People look at The Tribute in Light installation from Liberty State Park, marking the 19th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in New York City. File/Reuters
Ahead of the 19th anniversary of al-Qaeda’s September 11th 2001 attacks on the US, the Costs of War Project at Brown University issued its latest report. This 30-page survey revealed that since then US President George W. Bush launched his “war on terror” at least 37 million and, perhaps, up to 59 million people — five times more than during World War II — have been displaced in eight countries where the US launched conflicts and has assumed the dominant role. These countries are Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and the Philippines.
These statistics not do not, however, “communicate how it might feel to lose one’s home, belongings, community, and much more,” states the report, which does not say the US “solely” to blame but contends that the US bears chief responsibility for displacements in the eight countries.
“Millions more have been displaced by US troop involvement in “smaller combat operations” in Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and eight Sub-Saharan African countries.
The authors of the report argue, “Wartime displacement (alongside war deaths and injured) must be central to any analysis” of (these US wars) and their short-and long-term consequences. Displacement also must be central to any possible consideration of the future use of military force by the United States or others. Displacing (tens of millions of people) raises the question of who bears responsibility for repairing the damage inflicted on those displaced.”
The report describes conditions in the eight surveyed countries. Among the three with the highest number of civilian victims are Iraq with 9.2 million and Syria with 7.1 million, 37 per cent of both pre-war populations, and Afghanistan with 5.3 million, or 26 per cent.
While the Taliban in Afghanistan played host to Al Qaeda and bore the blame for unleashing a US onslaught on that country, Iraq and Syria were blameless. The US war on Iraq was the most egregious of the eight. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein used an iron fist to crush Al Qaeda attempts to establish a presence in his country. The group managed to infiltrate Iraq and set up “Emirates” only after the US invasion and occupation.
The report states, “In Iraq… sectarian fighting and displacement following the 2003 US-led invasion destroyed what had been a ‘mosaic patchwork’ of mixed communities, in which Shia and Sunni and other religious and ethnic groups lived side-by-side, working together and intermarrying.
“What replaced it was an Iraq divided into three large ethno-sectarian regions defined by increasingly homogenous Shia, Sunni and Kurdish identities.
In cities like Baghdad, US forces contributed to the hardening of ethno-sectarian divisions.”
US involvement in Syria is the most recent and had nothing to do with Al Qaeda and everything to do with Syria’s 40-year alliance with Iran and long-standing support for Palestinian liberation movements. The report does not go into US intelligence involvement in the recruitment, training and arming of Syrian militiamen who fought to overthrow the Syrian government — the major cause of deaths, wounding and displacement across the country.
Instead, it focuses on direct US intervention in 2014 after Daesh established its cross-border caliphate stretching from Raqqa in Syria to Mosul in Iraq.
The 2017 campaign to eradicate Daesh resulted in 1,600 deaths, thousands of injuries, 470,000 displacements and the destruction of Raqqa. Additional fatalities, wounding, and displacements took place during the US anti-Daesh bombing campaign across Raqqa and Deir Al Zor provinces and have continued at reduced levels.
The report continues, “In late 2019 the abrupt repositioning of US troops in north-eastern Syria allowed the Turkish military to launch a threatened offensive against Kurdish forces… allied with the US military.” The result was 220,000 internal displacements and 17,900 who took refuge in northern Iraq. “While the Turkish military bears primary responsibility for this displacement, US officials chose to move US troops to bases near Syrian oil fields with full knowledge that its longstanding Turkish ally intended to carry-out large-scale ethnic cleansing” as it had done when occupying the majority-Kurdish district of Afrin in 2018 in the northwest.
Displacement began in 2001 in Afghanistan and continues today. “Be- fore the start of the US-led war 4.4 million Afghan refugees and asylum seekers (who fled due to post-Soviet conflict) remained abroad, along with more than 758,000 IDPs (internally displaced persons). Since the start of the US-led war, at least 2.1 million Afghans fled the country with another 3.2 million displaced internally.” This says the report is an “all time high.”
The Costs of War group has assessed the overall death toll at 770,000- 810,000, the largest number of fatalities being in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. This figure includes US military and civilian deaths as well as opponents and local civilians. The number of civilians is given as 335,000 but, the figure, in this writer’s view, is an underestimate. US expenditure on these wars was $6.4 trillion up to November 2019, with large portions of annual spending being on military “contractors” whose involvement has spiked since 2001.
The Costs of War Project, launched in 2010, consists of 50 scholars, legal experts, human rights personnel, and physicians who began their surveys with wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and “related violence in Pakistan and Syria.” The object is to inform the public with the aim of fostering more intelligent policies. Contributors have produced dozens of papers on all aspects of US war-making.
The Project is attached to the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs of Brown University, a highly respected seat of learning located in Providence, Rhode Island. The most widely known contributor is Andrew Bacevich, professor emeritus of History and International Relations at Boston University, who writes critically about US warfare. Bacevich knows from his own experience as a career officer in the US army who retired as a colonel in the armoured corps. He has long been a vocal critic of the US invasion and occupation of Iraq which he deems a cataclysmic failure and condemns US “preventive wars.” His son, also an army officer, was killed in Iraq in 2007.