"Our war on terrorism starts with al-Qaeda, but it won't end there. ..." announced US President George W. Bush in a televised address to the population on September 20, 2001, nine days after the attacks. "Every nation in every region must now make a decision. Either they are on our side or on the side of the terrorists. He combined this threat to the entire world with the warning that "Americans should not prepare for a battle, but for a long-lasting campaign, such as we have not yet experienced."
The vision invoked by Bush jr. was to come true in a terrible way: the military interventions that followed became some of the longest and most expensive wars in U.S. history. The September 11 attacks were a local criminal act in the U.S. that killed more than 3,000 people. The consequences of the justified interventions, on the other hand, were global: entire cities were destroyed, states were smashed, societies were torn apart and plunged into misery. The number of victims exceeds that of New York and Washington thousands of times.
Spread of wars
When it comes to the consequences of the wars after the terrorist attacks of "Nine Eleven", it is usually only thought of Afghanistan and Iraq. However, much more countries need to be involved, even if the wars there are no longer directly related to this catalytic event. The attack on Iraq by the US-led "coalition of the willing" was not motivated by terrorism, but by an alleged threat of weapons of mass destruction. However, not least the widely spread rumor via the US media that Saddam Hussein was involved in the September 11 attacks caused approval.
The US government, dominated by neoconservative hawks, made no secret of the fact that by occupying Afghanistan and Iraq, it was primarily following its strategic agenda of expanding US dominance in the "greater Middle East" and ushering in the "New American Century". These terms disappeared with the entry into office of Barack Obama, the pursuit of control of the region remained and was essential motive behind the ensuing wars and interventions.
This applies in particular to the interventions in Libya and Syria, even if they are usually placed in the context of the "Arab Spring". The war in Syria actually began as a civil war, albeit cheered on by the West and the Arab monarchies, but the escalation of this war was rooted not least in the occupation of Iraq. It 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". These then provided the NATO powers with the pretext for military intervention, as a renewed anti-terrorist war.
The occupation of Iraq officially ended at the end of 2011, but the war did not. After the re-spread of IS in the north and west of the country, it escalated again there. A US‒led alliance, in which Germany also participated, fought the jihadists from September 2014 both in Iraq and across borders in Syria - there in parallel with Syrian and later also Russian forces.
The NATO war against Libya was conducted somewhat apart from the central scenes, but also with the aim of overthrowing a regime that was not prepared to submit to the domination of the West and its neoliberal agenda. Libyan Islamist militiamen, who were smuggled into Syria by the CIA along with the weapons they captured, eventually played a decisive role in the initial spread of the civil war there.
Parallel to the major wars, the US expanded its "war on terror" after September 11, 2001 with the help of special forces, drones and domestic forces to many other countries, first of all to Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and the Philippines, soon to the entire globe. Currently, their "counterterrorism" operations extend to 85 countries. They have also been supporting the Saudi alliance's war against Yemen since 2015, together with their NATO partners, and are also taking part in a long-running bloody war for control of Somalia.
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 September 11, 2001, together, even if they have far more facets, of course.
The ignored victims
Officially, the continuation of the occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq was soon legitimized mainly with the effort to introduce democratic conditions and with development aid ‒ the wars became a "humanitarian intervention". However, no effort has been made to determine their humanitarian costs. They are almost obscured by the armies involved. For example, according to the Pentagon's latest 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 2,000 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.
However, the UN figures on civilian casualties from acts of war are also far from giving a realistic picture. In their annual reports on Afghanistan, they have fluctuated between 2,800 and 3,800 since 2010. Of course, such figures are hardly suitable to frighten a larger public, as they are only slightly higher than the number of road deaths in Germany.
The civilian casualties of combat operations recorded by the UN and NGOs are predominantly based on passively observed cases, i.e. cases reported by the media or registered by clinics. However, in war conditions, as studies show, only a small part of the victims can be recorded, the less, the more fierce the battles and the more remote they take place.
In addition, only those direct war deaths are usually counted, which are clearly classified as civilians. Without independent investigations on site, the status of the victims can rarely be determined. NATO troops always classify those killed by them as combatants as long as the opposite cannot be proven. However, the recording of the deaths is based in large part on reports from Western media, which in turn rely heavily on statements from the NATO staffs. In addition, a restriction to civilian victims does not do justice to the matter. Also killed combatants became victims of the war, regardless of whether they fought in the ranks of government forces, the Taliban or other resistance groups.
