Human Cost of the #Post-9/11 Wars: Lethality and the Need for Transparency November 2018 – Neta C. Crawford1 #AfghanWar #IraqWar #PakistanWar

Human Cost of the Post-9/11 Wars: Lethality and the Need for Transparency November 2018 Neta C. Crawford1

All told, between 480,000 and 507,000 people have been killed in the United States’ post-9/11 wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. This tally of the counts and estimates of direct deaths caused by war violence does not include the more than 500,000 deaths from the war in Syria, raging since 2011, which the US joined in August 2014

Table 1. Direct Deaths in Major War Zones: Afghanistan & Pakistan (Oct. 2001 – Oct. 2018) and Iraq (March 2003 – Oct. 2018)2

Afghanistan Pakistan Iraq Total
US Military3 2,4014 4,5505 6,951
US DOD Civilian Casualties6 6 15 21
US Contractors7 3,937 90 3,793 7,820
National Military and Police8 58,5969 8,83210 41,72611 109,154
Other Allied Troops12 1,141 323 1,464
Civilians 38,48013 23,37214 182,272­




Opposition Fighters 42,10016 32,49017 34,806­




Journalists/Media Workers19 54 63 24520 362
Humanitarian/NGO workers21 409 95 6222 566
TOTAL 147,124 64,942 267,792­




TOTAL (rounded to nearest 147,000 65,000 268,000- 480,000-
1,000) 295,00023 507,000

The wars are ongoing, although the wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq are less intense than in recent years. Still, the number of civilians killed in Afghanistan in 2018 is on track to be one of the highest death tolls in the war.

This tally is an incomplete estimate of the human toll of killing in these wars. There are United Nations efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq to track war casualties and to identify the perpetrators of those deaths and injuries. In Iraq, the UN publishes monthly reports, and in Afghanistan, the UN makes annual and semi-annual reports.24 Nongovernmental organizations, the Congressional Research Service, and journalists also attempt to understand the human toll of these wars by using official US government reports, other governments’ data, and on the ground reporting.

But, because of limits in reporting, the numbers of people killed in the United States post-9/11 wars, tallied in this chart, are an undercount. Many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) attempt to track civilian, militant, and armed forces and police deaths in wars. Yet there is usually great uncertainty in any count of killing in war. While we often know how many US soldiers die, most other numbers are to a degree uncertain. Indeed, we may never know the total direct death toll in these wars. For example, tens of thousands of civilians may have died in retaking Mosul and other cities from ISIS but their bodies have likely not been recovered.

In addition, this tally does not include “indirect deaths.” Indirect harm occurs when wars’ destruction leads to long term, “indirect,” consequences for people’s health in war zones, for example because of loss of access to food, water, health facilities, electricity or other infrastructure.

Most direct war deaths of civilians in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and Syria have been caused by militants, but the US and its coalition partners have also killed civilians. Since the start of the post-9/11 wars, the Department of Defense has not been consistent in reporting on when and how civilians have been harmed in US operations.25 The US has attempted to avoid harming civilians in air strikes and other uses of force throughout these wars, to varying degrees of success, and has begun to understand civilian casualty prevention and mitigation as an essential part of US doctrine. In July 2016, the Presidential Executive Order on Measures to Address Civilian Casualties stated: “The protection of civilians is fundamentally consistent with the effective, efficient, and decisive use of force in pursuit of U.S. national interests. Minimizing civilian casualties can further mission objectives; help maintain the support of partner governments and vulnerable populations, especially in the conduct of counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations; and enhance the legitimacy and sustainability of U.S. operations critical to our national security.”26

The Obama administration executive order and the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) required reporting on civilian casualties. Specifically, the DOD is required to report on May 1 of each year, for the next five years, all military operations that were “confirmed, or reasonably suspected to have resulted in civilian casualties.”27 The first such DOD report was released in June 2018. It reported that in 2017, 499 civilians were killed in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Yemen and 167 civilians were injured in US operations. An additional 450 reports of civilian casualties for that year “remained to be assessed.”28

