Taking Stock of the "War on Terror"

Twenty years after 9/11, the West's "war on terror" has failed, leaving millions dead and entire countries devastated.

BERLIN/WASHINGTON (Own report) - Millions dead, rampant poverty, dozens of millions of refugees and several devastated countries: This is the result of western wars throughout the broader Middle East since September 9, 2001. Launched in the name of a war on jihadi terrorism, waged under the banner of "freedom and democracy," the wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Somalia have above all caused human suffering and misery of historic dimensions. The actual or purported objectives have not been achieved. Thriving societies have emerged nowhere, neither at the Hindu Kush nor at the Euphrates and Tigris. Jihadi terror is today "stronger" and more widespread on a global scale than in 2001, according to experts. Western armed forces and intelligence services have also committed the most egregious war crimes and human rights violations - from targeted assassinations of unarmed civilians to abductions of thousands to torture chambers. Germany has been involved in all of this.


The "wars on terror" that have been waged by the West since 9/11 have claimed the lives of millions. Statistics were presented, for example, by the Costs of War Project, which was launched in 2010 by the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at the Brown University (Providence, Rhode Island), one of the eight Ivy League universities in the USA.[1] According to these statistics, 897,000 to 929, 000 people were killed in military operations in the wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen and some smaller theaters of the "war on terror" - such as Sudan or the USA's Guantanámo prison camp. These are only the casualties - including the 364,000 to 387,000 civilians - which could be reliably verified by two independent sources. A presumably high number of unreported deaths would have to be added. Not included are war related deaths such as injuries, diseases and hunger. For Iraq, alone, the total number of direct and indirect war casualties is estimated to be up to a million between 2003 and 2013.[2] According to the Cost of War Project, in all of the affected countries, the total number of war casualties is a multiple of the number of deaths caused by direct war violence.

Hunger and Devastation

The countries affected by the war also face the most serious human suffering and material devastation. Around 33,000 children - but probably even more - have been killed and maimed in Afghanistan over the past 20 years. There is also an estimated high number of unreported cases especially of permanent injuries inflicted through military operations or booby traps.[3] According to the World Food Programme (WFP), the poverty rate in Iraq had reached 31.7 percent in 2020; in Afghanistan it had increased from 33.7 in 2007 to 54.5 percent in 2016. Currently, nearly 18.4 million people, around half of the population of Afghanistan, lacks sufficient food, Germany's Welthungerhilfe organization reports.[4] Recently, Yemen had to combat not only the Covid-19 pandemic, but also waves of diphtheria and cholera. More than two third of the country's nearly 30 million inhabitants - under attack by Saudi and Emirati troops armed also with German weapons [5] - are dependent of humanitarian aid, including 11.3 million children, according to UNICEF. The emotional damage - such as trauma - and its social consequences can hardly be measured. The same applies to the devastating destruction of its infrastructure, from houses, streets and public facilities, to its supplies of water and electricity.

Misery of Refugees

The wars launched since September 11, 2001 have also caused a nearly unprecedented misery for refugees - surpassed only by the worldwide movements of refugees in World War II. The Costs of War Project calculates the number of Afghan refugees at 5.9 million.[6] Pakistan is calculated to have 3.7 million refugees, Iraq, 9.2 million, Syria (since the beginning of western operations against IS in 2014) 7.1 million. In addition, there are 4.6 million Yemeni and 4.3 million Somalian refugees - a total of 34.8 million. For all countries, the number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) is far greater than the number of those seeking refuge outside the country. The Costs of War Project - which counts an additional 1.2 million Libyan and 1.8 million Philippine refugees - points to the fact that these statistics are conservative estimates. The true total could be in the range of 60 million people, according to the US scholars. The majority of the refugees that have left the country remain in neighboring countries - in the case of Afghan refugees, in Pakistan and Iran, Syrian refugees, mainly in Turkey, Lebanon, and in Jordan. The wealthy western countries that caused the wars consistently ward off the refugees with walls and barbed wire.

Torture and Murder

In the course of their post-9/11 wars, and their global "war on terror," the western countries have committed numerous war crimes and violations of human rights. In the case of the Australian Special Forces in Afghanistan, the war crimes included a sort of informal initiation ritual for new arrivals to demonstrate their combat aptitude; they had to murder at least one Afghan civilian. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[7]) In their hunt for actual or alleged jihadis, the CIA abducted thousands of suspects to torture chambers in over a dozen countries around the world. There was talk of more then 3,000 people within a short span of time.[8] Germany and the EU were involved - through complicity in abductions and interrogation under torture, as was the case with Poland and Romania, which provided camps and torture chambers.[9] The US camp at Guantanámo, where at least 780 people from 48 countries were detained and subjected to torture, is still open, with 39 prisoners still being held. Only 16 were ever charged with criminal offences, the others, well over 700, were detained without legal means to challenge their arbitrary detentions, many for more than a decade, including minors.[10]


The official objective of the 20 years of the war on terror - to defeat jihadi terrorism - has been a failure. They have even, in some respects, reinforced the jihadis. For example, the war on Iraq created conditions for the IS to emerge; the West's efforts to overthrow Syria's government have created the conditions for the Al Qaeda subsidiary, al Nusra or rather its successor Hayat Tahrir al Sham (HTS) to take control of Syria's Northern Idlib governate.[11] Even in Afghanistan, not only has the Taliban returned to power, but al Qaeda has been replaced by the jihadi ISIS-K (Islamic State Khorasan Province) at the Hindu Kush. With its recent attack at the Kabul Airport, the ISIS-K has shown that it is still capable of inflicting mass-murder. Although some of the terrorist organizations, e.g. al Qaeda, "are somewhat weaker today, than they were in 2001" according to Guido Steinberg, an expert on terrorism at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), however, "the overall scene" is "stronger" - because there are "more young jihadis in more countries posing a threat." "Altogether, in 2020/2021, there are more Islamist terrorists in more places around the world" notes Steinberg, "and over the past few years, they have been carrying out more attacks, with more fatalities than in 2001."[12]


For more information on this subject see The Era of Impunity.


[1] Neta C. Crawford, Catherine Lutz: Human Cost of Post-9/11 Wars: Direct War Deaths in Major War Zones. watson.brown.edu 01.09.2021.

[2] IPPNW: Body Count. Casualty Figures after 10 Years of the "War on Terror". Iraq - Afghanistan - Pakistan. First international edition (March 2015).

[3] One child killed or maimed every 5 hours over 20 years of war in Afghanistan. savethechildren.net 31.08.2021.

[4] Mehr als 18 Millionen Menschen hungern. tagesschau.de 17.08.2021.

[5] See also Die Schlacht um Al Hudaydah.

[6] David Vine, Cala Coffman, Katalina Khoury, Madison Lovasz, Helen Bush, Rachael Leduc, Jennifer Walkup: Creating Refugees: Displacement Caused by the United States' Post-9/11 Wars. watson.brown.edu 19.08.2021.

[7] See also The Era of Impunity.

[8] The CIA Black Sites Program and the Gina Haspel Nomination. nsarchive.gwu.edu 09.05.2018.

[9] See also 17 Years "War on Terror"

[10] Mohammed Haddad: Guantanamo Bay explained in maps and charts. aljazeera.com 07.09.2021.

[11 See also "Rebellen" (II) and German Jihad Supporters

[12] Sven Hansen: "Eine Etappe im Abstieg des Westens". taz.de 01.09.2021.