSOC is made up of the best of the best from the Army Rangers, Marine Recon, Navy Seals and Special Forces. These guys are as skilled as they come in acquiring their target and eliminating it with extreme prejudice. You should be thankful they are willing to put their lives on the line to protect you and your families. And yes, that is exactly what they are doing.

    Enjoy your carefree lives. But give credit where it’s due… to those that give you the opportunity to do so.

    Baker, don’t give those that try to tell you what you should speak about on your blog. It’s yours, due with it what you want and let the chafe fall by the way side. Freedom of speech and expression are your right. Thank you for a great post. You’re dead on.

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  19. I certainly think the world is a better place without him. With that said, this is not the end of terrorism and his death could actually increase attacks in the short term.

    Some are saying that we’ve “won”. I’m not sure I agree with that. The 9/11 attacks and terrorism has made plane travel a huge PITA and much more expensive. The TSA is security theater. The US has spent trillions on wars – which from what I’ve read about Al-Qaeda is actually a goal – to bankrupt the country into failure. Does the Patriot Act get repealed now? I’m guessing not.

  20. I really didn’t find this post offensive at all, actually, so I’m not sure what Gord and Co. are all upset about. I agree, the cost to hunt down Bin Laden was not worth the cost in dollars and/or in lives lost. But, whether you disagree or not, it’s certainly something to think about. Maybe that makes people uncomfortable, but I think that’s okay.

  21. This is definitely a bitter sweet moment. On one hand I’m am glad he’s dead but on the other I know it won’t really change the situation. I still remember watching video of 9/11 and while this does not bring anyone back, it is a good reminder of American resolve (albeit an extreme situation).

    I hesitate to celebrate too much since celebrating his death does remind me of the “celebrations” I saw after 9/11 in a few Middle Eastern countries…

  22. Don’t like this post either, partially because I’m from outside the US and it does read like unenlightened triumphalist stuff. Lots of good responses above. The idea of celebrating *any* death makes me feel nauseous. It’s a sad business, period.

    The figures listed are also sickening: half a $trillion +? Absolutely obscene, that sort of money could genuinely start to end poverty and inequality and injustice in the world – which are the root causes of much of this hatred. 15,000 Afghans killed (that’s 15 for every American) – that’s disgusting. Every death, injury, berievement – from *any* part of the of the world – is tragic and our efforts would be better spent trying to find ways to dismantle the hatred rather than celebrating it.

  23. Am glad to read Jennifer L’s comments, and that a few Americans are on the side of peace (I assume she’s American).

    I’m not from the US and have been appalled at all this U-S-A, U-S-A jingoism, especially from a nation of people saying they believe in the word of God.

    I understand that the victims of 9/11 will have unique feelings about this, but for the rest of the country the ‘war spiral’ continues.

    The US killed more people in the last decade than anyone. So how is Islam any more ‘violent’ than Christianity? Food for thought.

    The next threat in the world won’t be China or Pakistan or another country but an even more Right-wing America closing in on bankruptcy..

    1. I completely agree.

      I was a big fan of this site, but I must say after reading this post I am pretty disappointed and will not be returning. I assumed that Baker would be a little more enlightened towards the state of the world since having spent time abroad.

      I am an American expat and frankly the reactions from Americans over this ‘victory’ have left me sick to my stomach. It just shows that we have a long way to go in terms of recognizing our common humanity.

      This has also shown me how effective propaganda works. I have defended myself against the stereotype of the typical American but after this incident it is going to be increasingly difficult. USA! USA! I mean c’mon, really guys?

      Why are you proud, Baker? You should not be proud of anything that comes out of war. Yes, Bin Laden did bad things. Let’s do a quick comparison of all the innocent people the US has killed compared to him. I can assure you, our government has killed A LOT more and yet no one will be rejoicing when one of our government officials die.

      1. Thanks for Davids and Anonymous comments. I had the exact same feeling when reading, I found this page just now and liked it at first but this makes me not want to return anymore. I can’t believe how anyone can be proud of american foreign politics.

  24. I agree with Baker that it is good news that OBL has been laid to rest. The difficulty is attempting to understand the complex relationships that brought us to this point.

    Here is just a tiny slice:

    “The CIA provided assistance to the fundamentalist insurgents through the Pakistani secret services, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), in a program called Operation Cyclone. Somewhere between $3–$20 billion in U.S. funds were funneled into the country to train and equip (Mujahadeen) troops with weapons, including Stinger surface-to-air missiles.”

    The early foundations of al-Qaida were built in part on relationships and weaponry that came from the billions of dollars in U.S. support for the Afghan mujahadin during the war to expel Soviet forces from that country.

    During the anti-Soviet jihad Bin Laden and his fighters received American and Saudi funding. Some analysts believe Bin Laden himself had security training from the CIA.

    This is just a snippet of the complex history of our involvement in the creation of our own enemy. I encourage everyone to read the detailed information available on wikipedia and other sites. Here is a link if your interested:

    Mabie it is time to spend less of the $790 million dollars a day it costs for us to be in Afghanistan and Iraq and rethink what exactly it is we should be doing to help ourselves, our people and our country. In the news, I hear about how there is no money left for entitlements, medicare, medicaid, veterans benefits, high speed trains, upgraded roads and infrastructure….I say there is plenty of money…tonnes of money…it is simply a matter of priority.

    Just a thought.

  25. It would be interesting to figure up the amount of money that would have been generated if 9/11 had never happened. For example, If we still had all of the citizens that have died in relation to 9/11 (the actual attacks, plus the lives of military members), employed and producing things, going to work every day and putting their money into the economy, If the stock market had never taken the hit that it did, and if we were able to spend all of that 400 billion on things we normally would have spent money on.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m absolutely thrilled we got our man, but it would still be interesting to know where we, and the rest of the world for that matter, would be today.

  26. I’m convinced that if the United States really wanted to kill Osama, they could have from the get-go. I feel like they played a lot of games and messed around, wasting dollars and lives.

    But that’s the government for you, heh.

    It took guts writing this Adam.

  27. I am just a lex talionis type of woman…retaliatory justice. I don’t believe that the wars are fought over democracy, but like every other war in history, over resources. However, if you threaten and kill our people, we will hunt you down and end you. These wars aren’t a new concept…just the latest chapter in the ongoing saga of the Crusades. Christianity versus Islam with a helping of the spoils of war on the side.

    I would have encased his body in carbonite and hung it at the site of ground zero.

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  30. And then.. you ask me why we (the rest of the world) consider the US Government the biggest terrorist group in history?
    US ALONE have killed more people than any country or organisation in the world. Period.
    And I won’t take more time to check for exact numbers, but it seems to be “more people than all other countries summed up”

    Osama was definitely someone that deserved to be killed. Thumbs up. But you insist on killing zilions of NICE HUMAN BEINGS in their homes.
    If it’s going to be “eye for eye”, you’d be all dead. I sat on front of the TV for 6 hours straight on 9/11, crying. But then I’d have to spend the rest of my life crying for all the innocents killed by the US.

    And still you can’t understand that.

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