According to NGO observers, the numbers in the Pentagon report may be a significant understatement of the effects of US operations in 2017.29 In June, a spokesperson for the US military said, “We acknowledge differences exist between U.S. military assessments of the number of civilian casualties and reporting from NGOs.”30 Moreover, the total number of US caused civilian deaths is growing in some regions. According to Air Wars, in Operation Inherent Resolve, the Coalition has killed at least 6,575 civilians since August 2014 in air strikes and the Russians may have killed between 12,000 and 19,000 civilians in their war in Syria.31

Further, in some operations, the US commitment to reducing civilian casualties may be slipping. In Afghanistan specifically, the US and its allies were able to reduce the number of civilians killed in airstrikes, but in the last few years, more civilians have been killed by “pro-government forces” (Coalition and Afghan military) airstrikes.

Figure 1. Afghan Civilians Killed by Pro-Government Forces, 2008-201732

There is a need for greater transparency in the accounting of civilian deaths and injuries caused by US and allied operations.33

US Soldiers Deaths and Injuries

Nearly 7,000 United States soldiers and sailors have been killed in the post-9/11 wars. The number of US combatants killed in the wars annually has declined, although this is in large part because the US has transferred much of the direct ground combat to its allies in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. See Figure 2, below.

Figure 2. Total US Military Fatalities in Afghanistan and Iraq War Zones, 2001-201834

But deaths do not tell the entire story. Since 2001, more than 53,700 US soldiers and sailors have been officially listed as wounded in the major post-9/11 war zones.

Figure 3. US Soldiers and Sailors Wounded in Post-9/11 Wars35

Many other US soldiers have become amputees. From the start of the wars through mid 2015, there were 1,645 major limb amputations for US service members associated with battle injuries in the major war zones.36 As the number of troops deployed in the war zones have declined, so have major limb amputations. In 2016, there were no major limb amputations, the first year since the wars began.37

The Congressional Research Service has stopped releasing regular updates on US military casualty statistics. In its most recent report, issued in 2015, the Congressional Research Service found that more than 300,000 troops have suffered traumatic brain injuries.38

Suicide is also an urgent and growing problem among the veterans of the post-9/11 wars. Although it is difficult to tell how many of these suicides are by post-9/11 war veterans, because the VA does not disaggregate by war, there were more than 6,000 veteran suicides each year from 2008-2016, a rate that is 1.5 times greater than that of the non-veteran population.39

Hardship in the War Zones

Displacement is an ongoing reality for those affected by the wars. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees has documented millions of refugees and internally displaced persons in the major US war zones.

Table 2. Refugees and Internally Displaced People (in Millions) in 201740

Refugees Internally Displaced Asylum Seekers Total
Afghanistan 2.61 1.84 0.33 4.78
Pakistan 0.13 0.17 0.08 0.38
Iraq 0.36 2.62 0.27 3.25
Syria 6.29 6.15 0.15 12.59

The refugees from these wars are affecting the entire region. About half of the 2.6 million refugees from the war in Afghanistan are found in Pakistan (1.3 million people). More than 900,000 Afghans are living in Iran. Most refugees from the war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria have been hosted in Turkey — nearly 3.5 million people. Iran is also hosting nearly a million Syrians and Iraqis.

In Europe, some countries, most notably Turkey, have accepted many refugees; others, for instance Italy, have criminalized refugees and those who assist them. Even when the wars end and the refugees and internally displaced persons return to their homes, there will be a lasting legacy.

Traumatic amputations due to unexploded ordinance, land mines, and improvised explosive devices are also common in the war zones.41 In Afghanistan, Land Mine Monitor recorded a growing number of casualties (deaths and injuries) due to improvised explosive

devices and other mines: in 2014, 1,296 casualties; in 2015, 1,587 casualties; and in 2016, 1,943 casualties. In Iraq, the number of casualties due to improvised explosive devices and other mines has also grown: in 2014, 63 casualties; in 2015, 58 casualties; and in 2016, 109 casualties.42


This update just scratches the surface of the human consequences of 17 years of war. Too often, legislators, NGOs, and the news media that try to track the consequences of the wars are inhibited by governments determined to paint a rosy picture of perfect execution and progress. The US has made some effort to increase transparency, but there are a number of areas — the number of civilians killed and injured, and the number of US military and veteran suicides, for instance — where greater transparency would lead to greater accountability and could lead to better policy.


