Friday, January 21, 2011

Is Killing One Insurgent Worth 250,000 Bullets / $250,000?

Here's another practical exercise in cost-benefit analysis as applied to military matters. U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan apparently shoot at least 250,000 rounds of small- and medium-caliber ammunition for every insurgent killed.

I did an extremely cursory search online, and it looks to me like your average bullet costs about $1 - I am certainly not a munitions expert, so it's possible that the cost of the bullets that U.S. and NATO forces are using cost less than that, but I'd probably guess they're more expensive. So, we'll say that 1 bullet = $1, so killing one insurgent costs on average at least $250,000, and that's before paying for the soldier and all of the other support for the soldier.

So, is killing 1 insurgent worth $250,000? Or might there be better ways to win a war with so much money?


  1. Thanks so much for posting this. I think your estimate is low. You have to train, transport, feed and provide many support people for that one bullet to be fired. I'm guessing it's more like $700,000 - $1,000,000 to kill one insurgent.

    I think this has been cost out in detail, but I could not fins it in a google search.

    Wouldn't it make more sense to fund schools in Muslim countries and teach tolerance and not hate? That do not have suicide as the final exam?


  2. Good point - I was only looking at the marginal cost of killing one insurgent (i.e. the bullets used), not the (relatively, at least compared to the bullets) indirect costs of the soldier, his equipment, his training, support staff in the U.S., etc.

    With some very rough estimates (from and and rough calculations, we can guess that it costs about $28 million to kill an insurgent in Iraq, and that's only counting relatively direct costs - adding the total indirect costs might make that figure 3 times higher.

    For Afghanistan (, the rough figure is about $10 million per insurgent killed (though again, that's only relatively direct costs; adding indirect costs could triple that number).

    Amazing sums of money, to be sure.

    I know this is impractical on several levels, but part of me thinks that it would be cheaper to simply pay every Iraqi / Afghani / citizen of a country whose leader we'd like to see deposed to rebel and set up a democracy. For example, in 2003, Iraq's population was a little over 25 million people; we could have simply paid every person in the country $5,000 to overthrow Saddam Hussein and establish a democracy, conditional on actually establishing a stable democracy. That would have only cost us $125 billion and no combat casualties - a bargain compared to the $785 billion (plus a lot of blood) that we've spent to date.

  3. thanks for the follow-up, and posting your source for info. So far, we have allocated or spent about $900 Billion USD for the war, per this link:

    AND, about 55,000 insurgents/Al Queda supposedly have been killed. That means we have spent over $16,360,000 for each enemy dead.

    Hardly a bargain. I still think funding non-radical muslim schools is a better deal, and far less costly in terms of geopolitics and such.

    I agree that "buying democracy" is a better deal, in every way!

    BTW, congrats on graduating from KSG, I used to know somebody that works there.