September 11 marked the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, and shortly thereafter the so-called "war on terror", which the US unleashed in response with the attack on Afghanistan from October 7, 2001. The US and NATO war in this previously battered country in the Hindu Kush came to an end with the withdrawal of the last troops. However, the attack on US troops at the Kabul airport, which also killed dozens of civilians, and the civilian victims of the drone attacks that US President John Biden launched in retaliation, are yet another example of the heavy toll of blood that the military interventions, which were extended to more and more countries after September 11, 2001, demanded of the affected population. The full extent of the humanitarian costs has so far remained largely hidden from the public. However, for an assessment of the wars and interventions that Western states have started or supported in the last 20 years, as well as the discussion of future ones, a realistic assessment of the number of their victims is essential.
The armies involved are virtually obscuring them. For example, according to the latest Pentagon report, US forces in Afghanistan, Somalia and Iraq killed only 85 civilians from 2017 to 2020. The UN mission in Afghanistan, UNAMA, on the other hand, has recorded over 2000 victims of attacks by foreign troops in Afghanistan alone for the years 2016 to 2020. Most of these attacks were carried out by US units.
Dead are only counted if they are considered civilians
The UN reports are also far from giving a realistic picture. In its annual reports on Afghanistan, Unama reported between 2,800 and 3,800 civilian casualties since 2010. Such figures are not likely to frighten the public, as they are only slightly higher than the number of road deaths in Germany.The civilian casualties of combat operations recorded by UN missions or private and university initiatives are predominantly based on cases reported by the media or registered by clinics. However, under war conditions, as studies show, only a fraction of the actual casualties can be recorded.Large gaps are also created by the fact that, as a rule, only deaths are counted, which can be classified as civilians. On the one hand, such a classification can rarely be carried out reliably without independent on-site investigations. On the other hand, a restriction to civilian deaths does not do justice to the matter. Combatants who were killed also became victims of the war, regardless of which side they fought on, and many were also forced to fight by force or economic coercion. It also completely ignores the much more numerous indirect victims who die as a result of the collapse of the supply of food, water and electricity, blocked access to health facilities or the outbreak of epidemics caused by the war.When it comes to the consequences of the wars after "Nine Eleven", one often thinks only of Afghanistan and Iraq. However, military interventions were not limited to the two countries. The US expanded its "war on terror" with the help of special forces, drones and domestic forces also against Islamist groups in other countries, first in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, since 2012 also in Mali, Niger, Mauritania and Chad, among others.
Strategic goal: More US dominance in the Middle East
The neoconservative Hawkish administration of George Bush Jr. made no secret of the fact that the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq were primarily part of their strategic agenda to expand U.S. dominance in the "greater Middle East" and usher in the "New American Century". These terms disappeared, but the wars continued.With Libya, Syria and Yemen, other countries were added in which NATO countries intervened militarily or supported an intervention. In Syria, they initially promoted only an armed uprising, the escalation of which was rooted in a civil and proxy war. This created the basis for the emergence of the predecessor organization of the two strongest and most devastating jihadist militias for Syria, the "Islamic State" (IS) and the "Al Nusra Front".Although the occupation of Iraq officially ended at the end of 2011, the war escalated again after the spread of IS in the north and west of the country. A US-led alliance, in which Germany also participated, fought the jihadists from September 2014 across borders in Syria - parallel to Syrian and later also Russian Streitkräften.Es it therefore seems justified to look at the victims of all these "post-9/11 wars", as they are called in the USA, unleashed after 11 September 2001, together, even if they each have far more facets.
How to get a realistic total number of dead?
Although the wars against Afghanistan and Iraq were originally justified with preventive or "preemptive self-defense", their continuation was mainly justified with the aim of improving living conditions in the country through aid projects and the introduction of democratic conditions. However, no effort has been made to determine the humanitarian costs of this type of "humanitarian intervention".A realistic estimate of the total number of victims of a military conflict is possible only through representative surveys in the framework of mortality studies. Such studies have also been carried out in other wars and conflicts, in the Sudanese crisis region of Darfur, for example, even several. But in the "post-9/11 wars", neither the WHO nor the UN, nor even the NATO countries involved, felt obliged to arrange for them. It is thanks to the personal initiative of scientists and their institutes that there are at least realistic estimates for the first ten years of the Iraq War. Comparing their results with passively observed casualty figures in Iraq also provides a measure of more realistic estimates for periods and countries for which there are no mortality studies to date.
Number of victims in the last 20 years
The "International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War" (IPPNW), which examined the number of casualties in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq after the first decade, estimate, based on the available data, that at least 1.3 million people died in these countries in the first decade as a result of the wars. For the second decade of the "post-9/11 wars," a similarly careful analysis is still pending.Neta C. However, Crawford and Catherine Lutz from the "Costs of War" project at Brown University in Rhode Island have repeatedly published case numbers for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, later also Syria and Yemen, if only on the basis of passively observed cases. In total, according to their current report, they have identified over 900,000 direct war deaths for these five countries by August 2021, 375,000 of them civilian.However, the two scientists assume that the actual number is much higher and that the number of indirect victims is a multiple of this. In general, according to David Vine, another employee of "Costs of War", you have to assume four times as many deaths. Vine referred to the "Global Burden of Armed Violence" study of the "Geneva Declaration" initiative of September 2008, which concluded that in most conflicts the number of indirect deaths was three to fifteen times as high as the number of direct ones. From the studies carried out in the years 2000 to 2003 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo on the internationalized civil war there, one can deduce a ratio of about one to six.These factors are in good agreement with the results of the IPPNW study, which compared the total numbers of war casualties in Iraq estimated by mortality studies for specific periods with the numbers of civilian casualties recorded by passive observation. Here it was found that the actual number of victims is at least five to eight times as high as that determined by observation.
More than 40,000 deaths a year in Afghanistan
In Afghanistan and Pakistan, the total number of war deaths recorded from October 2001 to April 2021 totals about 243,000, of which 71,000 are classified as civilian. Taking into account the above-mentioned ratios between the number of war victims observed and realistic estimates, we must now assume that over 800,000 people in Afghanistan and Pakistan were victims of the war, that is, over 40,000 per year.For Iraq, the two scientists determined a total of at least 300,000 people killed by combat operations in the period from March 2003 to August 2021, in addition to about 200,000 civilians, about 90,000 Iraqi combatants and 8,000 foreign – mainly US-americans – Soldiers and mercenaries. For the first eight years until 2011, Crawford had identified a total of 165,000 direct victims of the war, the number has almost doubled again.If the number of one million deaths conservatively estimated by the IPPNW study based on the mortality studies in Iraq for the period up to 2011 is calculated accordingly, the total number of all victims in Iraq has now grown to over 1.8 million. This extrapolation is supported by a representative study on the victims of the recapture of the megacity Mosul, which appeared in the journal PLOS Medicine in May 2018. Some 90,000 people were killed, 33,000 of them women and girls, most of them by airstrikes.
It therefore seems entirely plausible if David Vine assumed that by the end of 2019 the total number of victims of the "Post-9/11 wars" considered by "Costs of War" could have exceeded 3.1 million. Libya, the third country against which NATO countries waged direct war, is not even considered here.Of course, these projections are very rough estimates. It is important to note them as realistic orders of magnitude. In itself, the figures determined by the UN are frightening, but, as expected in the context of such wars, hardly cause excitement. If the actual dimensions of the victims of such wars were known to a broad public, such wars would hardly be waged by democratic countries.