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US ‘War on Terror’ has displaced at least 37 million people since 2001

At least 37 million people have been displaced as a direct result of the wars fought by the United States since the beginning of the ‘War on Terror’ nearly two decades ago, according to a new report from Brown University’s Costs of War project. That figure exceeds those displaced by conflict since 1900, the authors say, with the exception of the Second World War.

“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,”

the report states.

“This has been one of the major forms of damage, of course along with the deaths and injuries, that have been caused by these wars,” said David Vine, a Professor of Anthropology at the American University, and the lead author of the report. 

“It tells us that US involvement in these countries has been horrifically catastrophic, horrifically damaging in ways that I don’t think that most people in the United States, in many ways myself included, have grappled with or reckoned within even the slightest terms.”

The findings were published on 8 September, just weeks before the United States enters its 20th year of fighting the ‘War on Terror’, which began with the invasion of Afghanistan on 7 October 2001.

Of the eight US military operations that are included in the report, the invasion of Iraq and the decades of instability that followed in the country was the costliest, uprooting at least 9.2 million people so far.

Drawing on data from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, among others, the project estimated 7.1 million people had been displaced in Syria, 5.3 million in Afghanistan, 4.4 million in Yemen, 4.2 million in Somalia, 3.7 million in Pakistan, 1.7 million in the Philippines and 1.2 million in Libya.

The figures, the report says, are conservatively estimated. For conflicts such as Syria’s civil war, the study defined American involvement narrowly, tallying only those displaced in five Syrian provinces where US forces have been active since 2014.

“A less conservative approach would include the displaced from all of Syria’s provinces since the beginning of direct US military operations in 2014 or as early as 2013 when the US government began backing Syrian rebel groups,” the paper said.

 “This could take the total to between 44 million and 51 million, comparable to the scale of displacement in World War Two.”

The conflicts the paper focused on are ones in which the US initiated armed combat (as in Iraq or Afghanistan), contributed to its escalation (Libya and Syria) or participated through drone strikes, battlefield advisers, arms sales and other means (Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and the Philippines).

The calculation does not include the millions of other people who have been displaced in countries with smaller US counterterrorism operations, according to the report, including those in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali and Niger.

The report states that an estimated 25.3 million people have returned since being displaced, but noted: 

“Return does not erase the trauma of displacement or mean that those displaced have returned to their original homes or to a secure life.”

Vine, the lead author of the report, told New York Times that while having these numbers is helpful, it does not offer any insight into what kinds of lives displaced people are living. 

“Every day you live in a refugee camp is a day it’s been degraded compared to what it once was,” he said. “It’s another day you’re separated from your home and your home land.”


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