Post 9/11 U.S. Wars Have Created at Least 37 Million Refugees

Interview with David Vine, professor of political anthropology at American University, conducted by Scott Harris

Nineteen years ago, nearly 3,000 Americans died in the al Qaeda terrorist attacks on the U.S. on 9/11.  In the two decades that followed, the U.S. has prosecuted what’s called the war against terror in more than 80 nations.

In these post-9/11 wars over 801,000 people have died, at a cost to the United States of more than $6.4 trillion dollars as reported by the Costs of War project at Brown University.

Now a new report from the Costs of War project finds that 37 million people have fled their homes in the eight most violent wars the U.S. military has launched or participated in since 2001. The millions of people who were displaced in U.S. wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, the Philippines, Libya, and Syria, exceeds the number displaced in every war since 1900, except for World War II.

Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with David Vine, professor of political anthropology at American University, co-author of the project’s report titled, “Creating Refugees: Displacement Caused by the United States’ Post-9/11 Wars.”  Here, Vine summarizes the report’s findings and examines the ways in which he believes these wars have made the U.S. less secure.

DAVID VINE: In some ways I’m sad to say that the Cost of War Project still exists. It has been in existence since 2011, and I’ve been a board member since that time. The aim of the project was to document the human and financial costs of the post-9/11 wars. When Catherine Lutz and a team of others at Brown University created the Cost of War Project, their hope was that the wars — in Afghanistan, Iraq, and far beyond — that they would be over by now. But we are now almost at 19 years of war. And another year from now, we will see two decades of war. And, although I think many of us hope that with a Biden-Harris administration, that there would be a responsible and to all of these wars, the United States has been fighting in at very least 24 countries since 2001, since George W. Bush announced a global war on terror and the Cost of War Project has been in a variety of ways investigating what these wears have meant for the United States, for the world, for the countries where the wars have been fought most broadly.

One of the reports that came out a year ago, the United States has spent according to the Cost of War Projects, $6.4 trillion, 6.4 trillion — and it’s trillion with a “T” — spent or obligated as of the end of this fiscal year. So just in the next month, which is a really incomprehensible sum, the report that I released with a team from my university, American university and our public anthropology clinic, where there was a report that looked at how many people have been displaced by these wars, how many people have been forced from their homes? How many people have been turned into refugees and internally displaced people?

And we focused actually just on the eight most violent was that the United States has been engaged in — that eight most violent wars that the United States has either launched in the case of Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan, or wars that the United States has escalated in the case of Libya and Syria, or wars where the United States has been a significant combatant in the case of Yemen, Somalia and the Philippines. And we found that at a minimum, using a very conservative methodology, these wars have displaced 37 million people — which is, again, a very difficult sum to wrap one’s brain around. Thirty-seven million people forced to flee their homes. And again, that’s a very conservative estimate. The true total may be between 48 million and 59 million people, which is more people displaced in any war since the beginning of the 20th century, with the exception of World War II.

SCOTT HARRIS: Professor Vine, there are politicians who backed these wars over these almost 20 years. And officials at the Pentagon that would justify what the United States undertook in terms of these conflicts saying that these fights were necessary to make this nation safe from Al-Qaida Islamic state, Abu Sayyaf, Boka, Haram, Al Shabaab, and a host of other Islamic terrorist organizations around the world. As you look at your study here, and the numbers horrendous numbers that we’re talking about in terms of lives, lost people, displaced money spent what’s the cost-benefit analysis from your perspective here, there are many who would justify it.

DAVID VINE: I, for one, and I think probably most, if not all of my colleagues at the Cost of War Project would not seek to engage in any sort of cost-benefit analysis involving human lives. But when you look at the human damage that’s been reached by these wars. So in addition to the minimum 37 million displaced, the Cost of War Project has shown that around 800,000 people have died in direct combat, just in five wars. So Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, and that’s just the part of the Syrian civil war, where the United States has been involved. And, Yemen. I’m flabbergasted by anyone who would seek to justify these wars or characterize as anything short of catastrophe. And even that word doesn’t seem to capture the breadth and depth of the damage. But the, you know, what has been the main or most immediate result of this war against terror and these wars plural against terror, it’s been the creation of more groups, more individuals who would seek to do harm to the United States.

The Islamic State is a product of the U.S. invasion and war in Iraq. It did not exist and would not have existed were it not for the U.S. invasion of Iraq. And similarly on 9/11, 2001, al Qaeda was a very small group. And there were very, very few groups like it. Since that time, groups like al Qaeda itself have grown, have morphed into the Islamic State in part and has led to the creation of more groups like it. And I don’t think there has been a proper reckoning with what these wars have meant.

And, you know, think, too, about the $6.4 trillion that have been plowed into these wars, that have been spent on these wars. Think about what that money could have been spent on in the United States, the creation of jobs, universal healthcare, education. When we think about the poor state of schools and poor state of public schools through much of Connecticut, and you go on and on that infrastructure we could have used that money to build a green economy, to protect against global warming. And instead, the wars had been wasted, and worse than wasted because they have taken so many lives, damaged so many lives, including the lives of U.S. military personnel. And which of course has affected the family members of U.S. military personnel. So, the costs, the human costs, the financial costs have been broad and profound and really catastrophic.

For more information, visit the Costs of War Project, Brown University at

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