1 Neta C. Crawford is Professor and Chair of the Department of Political Science at Boston University and Co-Director of the Costs of War Project at Brown University.

2 This chart tallies direct deaths, caused by war violence. It does not include indirect deaths, namely those caused by loss of access to food, water, and/or infrastructure, war-related disease, etc. The numbers included here are approximations based on the reporting of several original data sources. Not all data sources are updated through mid-October 2018; dates are noted in the footnotes. These footnotes document the ways in which some original data sources are incomplete, inconsistent and/or data is inaccessible. For example, it is impossible to separate numbers of US military service members who died in Iraq from those who died in Syria, as the Department of Defense includes those in the same category. For this reason, this chart includes US service members who have died in Syria, but does not include others who have died in Syria due to the US-led war on terror, such as Syrian civilians.

3 Department of Defense. (2018) Department of Defense Casualty Report. Retrieved from: (data through October 19, 2018) in Afghanistan (Operations Enduring Freedom and Freedom’s Sentinel) and Iraq (Operations Iraqi Freedom, New Dawn, and Inherent Resolve).

4 Figures for US military deaths in Afghanistan operations include 131 deaths in other operational locations, including Pakistan.

5 Figures for US military deaths in Iraq Operations after August 2014 (in Operation Inherent Resolve) include deaths in other operational locations, including Syria.

6 Department of Defense. (Data through October 19, 2018.) Department of Defense Casualty Report. Retrieved from: Figures include deaths in other operational locations.

7 United States Department of Labor (DOL). (2018). Defense Base Act Case Summary by Nation. Retrieved from: (data through September 30, 2018). DOL data for contractor deaths in Iraq are 1,664; in Afghanistan, 1,734; and for Pakistan 42. These DOL figures do not include other DOL-reported deaths likely connected to the named military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, including contractor deaths in Kuwait (103), Jordan (36), Qatar (19), Saudi Arabia (23), Syria (5), United Arab Emirates (13) and elsewhere which are included in the present estimate. The figures here are an estimate of contractor deaths based on these DOL numbers which calculates the additional number of unreported contractor deaths by comparing the percentage of foreign contractors working for the US military in the warzone with the much lower percentage of foreign contractors among the reported dead. The multiplier reflecting this disparity is 2.15 times the DOL number.

8 Includes National Military Forces and National and Local Police Forces.

9 There is uncertainty about the number of Afghan National Police and military deaths. This estimate is based on several sources, including the Brookings Institution, “Afghanistan Index”; The New York Times; and US Government, Special Inspector General Reports on Afghanistan. The New York Times reported 13,729 Afghan National Security and Police deaths from 2001 to 2014. See Nordland, Rod. (2014, March 3). War Deaths Top 13,000 in Afghan Security Forces. The New York Times, Retrieved from

For trends see, Livingston, I.S., and O’Hanlon, M. (2017). Afghanistan Index, Figure 1.15, p. 12. Brookings, Retrieved from With the US drawdown since 2014, Afghan military, police and other security forces have borne an increasing share of the combat, and are now more exposed to militant attacks. See Crawford, Neta C. (2015, May 22). War Related Death, Injury and Displacement in Afghanistan and Pakistan 2001-2014: In January 2017, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) reported 6,785 Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) killed from January 1, 2016 to November 12, 2016: US Forces in Afghanistan began to classify these numbers in 2017 after previously releasing them. See Gibbons-Neff, Thomas. (2017, October 30). Afghan War Data, Once Public, is Censored in U.S. Military Report. The New York Times, Retrieved from; Nordland, Rod. (2018, September 21) The Death Toll for Afghan Forces is Secret. Here’s Why. The New York Times, Retrieved from In December 2017, the DOD reported that the “number of ANDSF casualties suffered while conducting local patrols and checkpoint operations was similar to that of 2016,” while “the number of casualties in planned operations has decreased over the same period.” Department of Defense, Enhancing Security and Stability in Afghanistan: See Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). (2018) SIGAR Quarterly Report April 30, 2018. Retrieved from

