Herland Report: Since the George W. Bush administration launched a “global war on terror” following Al Qaeda’s September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, the U.S. military has waged war continuously for almost two decades.
In that time, U.S. forces have fought in wars or participated in other combat operations in at least 24 countries. The destruction inflicted by warfare in these countries has been incalculable for civilians and combatants, for U.S. military personnel and their family members, and for entire societies. Deaths and injuries number in the millions.
The United States’ post-9/11 wars have contributed significantly to the dramatic increase in recent years in the number of people displaced by war and violent conflict worldwide.
Between 2010 and 2019, the total number of refugees and IDPs globally has nearly doubled from 41 million to 79.5 million, writes Professor of Anthropology at American University in Washington, DC, David Vine in a new report by Watson Institute, Brown University.
It is co-authored by Cala Coffman, Katalina Khoury, Madison Lovasz, Helen Bush, Rachel Leduc,and Jennifer Walkup. The following are excerpts from the David Vine, Brown University Report.
This report is the first to measure comprehensively how many people these wars have displaced.
Using the best available international data, this report conservatively estimates that at least 37 million people have fled their homes in the eight most violent wars the U.S. military has launched or participated in since 2001.
In total, we estimate that the eight U.S. post-9/11 wars that are the focus of this study have displaced 36,869,026 people (see Table 1 found in the report). We round this total to 37 million given that our calculation is an estimate, not a precise count. This total includes refugees, asylum seekers, and IDPs numbering:
▪ 5.3 million Afghans (representing 26% of the pre-war population)
▪ 3.7 million Pakistanis (3% of the pre-war population)
▪ 4.4 million Yemenis (24% of the pre-war population)
▪ 4.2 million Somalis (46% of the pre-war population)
▪ 1.7 million Filipinos (2% of the pre-war population)
▪ 9.2 million Iraqis (37% of the pre-war population)
▪ 1.2 million Libyans (19% of the pre-war population)
▪ 7.1 million Syrians (37% of the pre-war population)
The Cost of War Post-9/11 Wars, Refugee Crisis Caused by the US – Brown University, David Vine: Ultimately, displacing 37 million—and perhaps as many as 59 million—raises the question of who bears responsibility for repairing the damage inflicted on those displaced.
Homeless veterans from the post-9/11 wars represent others displaced in indirect ways by these
wars. In the United States, alone, there were more than 31,000 homeless veterans from the post 9/11 wars as of 2015.
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The Brown University Major findings
The U.S. post-9/11 wars have forcibly displaced at least 37 million people in and from Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, the Philippines, Libya, and Syria.
This exceeds those displaced by every war since 1900, except World War II. § Millions more have been displaced by other post-9/11 conflicts involving U.S. troops in smaller combat operations, including in: Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, Niger, Saudi Arabia, and Tunisia.
37 million is a very conservative estimate.
The total displaced by the U.S. post-9/11 wars could be closer to 48–59 million. § 25.3 million people have returned after being displaced, although return does not erase the trauma of displacement or mean that those displaced have returned to their original homes or to a secure life.
Any number is limited in what it can convey about displacement’s damage. The people behind the numbers can be difficult to see, and numbers cannot communicate how it might feel to lose one’s home, belongings, community, and much more.
Displacement has caused incalculable harm to individuals, families, towns, cities, regions, and entire countries physically, socially, emotionally, and economically.
The Cost of War Post-9/11 Wars, Refugee Crisis Caused by the US – Brown University, David Vine: The 2001 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and nearly two decades of war have displaced millions in a country where mass displacement has been a fixture of life since the Soviet Union’s invasion in 1979. By the time of the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, there were 5.6 million Afghan refugees.
In 2000, the year before the start of the U.S.-led war, 4.4 million Afghan refugees and asylum seekers remained abroad, along with more than 758,000 IDPs.
Since the start of the U.S.-led war, at least 2.1 million Afghans fled the country with another 3.2 million displaced internally (Table 1). The refugee and asylum seeker calculation, in particular, could be a significant underestimate given other data showing that 2.4 million fled the country just between 2012 and 2019. Until 2013, Afghans remained the largest refugee population.
After Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters fled Afghanistan into northwest Pakistan following the 2001 U.S.-led invasion, a single, interconnected war has been fought on both sides of the border. The U.S. government has participated in the war on the Pakistani side of the border with drone and air strikes, aerial surveillance, and financial backing for the Pakistani military.
Like Afghanistan, Pakistan’s history has been marked by displacement, most notably with the millions violently displaced during the 1947 India/Pakistan partition. Since 2001, Pakistanis have also suffered displacement related to fighting between the Pakistani government and Afghan and Pakistani Taliban organizations, along with other insurgent groups operating on both sides of the border.
With the support of U.S. drone strikes and other U.S. military aid, the Pakistani military battled for years to push insurgents out of Northwest Pakistan. Prior to the end of most border fighting in 2017, an estimated 1.56 million Pakistanis living in areas near the Afghan border had become IDPs, with most living in other parts of Northwest Pakistan.
Around 90,000 remained IDPs at the end of 2019.26 Since 2002, more than 3.4 million people have become IDPs while more than 360,000 have fled the country as refugees.
The Cost of War Post-9/11 Wars, Refugee Crisis Caused by the US – Brown University, David Vine: U.S. military involvement in Yemen dates to 2002, when the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) began drone assassinations of accused Al-Qaeda operatives with the cooperation of Yemen’s then government.
According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, from 2002 to 2019 the U.S. launched at least 336 confirmed drone strikes, reportedly killing between 1,020 and 1,389 civilians, including children, in addition to alleged militants.
Beginning in 2014, the Houthi (or Ansar Allah) movement, a Shia Muslim-based political and armed group formed in the 1990s, gradually took control of Yemen. In 2015, Saudi Arabia, backed by the U.S. government and a coalition of regional and European powers, invaded Yemen in an attempt to overthrow the Houthis, believed to be backed by Saudi rival Iran.
The U.S. military has used regional bases to provide refueling, logistical, weapons, and other support for the Saudi military and its other allies.
At the same time, militants, including Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the Islamic State, began operating in an increasingly complex conflict that continues to this day. Since 2015, war has meant that Yemenis have faced widespread displacement and what the UN considers the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
According to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), “nearly 250,000 Yemeni people have died since 2015, including 100,000 people as a direct result of combat and 130,000 from hunger and disease.”
The country has faced “the worst cholera outbreak in recorded history.” Two-thirds of Yemen is experiencing food insecurity, with 14 million at risk of starvation in what is the world’s worst food insecurity crisis.
The U.S.-backed Saudi-led war “has turned much of Yemen into a wasteland,” writes a New York Times reporter.
The UN estimates that around 24.1 million of Yemen’s 30.4 million people need humanitarian assistance of some kind. Most of the 4.4 million displaced have been displaced within Yemen. “Poverty and the sheer difficulty of traveling out of the country has left far more people who are trying to escape active frontlines moving about inside Yemen, renting rooms and flats, moving in with relatives, filling IDP camps and shelters,” explains Sala Khaled, a former IDP who became one of less than 15,000 Yemeni refugees in Jordan.
In the first year of war, there were more than 2 million cases of displacement. Hundreds of thousands more have been displaced every year since 2015. There were around 400,000 new displacement incidents in 2019 (although IDMC suggests this figure “is likely to be a gross underestimate” given access constraints on data collection in the midst of the war).36 More than one in ten Yemenis—around 3.6 million people—is currently an IDP.
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The Cost of War Post-9/11 Wars, Refugee Crisis Caused by the US – Brown University, David Vine: As in Afghanistan, displacement resulting from the U.S. war in Iraq follows more than three decades of near-continuous war and displacement. Conditions worsened significantly after the United States invaded and deposed Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Widespread armed opposition to the occupation grew into a sectarian civil war. Millions fled the violence. Wealthy elites were some of the first to leave. Middle class professionals, including doctors, engineers, and teachers, who formed the backbone of the country’s public health infrastructure and many of its government ministries, were next to leave their homes.
By 2007, more than 4.7 million were living in displacement as IDPs and refugees or asylum seekers outside the country. Beginning in 2014, the Islamic State began to conquer large swaths of territory in Iraq (and Syria). This seizure of land and the subsequent U.S.-led war against the Islamic State has displaced millions.
