The 20th anniversary of 9/11 offers the opportunity to step back and count the cost of America’s 2-decade unconstititional “war on terror.”

The monetary costs are relatively easy to calculate. For instance, the U.S. spent an estimated $2.26 trillion on the war in Afghanistan. That comes to over $300 million spent every single day over the span of two decades.

But there are intangible costs that are more difficult to calculate – for instance, the loss of life.

According to an Airwars investigation, as many as 48,000 civilians have died over the last 20 years as a direct result of U.S. bombs.

The U.S. military has staged a staggering number of airstrikes. The Pentagon has declared at least 91,340 strikes across seven major conflict zones.

Calculating civilian casualties is difficult. The Pentagon typically downplays civilian deaths, counting anybody within the strike zone as an “enemy combatant.” But according to Airwars, U.S. airstrikes have killed at least 22,679, and potentially as many as 48,308 civilians.

As the Airwars report explains, “The gap between these two figures reflects the many unknowns when it comes to civilian harm in war.”

“Belligerents rarely track the effects of their own actions – and even then do so poorly. It is left to local communities, civil society and international agencies to count the costs. Multiple sources can however suggest different numbers of fatalities, meaning that monitoring organizations like Airwars will record both minimum and maximum estimates.”

Two-thousand-three ranks as the deadliest year. A minimum of 5,529 civilians were reportedly killed by U.S. actions that year according to the monitoring organization Iraq Body Count. Almost all of these deaths came during the invasion of Iraq that year. The next deadliest year was 2017. At least 4,931 civilians were likely killed. Most of those deaths occurred during coalition bombing in Iraq and Syria.

Using the maximum estimate, 2017 ranks as the most deadly year of civilians with up to 19,623 killed.

Airwars tried to get official U.S. estimates of civilian deaths, but neither CENTCOM nor the Department of Defense has published any data.

According to Airwars, the U.S.-led Coalition admitted killing 1,417 civilians. That’s far below their estimate of 8,300.

“Additionally, in 2016 the U.S. admitted killing between 64 and 116 civilians in Libya, PakistanSomalia and Yemen in counter-terrorism operations in the years between 2009 and 2015. But it provided no further details, dates or specifics – making assessment of those claims near impossible. More publicly, the United States has admitted to killing two civilians in Pakistan; thirteen in Yemen; and five in Somalia in recent years. At least 394 and as many as 570 civilians have in fact been killed by US actions in those countries, according to monitoring organisation New America.

It’s important to note that these are conservative figures. Airwars says we are likely “looking at a fraction of the overall civilian harm in these countries.”

According to the Brown University “Cost of War” program, between 363,939 and 370,072 civilians have been killed by all parties to these conflicts since 2001.

A lot of people brush off the human cost of war. They say things like “you have to crack a few eggs to make an omlet.” It’s important to remember these are real human lives we’re talking about. It’s easy to forget there are faces behind these statistics – fathers, mothers, children, brothers, sisters.

James Madison warned that perpetual war would lead to a “degeneracy of manners and of morals.” He was talking specifically about the corruption that springs up around war, but it also applies to the evolving disregard for human life inherent in war.

Mike Maharrey

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