“Our war on terror begins with al-Qaida, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped, and defeated.” — President George W. Bush, September 20, 2001.
The war on terror has been raging since al-Qaeda brought down the World Trade Center in New York City in 2001, killing almost 3,000 people. Since that fateful day, America has fought terrorism across the globe. Militarily, the war has been largely successful, defeating jihadi groups and armies alike. But for each victory, a new threat has emerged. Fully 16 years after beginning, the war on terror looks no closer to finishing.
This veteran’s day weekend, we look at the cost of that war in the lives of American servicemen and women.
On October 7, 2001, Operation Enduring Freedom began. United States jets pounded Taliban positions in Afghanistan, supported by the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force. Other allies including Germany, Turkey, France, the Netherlands and Italy deployed troops and the Taliban were smashed in short order. By early December, the last Taliban stronghold fell to the United States. On December 22, Afghanistan’s new president, Hamid Karzai, was sworn in.
But that did not end the war. Almost immediately an insurgency began, and American soldiers faced improvised roadside bombs and ambushes in a hostile and unfamiliar environment, plagued by corruption and tribal divisions.
American forces are still there, struggling to contain a resurgent Taliban as well as the presence of ISIS and other terrorist groups. President Trump recently announced plans to dispatch 3,000 more troops to Afghanistan.
Since 2001 2,306 American soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan, according to the casualty tracking website icasualty.org. Those killed include the son of White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly. The highest casualties were in 2010 and 2011 which saw more than 400 killed each year.
An additional 455 British soldiers and 683 from other countries have also been killed.
George Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq on March 20, 2003. Although the invasion was not directly related to Islamic extremism, the Bush administration alleged that Saddam Hussein cooperated with al-Qaeda and was developing a clandestine weapons of mass destruction program.
No weapons of mass destruction were ever found.
Although the coalition forces rapidly overran the Iraqi army and occupied the country, as in Afghanistan, the next stage became a protracted guerrilla war. Sunni insurgent groups included al-Qaeda in Iraq, which later became ISIS. Other Shiite militias which fought in the insurgency against the Americans were trained, funded and armed by Iran.
Hundreds of U.S. soldiers were killed each year until a troop surge in 2007 and a new approach that empowered Sunni militia forces began to grind down the enemy.
President Barack Obama pulled American forces from Iraq in 2011. But nation building efforts had not sufficiently stabilized Iraqi state institutions. Sectarian violence between the Sunni minority, which had ruled under Saddam Hussein, and the Shiite majority continued. Instability spilled over from neighboring countries following the 2011 Arab Spring.
In 2014, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), formerly known as al-Qaeda in Iraq stormed across the north of the country and captured a third of Iraq. President Obama ordered the U.S. military to “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS and the U.S. deployed special forces in support of local units.
So far 4,526 American soldiers have been killed in Iraq, in addition to 180 from the UK and 142 from other countries.
Operation Enduring Freedom does not just cover the war in Afghanistan. The U.S. has, since 2007, also deployed hundreds of soldiers to Africa to train partner nations in counter-terrorism.
Enduring Freedom Trans-Sahara in West Africa includes Algeria, Chad, Mali, Niger, Morocco, Mauritania. A parallel operation, Enduring Freedom Horn of Africa, fights terrorism in East Africa, particularly Somalia.
U.S. forces also carry out missions against terrorists from time to time in these countries.
Most recently, four American soldiers were killed in an ambush in Niger in early October 2017. Islamist militants attacked their convoy with rocket-propelled grenades.
From 2005 to 2013, the United States also deployed troops to the Philippines to battle al-Qaeda linked militants. In June 2017, special forces were deployed again, this time in support of the Philippines army in fighting the Islamic State.
Icasualties.org includes deaths from these operations as part of its broader tally of deaths from Afghanistan. So far, they state 99 soldiers have died in Africa in the war on terror.
This list does not include civilians deaths from terrorism or private contractors and security guards killed in the line of duty. These figures also may omit some soldiers who died in obscure conflict zones or while in training for involvement in the war on terror, or whose deaths were not recorded properly due to error.
However, at best estimate, the total American military deaths for the war on terror is 6,731.