Post-9/11 conflicts and invasions in the Middle East and other surrounding regions have directly and indirectly killed at least 4.5 million people over the past two decades, a new report has revealed.
According to a research report from the Costs of War project at Brown University’s Watson Institute, wars initiated by Western powers in the Middle East, North Africa and Asia are directly responsible for the deaths of at least between 4.5-4.6 million people.
Following the attack on New York city’s twin towers on 11 September 2001, the United States and coalition forces it led, invaded Afghanistan and toppled the Taliban government that same year in retaliation, as it had maintained protection for Osama bin Laden, the Al-Qaeda leader who Western nations blamed for the attacks.
In the following years, the US-led coalition forces also conducted further military action on countries in the Middle Eastern region, the most prominent of which was their invasion of Iraq in 2003. Other cases include strikes on targets within Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen, as well as those not directly a consequence of the ‘war on terror’ such as Libya and Syria.
Out of the estimated 4.5 million fatalities, the report showed, a vast majority were “indirect” deaths which numbered at least 3.6 to 3.7 million and were caused by a variety of factors. The categories cited in the report include economic collapse and food insecurity, public services and health infrastructure destruction, environmental contamination and reverberating trauma and violence.
“Indirect deaths are devastating, not least because so many of them could be prevented, were it not for war”, the report stated, adding that it is difficult to estimate indirect deaths due to them not immediately occurring during a conflict period or after battles. “A death from hunger mostly occurs at some distance from this attention to spectacle and it may happen months or years after war disrupts access to food. Often, people affected by war are displaced and transient, making them hard to track.”
It also acknowledged the difficulty in disentangling such indirect deaths by conflict factors from death that may have occurred without those factors, due to some crises already afflicting particular countries such as poverty or illness.
Cost of War clarified in the document that “In laying out how the post-9/11 wars have led to illness and indirect deaths, the report’s goal is to build greater awareness of the fuller human costs of these wars and support calls for the United States and other governments to alleviate the ongoing losses and suffering of millions in current and former war zones.”
An example of such a case that it cited is Afghanistan in the current day which, despite the withdrawal of US and coalition forces and the return of the Taliban government and relative stability, still sees many Afghans “suffering and dying from war-related causes at higher rates than ever”.
Using the Geneva Declaration Secretariat’s average ratio of four indirect deaths for every one direct death, the report’s researchers judged it to be accurate to arrive at the “reasonable and conservative” estimate of 4.5 to 4.6 million deaths.
The report also highlighted that, in terms of military deaths, the vast majority of forces killed were locals, including over 177,000 Afghans, Pakistanis, Iraqis and Syrians who died as of 2019. As for American troops, the number was 7,000 alongside over 8,000 military contractors.
The total number, calculated by Cost of War, far outnumbers previous estimates of the post-9/11 wars, such as the Physicians for Social Responsibility’s estimate in 2015 that over one million people had been killed both directly and indirectly in the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan themselves.