In a single month, August 2014, more than 450,000 people became IDPs. In the whole of 2014, there were 2.2 million internal displacement events. Thousands more became refugees abroad. By 2020, around 650,000 and 1.4 million remained refugees and IDPs, respectively.
With the Islamic State now reduced to a small corner of its former territory, an estimated 4.7 million have been able to return home. IDMC research with a nonrepresentative sample of Iraqi returnees suggests that many were able to return because of improved security but were “mostly motivated by poor conditions in host communities.”
Many could not return to their specific places of origin because they lacked housing, sanitation, or other services. One quarter of those surveyed still “aspired to leave the country.”
Hundreds of thousands of Libyans have been displaced in the years following the 2011 Arab Spring uprising against longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi and the U.S., U.K., French, and Qatari invasion that subsequently helped overthrow his regime. Violence increased following the outside military intervention, and the country plunged into a civil war involving “myriads of militias” and a growing Islamic State presence.
The subtitle of an IDMC report summarizes what ensued: “State Collapse Triggers Mass Displacement.” In 2011, alone, around 150,000 fled the country, mostly to Tunisia.
Most returned to Libya within a matter of months, but by 2015, there were a total of 500,000 IDPs across the country. More than 8% of the population had been displaced internally.
The war’s destabilization of Libya also significantly impacted migration patterns in Africa’s Sahel region. Darker-skinned immigrants from West African and Sub-Saharan African countries, whom Gaddafi had welcomed as a labor force in Libya, experienced increased violence, racism, and displacement following Gaddafi’s downfall.
Some Libyans attacked Black Africans and others who supported Gaddafi or were perceived to have benefitted from his rule, fueling displacement. Around 15,000, mostly sub-Saharan migrant laborers, fled abroad in 2011. In subsequent years, violence and instability in Libya has made the country a center of human trafficking and the main point of departure for migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe.
Violence and displacement decreased after 2016 but rebounded in 2019 after an intensification of the ongoing civil war between the Libyan National Army and the UN backed Government of National Accord. Both sides are backed by external powers, including Russia and Turkey, respectively, in what has become a full-fledged proxy war.
In 2019, new internal displacement incidents tripled over the prior year to 215,000. A total of around 451,000 were living as IDPs by year’s end.
As of 2019, IDMC reports that 97% of Libyan IDPs were struggling to cover basic expenses, 17% were food insecure (53% in the capital, Tripoli), and 46% could not afford healthcare.
Among working-age IDPs, 29% reported that their incomes had decreased by up to 50%. 64 Despite some progress toward a ceasefire and peace, the situation remains “extremely fragile.”
The Cost of War Post-9/11 Wars, Refugee Crisis Caused by the US – Brown University, David Vine: The U.S. war against the Islamic State has generated new displacement in both Iraq and Syria. Prominent examples of displacement include the 2017 U.S.-led battle to seize Raqqa from the Islamic State, which resulted in 470,000 displacement incidents.
Much of the city was destroyed. More than 1,600 civilians could not escape and died as a result of the fighting; thousands were injured.
In late 2019 the abrupt repositioning of U.S. troops in northeastern Syria allowed the Turkish military to launch a threatened offensive against Kurdish forces previously allied with the U.S. military. The mass displacement of mostly Syrian Kurds followed: 220,000 cases of internal displacement and 17,900 who fled into northern Iraq as refugees.
While the Turkish military bears primary responsibility for this displacement, U.S. officials chose to move U.S. troops to bases near Syrian oil fields with full knowledge that its longstanding Turkish ally intended to carry out large-scale ethnic cleansing after U.S. forces departed. Other U.S. military operations, including widespread aerial bombing of IS targets, have resulted in additional displacement.
Read the full report with sources here.
The Brown University report is authored by Professor of Anthropology at American University in Washington, DC, David Vine in a new report by Watson Institute, Brown University. It is co-authored by Cala Coffman, Katalina Khoury, Madison Lovasz, Helen Bush, Rachel Leduc,and Jennifer Walkup.
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