10 Through 2017 from Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS). (2017) Pak Institute for Peace Studies Annual Pakistan Security Reports. Retrieved from

11 Most sources consider their numbers an undercount of the actual total. This estimate includes 8,825 deaths recorded by iCasualties, for January 2005 to July 2011 and 1,300 deaths prior to 2005. Agence France Presse gives a total from August 2011 to January 2015 of 5,601 army and policy deaths, using Iraqi government figures. See However, the government numbers are assessed by Iraq Body Count to be a significant undercount. Moreover, this is an amorphous category—some local militias work with the Iraqi police and military. Aboufadel, Leith. (2017, December 13). Over 26,000 Iraqi Soldiers Killed in 4 Year War with ISIS. Almasdar News, Retrieved from

12 iCasualties. (Data through 2018, October 19). Retrieved from

13 For 2003-2007, see Crawford, Neta C. (2015, May 22). War Related Death, Injury and Displacement in Afghanistan and Pakistan 2001-2014:; for 2008-2017, see the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) annual Reports on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, retrieved from These civilian death numbers include the recorded direct violent deaths. Additional direct violent deaths may not have been recorded and significant numbers of indirect deaths due to displacement or destruction of infrastructure have not been included.

14 Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS). (2017) Pak Institute for Peace Studies Annual Pakistan Security Reports. Retrieved from This data is mostly consistent with South Asia Terrorism Portal. (2018) Fatalities in Terrorist Violence in Pakistan 2003-2018. Retrieved from The counts of the dead (and wounded) are complicated not only by the difficulty of access to war zones for investigators, but also because some actors have incentives to either exaggerate or to minimize the number of civilians killed, or to identify civilians as militants.

15 This is surely an underestimate of the direct deaths in the wars in Iraq and does not include the number of civilians killed in Syria. We use the most conservative numbers, produced by Iraq Body Count tally through September 2018. Source: Iraq Body Count. (2018). Retrieved October 20, 2018 from IBC has verified their count through January 2017 and say that a complete analysis of Wikileaks data may add as many as 10,000 deaths. In August 2018, the US acknowledged that it killed at least 1,114 civilians in the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria since their intervention there in August 2014. Daragahi, Borzou. (2018, September 27). Pentagon Admits War on Isis has Killed More Than 1,100 Civilians in Syria and Iraq. The Independent, Retrieved from Worse, there are potentially thousands of bodies buried in rubble from bombardment in Iraq whose deaths may never be recorded. See Cockburn, Patrick. (2017, July 19). The Massacre of Mosul: 40,000 Feared Dead in Battle to Take Back City from ISIS as Scale of Civilian Casualties Revealed. Independent, Retrieved from Some of the most consistent reporting of casualties caused by Coalition and Russian air strikes is

16 An estimate calculated from 185 Afghanistan Ministry of Defense press releases from January 1, 2015 to December 31, Retrieved from Neither the US or NATO have released figures on the exact number of anti-government insurgents killed. See also Crawford, Neta C. (2015, May 22). War Related Death, Injury and Displacement in Afghanistan and Pakistan 2001-2014:

17 Through 2017. See Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS). (2017). Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) annual Pakistan Security Reports. Retrieved from:

18Estimating that about 9,200 Iraqi soldiers (plus or minus 1,600) were killed in 2003 resisting the US invasion and initial occupation and that about 19,000 militants were killed from 2003 to September 2007. Iraq Body Count found 20,499 “enemy” deaths in Iraq War Logs, from January 2004 through December 2009. See Carl Conetta. (2003, October 20). The Wages of War: Iraqi Combatant and Noncombatant Fatalities in the 2003 Conflict. Project on Defense Alternatives Research Monograph, #8 (LINK?); and Michaels, Jim . (2007, September 27). Thousands of Enemy Fighters Reported Killed. USA TODAY, Retrieved from,; Iraq Body Count. (2010, October 23). Iraq War Log Analysis: What the numbers reveal. Retrieved from, Agence France Press cites Iraqi sources as saying 14,239 militants were killed from January 2006 through January 2015.; I add an estimated average of 500-1000 militants killed each year from January 2015 to October 2018.