Finally, the indirect victims of war are not taken into account, i.e. the people who die, for example, as a result of the collapse of food, water and electricity supplies, epidemics or blocked access to health facilities. But over time, their number exceeds the number of direct deaths by several times.
A realistic estimate of the total number of victims of a military conflict is possible only with the help of representative surveys, through which it is possible to determine mortality before and during the conflict. If other causes are excluded, the additional deaths caused by the conflict (the so-called "excess deaths") can be estimated with a certain accuracy from the difference and extrapolated to the total population. Such mortality studies have also been carried out in many cases, for example in Angola, Bosnia, Congo or Sudan ‒ mainly where the West was interested in the figures.
But in the "post-9/11 wars" neither the participating NATO states nor the UN or the WHO felt obliged to do so. It is thanks to the personal initiative of scientists that there are at least realistic estimates for the first ten years of the Iraq War through mortality studies. These are also the central basis for the study "Body Count" ‒ casualty figures after 10 years of "War on Terror" by the "International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War" (IPPNW). By comparing the estimates of these studies with those based on passive observation, it was also possible to establish a measure for a more realistic estimate of the number of victims for the periods and for the countries for which mortality studies are not yet available.
The representative surveys can also provide a more accurate picture of how people died. For example, studies on Iraq found that almost a third of all victims of violence during the occupation had been killed by Western troops, mainly by air strikes and artillery shells.
Direct and indirect deaths
According to the IPPNW meta-study's cautious estimate, based on careful analysis of available data, the wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq claimed at least 1.3 million lives in the first decade. A similarly thorough analysis of the data on the victims of the "post-9/11 wars" for the second decade is still pending.
However, Neta C. Crawford and Catherine Lutz from the "Costs of War" project at Boston University have repeatedly published case numbers for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, later also Syria and Yemen, albeit only on the basis of passively observed cases. In total, they determined over 900,000 direct war deaths for these five countries by August 2021, about 375,000 of which they classify as civilian. However, the two scientists themselves consider this figure to be far too low and also assume a multiple of indirect victims.
In general, according to David Vine, another employee of "Costs of War", one has to assume four times as many deaths. Therefore, according to Vine, by the end of 2019, the total number of people killed by the wars could already exceed 3.1 million. Vine referred to a study published by the Secretariat of the "Geneva Declaration on Armed Violence and Development" in September 2008, which concluded that in most conflicts the number of indirect deaths was three to 15 times as high as the number of direct deaths. The mortality studies carried out in the years 2000 to 2003 on the civil War in the Democratic Republic of the Congo showed a ratio between direct and indirect war victims of about one in six.
These factors are in good agreement with the results of the IPPNW study, which compared the total numbers of war victims in Iraq estimated by mortality studies with the numbers recorded by passive observation. Here it was found that the numbers of actual victims are at least five to eight times greater than those determined by observation.
In Afghanistan, Crawford and Lutz put the number of Afghans killed in the war at about 170,000, of which 46,000 are classified as civilian. One indication of significant gaps is provided by a more detailed suburban search conducted by a BBC team in August 2019 for a month in a year in which UNAMA recorded an average number of victims. Although the BBC team, of course, could not cover all incidents in the country, it counted 2,300 war dead this month alone. "Costs of War" has recorded an average of 710 deaths per month, only a third as many.
Taking into account the probable number of unreported cases, we must therefore assume at least 800,000 victims in this country alone, but possibly also more than one million direct and indirect victims, over 40,000 per year. In addition, there are the people in Pakistan who were killed in the Afghan war. However, their detection and precise delineation is difficult. Crawford and Lutz estimate their number at nearly 67,000, so we probably have to add 200,000 to 300,000 victims in Pakistan to the victims of the Afghan War.
In their data on Iraq, Crawford and Lutz take over the number of civilian casualties from the "Iraq Body Count" (IBC), a British initiative that has been the most reliable in recording reported deaths in armed conflicts in the country since 2003. In addition to the approximately 200,000 civilian deaths recorded by the IBC, they also determined approximately 90,000 Iraqi combatants killed and 8,000 foreign soldiers and mercenaries ‒ mostly US - and thus calculated a total of around 300,000 deaths. For the first eight years to 2011, Crawford had estimated a total of 165,000 direct casualties of war. In the years following the official end of the US occupation, almost as many people were killed.
