US-led wars have displaced 37m people. America should accept responsibility

Since the war on terror, the US has contributed to displacing an estimated 37 million people, according to new research

By David Vine
Sep. 18, 2020

Since George W Bush declared a “global war on terror” following al-Qaida’s September 11 attacks, the wars that US forces have launched and engaged in have displaced an estimated 37 million people, according to a new report I helped produce with teams from American University and Brown University’s Costs of War Project.

The 37 million people displaced include 8 million refugees and asylum seekers and 29 million displaced within Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, the Philippines, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen. Displacing 37 million people is equivalent to removing all the residents of Texas and Virginia combined or almost all of Canada.

Given questions about even the best international displacement statistics, our estimate of 37 million displaced is a conservative one. The true total displaced by the US post-9/11 wars could be closer to 48–59 million – more people than in all of England.

To be clear, the US government is not solely responsible for displacing 37 million people. The UK government and other US allies share responsibility, as do the Taliban, Iraqi Sunni and Shia militias, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, the Islamic State, al-Qaida, and other combatants, governments, and actors.

However, the eight wars in our study are ones the US government bears significant responsibility for initiating (Afghanistan/Pakistan and Iraq), for escalating as a major combatant (Libya and Syria), or for fueling through drone strikes, battlefield advising, logistical support, and other military aid (Yemen, Somalia, and the Philippines). Displacement across these wars has totaled:

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5.3 million Afghans;
9.2 million Iraqis;
3.7 million Pakistanis;
1.7 million Filipinos;
4.2 million Somalis;
4.4 million Yemenis;
1.2 million Libyans;
7.1 million Syrians.


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