19 Journalist and media worker deaths for war years through September 2018. See Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). (2018) Retrieved from: (Journalist Motive Confirmed and Media Workers Motive Confirmed and Unconfirmed).

20 Since 2024, 62 journalists and media workers have been killed in Syria.

21 The Aid Worker Security Database (Last updated 2018, August 9). National and International Aid Workers Killed. Retrieved from,

22 This total does not include the 138 aid workers who have been killed in Syria since August 1, 2014.

23 The total does not include the more than 500,000 people estimated killed in the civil war in Syria from March 2011 through March 2018. More than 110,000 of these were civilians, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, See Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. (2018, September 13). About 522 Thousand People Were Killed in 90 Months Since the Start of the Syrian Revolution in March 1990. Retrieved from, See also AFP. (2018, March 12). Syria War Has Killed More than 350,000 in 7 Years: Monitor. Retrieved from,

24 See for Iraq, See for Afghanistan,

25 Crawford, Neta C. (2013). Accountability for Killing: Moral Responsibility for Collateral Damage in America’s Post-9/11 Wars. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

26 The Executive Order said specifically that “relevant agencies” should work to avoid civilian casualties by various measures, and should investigate incidents involving civilian casualties and acknowledge US responsibility for them. Obama, Barack. (2016, July 1). Executive Order – United States Policy on Pre- and Post-Strike Measures to Address Civilian Casualties in U.S. Operations Involving the Use of Force. Retrieved from


(a) Annual Report Required.–Not later than May 1 each year, the Secretary of Defense shall submit to the congressional defense committees a report on civilian casualties caused as a result of United States military operations during the preceding year.

(b) Elements.–Each report under subsection (a) shall set forth the following:

(1) A list of all the United States military operations during the year covered by such report that were confirmed, or reasonably suspected, to have resulted in civilian casualties.

(2) For each military operation listed pursuant to paragraph (1), each of the following:

(A) The date.

(B) The location.

(C) An identification of whether the operation occurred inside or outside of a declared theater of active armed conflict.

(D) The type of operation.

(E) An assessment of the number of civilian and enemy combatant casualties.

(3) A description of the process by which the Department of Defense investigates allegations of civilian casualties resulting from United States military operations.

(4) A description of steps taken by the Department to mitigate harm to civilians in conducting such operations.

28 Cooper, Helene. (2018, June 1). U.S. Strikes Killed Nearly 500 Civilians in 2017, Pentagon says. The New York Times, Retrieved from

29 Hart, Benjamin. (2017, July 17). Report: U.S. Air Strikes Killing Far More Civilians Under Trump. New York Magazine, Retrieved from

30 US Major Audricia Harris, quoted in Cooper, Helene. (2018, June 1). U.S. Strikes Killed Nearly 500 Civilians in 2017, Pentagon says. The New York Times, Retrieved from

31 See Air Wars. and

32 Based on United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). UNAMA annual reports: On the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict. Retrieved from

33 See Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic and Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies. (2017, June). Out of the Shadows: Recommendations to Advance Transparency in the Use of Lethal Force. Retrieved from

34 Source:

35 US Department of Defense accessed October 23, 2018.

36 Fischer, Hannah. (2015, August 7). A Guide to U.S. Military Casualty Statistics: Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, Operation Inherent Resolve, Operation New Dawn, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation Enduring Freedom (Congressional Research Service, RS22452). Retrieved from

37 Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch. (2017, March 2018). 2016 Marks First Year of Zero Combat Amputations Since the Start of the Afghan, Iraq Wars. Retrieved from

38 Fischer, Hannah. (2015, August 7). A Guide to U.S. Military Casualty Statistics: Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, Operation Inherent Resolve, Operation New Dawn, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation Enduring Freedom (Congressional Research Service, RS22452). Retrieved from

39 Since 2011, the rates of suicide are highest for the youngest veterans, those under 54 years of age. US Department of Veterans Affairs. (2018, September). VA National Suicide Data Report, 2005-2016. Retrieved from

40 Source: UNHCR. (2017). Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2017. Retrieved from

41 For instance, see annual reports for Afghanistan, the Directorate of Mine Action Coordination,

42 See Landmine and Cluster Munitions Monitor,

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