Assuming the still conservative estimate of the IPPNW body count based on the mortality studies for Iraq of more than one million victims for the period up to 2011 and calculating this analogous to the increase in Crawford and Lutz, the total number of all victims in Iraq grew to more than 1.8 million. This extrapolation makes a representative study of the victims of the recapture of the megacity Mosul plausible, which appeared in the journal PLOS Medicine in May 2018. Accordingly, there were probably approx. 90,000 people have been killed, 33,000 of them women and girls, most by airstrikes.
Much more difficult are estimates of the victims of the remaining "post-9/11 wars". For example, there are very different statements on Syria, mainly from the ranks of the opposition. Due to the unreliability of the data, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) soon suspended its publication of casualty figures based on it. Crawford and Lutz mainly rely on data from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), which receives financial support from London and Brussels, among others. It is nevertheless the most reliable of the oppositional sources. The scientists only look at the time since the direct entry of the US-led alliance into the war from September 2014, resulting in about 266,000 deaths. But they suspect that the number of all victims could exceed two million. SOHR itself estimated the total number from March 2011 to June 2021 at 606,000.
For Yemen, as the Independent's renowned Middle East correspondent Patrick Cockburn noted, "the lack of credible figures on fatalities" makes it "easier for foreign powers to dismiss "the accusation of complicity in a human catastrophe."
According to a report submitted to the UN Human Rights Council in early September, at least 18,000 civilians have been killed or wounded in Yemen since the start of the war waged by Saudi Arabia and its allies in 2015. They were mainly flown by Saudi Arabia and its allies, who are supported politically and with weapons by the NATO countries as well as directly militarily by the USA.
For their report, Crawford and Lutz adopted the figures on Yemen published by the British initiative ACLED (Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project), which only cover the years 2015 to 2019. During this period, ACLED recorded about 112,000 direct war deaths. Their publicly accessible database now totals about 145,000.
The project, which originated at the University of Sussex, collects and analyzes information about violent conflict events worldwide. For Yemen, it has recorded significantly more deaths than the UN, but seems to be less complete in recording than the projects specialized for individual countries. The Iraq Body Count, for example, identified 16,400 civilian victims of violence in Iraq in 2016, ACLED only 10,600.
The United Nations Development Program UNDP estimated the total number of victims of the war, as well as the blockade of the country tolerated by the West, as early as 2019 at 233,000. To 102,000 casualties in combat, their scientists added 131,000 indirect casualties. Based on the development in comparable wars, they calculated with statistical methods how many victims are to be expected if the war continues in the following years. For 2022, they expect in this case already with 482.000 dead. Based on the rather low numbers of ACLED, however, more than 700,000 Yemenis have probably already died as a result of the war.
Libya, the third country against which NATO countries waged direct war after 2001, is not included in "Costs of War". Several initiatives, including ACLED, have covered the victims of this aggression and the subsequent collapse of the state in different ways. Nicolas Davies, a journalist and researcher at the US peace organization CODEPINK, estimates that about 250,000 Libyans were killed directly or indirectly between 2011 and 2017. If one calculates the 4,850 cases recorded by ACLED since then analogously, one must now assume almost 300,000 deaths.
Finally, "Costs of War" also lacks Somalia, where the US has long intervened with airstrikes, covert operations, and arming and supporting local forces. ACLED has recorded about 56,000 violent deaths in its database since 2001. According to Davies, however, this war may have claimed more than 500,000 victims since the US-backed Ethiopian invasion in 2006 alone.
David Vine's projection of 3.1 million victims of the "post-9/11 wars" by the end of 2019 was certainly not exaggerated. Even this he still considered a conservative assumption, four million seemed to him at that time already more realistic, but also far more quite possible. If we start from the current figures of "Costs of War" and add the estimates for Libya and Somalia, we have to fear that the total number of victims can actually exceed five million long ago.
Of course, these projections are very rough estimates and the US and its allies cannot be held responsible for the total number of casualties. But whether the actual figures are twenty or fifty percent higher or lower is not decisive. It is crucial that they reflect the realistic orders of magnitude. These must be noted and made public. Of course, the number of victims spread in the media from time to time is also frightening. But, as might be expected in the context of such wars, they cause little excitement. If the full extent of the human disasters caused by such wars and assuming the dimensions of genocide were known to the general public, they would hardly be so easily managed in the future.
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