Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
Costs of War

Environmental Costs

The wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan have had a serious impact on the natural environments of these countries. Military vehicles consume petroleum-based fuels at an extremely high rate, with the vehicles used in the war zones having produced many hundreds of thousands of tons of carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons, and sulfur dioxide in addition to CO2. Air pollution from military vehicles and weaponry has adversely affected public health among civilians in the war zones and US service members.

Heavy military vehicles have raised more dust than usual, particularly in Iraq and Kuwait, and service members’ exposures to inhaled toxins from that dust have correlated with respiratory disorders that often prevent them from continuing to serve and performing everyday activities such as exercise.

The water supply in the war zones has been contaminated by oil from military vehicles and depleted uranium from ammunition. Along with the degradation of the natural resources in these countries and a radical destruction of forest cover, the animal and bird populations have also been adversely affected.

Iraqi medical doctors and health researchers have called for more research on war-related environmental pollution as a potential contributor to the country’s poor health conditions and high rates of infections and diseases.

Key Findings 

  • Destruction of military base garbage in burn pits and other military operations have exposed soldiers and civilians to dangerous levels of pollutants.

  • Deforestation in Afghanistan as a result of illegal logging, particularly by warlords, has destroyed wildlife habitat.

  • In Iraq, increases in cancer, birth defects, and other conditions have been associated with war-related environmental damage and toxins.


  • The Pentagon should track war-related injuries, illnesses, and deaths among service members as a result of toxic dust exposure during deployments.

  • It should regularly disclose its own fuel consumption for each war zone and supporting operations.

(Page updated as of April 2015)