This Is the Real Human Toll of the Western ‘War on Terror’

The United States has been at war since October 2001, and this week marked the 12th anniversary of the beginning of its most deadly campaign in Iraq. The toll to American society has certainly been severe: diminishing civil liberties, rising Islamophobia, thousands of soldiers killed and tens of thousands more wounded, and trillions of dollars spent.

But the worst consequences have been for the countries that have been subject to bombings, invasions, occupations, and sectarian strife touched off by the rapid collapse of established order. There have been few and feeble attempts to estimate the human toll paid by countries in the Middle East and South Asia, where the majority of violence in the war on terror has taken place.

Until now. Physicians for Social Responsibility, Physicians for Global Survival and International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War released a 97-page report this week that seeks to deliver a long-awaited estimate of just how many people have actually been killed as a result of military actions that began in the fall of 2001 and continue today. The report looks at not only the deaths caused directly by Western military action, but also deaths that resulted from the spiral of instability and chaos that came about as a result of that action, focusing on the three main theaters: Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The researchers compiled statistical surveys to provide estimates of violent deaths, a method that has been used in messy warzones such as the Congo where accurate counts of deaths are difficult to derive through traditional methods like reported fatalities delivered to morgues.

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The investigation concludes that approximately 1 million people perished in Iraq over the past 10 years, while 220,000 died in Afghanistan and 80,000 died in Pakistan. That’s a total of 1.3 million deaths. The researchers didn’t even look at countries like Yemen and Somalia, which have waged their own miniature wars against terror.

One of the report’s authors, Dr. Robert Gould, appeared on Democracy Now! yesterday to explain the significance of their findings:

AMY GOODMAN:And why the people particularly in the United States do not see anything like these numbers? The significance of what it would mean?

DR. ROBERT GOULD: Well, I think there has been, in a similar way to what our collective experience has been with the reporting in the Vietnam War, a real distancing of the impacts on the people over there. We have certainly accounted for the dead and wounded within—in terms of the numbers of U.S. troops and NATO forces in the various conflicts, but these deaths, this destruction, is, for variety of reasons, very deliberately or through self-censorship, kept from the American people so we don’t see these real costs. And I would also say we don’t see the connecting points about how these policies and that degree of death and destruction leads through the destabilization of these regions and the persistent killing that’s conducted by drone warfare, etc. We’re insulated from these effects and don’t understand the anger that arises from people who have been through, now 12 years in Iraq, the act of war, even longer in Afghanistan, what those effects are. And I would think that as a result, people are insulated from what—the milieu within which groups like ISIS arise. And at a time when we’re contemplating at this point cutting off our removal of troops from Afghanistan and contemplating new military authorization for increasing our operations in Syria and Iraq, this insulation from the real impacts serves our government in being able to continue to conduct these wars in the name of the war on terror, with not only horrendous cost to the people in the region, but we in the United States suffer from what the budgetary costs of unending war are.

Watch the full interview below.

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