Over the last week, considerable debate arose around a calculation I helped produce showing that the wars the U.S. government has fought since the attacks of September 11, 2001, have forced at least 37 million people — and perhaps as many as 59 million — to flee their homes.
As a co-author of the underlying report, produced for Brown University’s Costs of War Project, I was encouraged by the attention in the media — which ranged from the New York Times to Fox News — because it has generated interest in the millions of people displaced by the U.S. “global war on terror.” My American University co-authors and I note that no one inside or outside the U.S. government has previously calculated how many people these wars have displaced.
The report conservatively estimates that eight of the most violent “counterterror” wars the U.S. government has engaged in since 9/11 — in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, the Philippines, Somalia, Syria and Yemen — have produced 8 million refugees and 29 million internally displaced people. The 37 million total displaced is more than those displaced by any war since at least the start of the 20th century, except World War II.
Critiques of the report centered around the degree to which the U.S. government is responsible for displacement in all eight of these countries.
People agreed that the George W. Bush administration launched the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. However, some have said that the other countries we include in our estimate — Libya, Pakistan, the Philippines, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen — are incredibly complex conflicts in which the U.S. government has been a less central combatant, making it hard to say what role, if any, the U.S. government has played in creating displacement.
Yet the purpose of our report is not to assess relative responsibility for displacement among different actors. Our report says clearly, “We are not suggesting the U.S. government or the United States as a country is solely responsible for the displacement.” The Taliban, Iraqi Sunni and Shia militias, the Islamic State, Al Qaeda, the U.K. government and other U.S.