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Radio Islam News and Agencies | 15 November 2018

Hundreds of thousands of people in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan have been killed due to the so-called "war on terror" launched by the United States in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attack, according to a new study.

The report, which was published last Saturday by the Brown University's Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, put the death toll between 480 000 and 507 000.

The toll includes civilians, armed fighters, local police and security forces, as well as US and allied troops.

The report states that between 182 272 and 204 575 civilians have been killed in Iraq; 38 480 in Afghanistan; and 23 372 in Pakistan. Nearly 7 000 US troops were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan in the same period.

The paper, however, acknowledged that the number of people killed is an "undercount" due to limitations in reporting and "great uncertainty in any count of killing in war".

"We may never know the total direct death toll in these wars," wrote Nera Crawford, the author of the report titled "Human Cost of the Post-9/11 Wars: Lethality and the Need for Transparency".

"For example, tens of thousands of civilians may have died in retaking Mosul and other cities from ISIS [also known as ISIL] but their bodies have likely not been recovered."

A peer reviewed study by Lancet, one of the world’s oldest scientific journals, in 2006 already estimated that 654 965 “excess deaths” had been caused by the war in Iraq alone. Of these 31% (186 318) were attributed to the US-led Coalition, 24% (144 246) to others, and 46% (276 472) unknown. The Lancet’s methodology was criticised at the time by some researchers, but its most notable critics were the US and British governments.

Another 2007 study by ORB International, an independent polling agency located in London, put the estimates of the total war casualties in Iraq since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 at over 1.2 million deaths (1 220 580), which it subsequently revised to 1 033 000.

People who were indirectly killed as a result of war, such as through disease or bad infrastructure, were also not included in the latest Brown University report.

“Indirect harm occurs,” the paper said, “when wars’ destruction leads to long term, “indirect,” consequences for people’s health in war zones, for example because of loss of access to food, water, health facilities, electricity or other infrastructure.”

War still raging

In a statement, Brown University said the new toll "is a more than 110 000 increase over the last count, issued just two years ago in August 2016".

"Though the war on terror is often overlooked by the American public, press and lawmakers, the increased body count signals that, far from diminishing, this war remains intense."

As an example, the US war in Afghanistan, which has been the country's longest military invasion for 17 years, has lessened in intensity in recent years, but the number of civilians killed in 2018 has been one of the war's highest.

While the study controversially claims that most direct war deaths of civilians in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and Syria have been caused by “militants”, it does conclude that the US and its coalition partners have also killed civilians.

“Since the start of the post-9/11 wars, the Department of Defense has not been consistent in reporting on when and how civilians have been harmed in US operations.”

“There is a need for greater transparency in the accounting of civilian deaths and injuries caused by US and allied operations.”

US military losses

The so-called war on terror also continues to exact a tall price from the American military.

The study suggests nearly 7000 United States soldiers and sailors have been killed in the post-9/11 wars. Though the statistics show the number of US combatants killed in the wars annually has declined, the background to this is the US tactically transferring much of the direct ground combat in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan to its allies.

But the price of US interventionism runs deeper.

Since 2001, according to the study, more than 53 700 US soldiers and sailors have been officially listed as wounded in the major post-9/11 war zones. Then there are yet others suffering trauma and falling victim to suicide.

“The Congressional Research Service has stopped releasing regular updates on US military casualty statistics. In its most recent report, issued in 2015, the Congressional Research Service found that more than 300,000 troops have suffered traumatic brain injuries.

“Suicide is also an urgent and growing problem among the veterans of the post-9/11 wars. Although it is difficult to tell how many of these suicides are by post-9/11 war veterans, because the VA does not disaggregate by war, there were more than 6 000 veteran suicides each year from 2008-2016, a rate that is 1.5 times greater than that of the non-veteran population.”

The Brown University researchers stated that the update just scratched the surface of the human consequences of 17 years of war.

“Too often, legislators, NGOs, and the news media that try to track the consequences of the wars are inhibited by governments determined to paint a rosy picture of perfect execution and progress. The US has made some effort to increase transparency, but there are a number of areas — the number of civilians killed and injured, and the number of US military and veteran suicides, for instance — where greater transparency would lead to greater accountability and could lead to better policy.”


Beyond the deep-rooted impact in specific conflict zones, there is another more insidious legacy to the ‘war-on-terror’.

Illustrating this dimension, a 2017 op-ed published by al-Jazeera suggested that the 'war on terror' had won.

“George Bush's brand of "war on terror" has spread internationally as a favourite tool to cover up of war crimes,” commentator Charles Davis wrote.

He referenced how regimes of variant ideological persuasions have all managed to drum up support for their often criminal campaigns by framing their internal conflicts as a war on terror, thereby making an appeal that resonates with a built-in audience.

“Terrorism is a useful foe. Wars against it need not be declared, and combatants need not be defined. Traditional warfare, with a uniformed opponent, brings with it the not always avoidable bureaucracy of international law; lawyers saying you can't shoot this or that. No conflict is outside the law, at least on paper. However, an amorphous tactic can't file a petition at The Hague, and when every power of note is on the same page with respect to the need to kill shadowy non-state actors, extrajudicially, it's smart statecraft to adopt the rubric of the war on terror, with modern flourishes...”

“Every terroriser with a seat at the UN has learned the tune, and the wars keep humming along. Bush's regime change in Iraq gave rise to the forces and political dynamics that would make stability and a regime's preservation the overriding concern of left, right and centre. As hundreds of thousands of dead civilians and thousands more living through war crimes can attest, from Yemen to Syria and Iraq to Myanmar, the "war on terror" has won,” Davis concluded.