The Official Story
THE WAR ON TERROR
The War on Terror (WoT), also known as the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) and the U.S. War on Terror, is the term that refers to an ongoing international military campaign launched by the United States government following the September 11 attacks. The targets of the campaign are primarily extremist groups located throughout the Muslim world, with the most prominent groups being Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State and their various franchise groups. The naming of the campaign uses a metaphor of war to refer to a variety of actions that do not constitute a specific war as traditionally defined. U.S. president George W. Bush first used the term “war on terrorism” on 16 September 2001, and then “war on terror” a few days later in a formal speech to Congress. In the latter speech, President Bush stated, “Our enemy is a radical network of terrorists and every government that supports them.” The term was originally used with a particular focus on countries associated with al-Qaeda. The term was immediately criticized by such people as Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and more nuanced terms subsequently came to be used by the Bush administration to publicly define the international campaign led by the U.S. While it was never used as a formal designation of U.S. operations in internal government documentation, a Global War on Terrorism Service Medal was issued.
U.S. president Barack Obama, whose administration sought to avoid use of the term since taking office, announced on 23 May 2013 that the Global War on Terror was over, saying the military and intelligence agencies will not wage war against a tactic but will instead focus on a specific group of networks determined to destroy the U.S. On 28 December 2014, the Obama administration (which preferred to use the term Overseas Contingency Operation) announced the end of the combat role of the U.S.-led mission in Afghanistan; however, the U.S. continued to play a major role in the War in Afghanistan, and in 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump expanded the American military presence in Afghanistan. The rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) led to the global Operation Inherent Resolve, and an international campaign to destroy ISIL.
Criticism of the war on terror has focused on its morality, efficiency, and cost. According to a 2021 study conducted by the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, the several post-9/11 wars participated in by the United States in its war against terror have caused the displacement, conservatively calculated, of 38 million people in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, and the Philippines; 26.7 million people have returned home following displacement.
The study estimated these wars caused the deaths of 897,000 to 929,000 people, including over 364,000 civilians, and cost $8 trillion.
The notion of a “War on Terror” was contentious, with critics charging that it has been used to reduce civil liberties and infringe upon human rights, such as controversial actions by the U.S. including surveillance, torture, and extraordinary rendition, and drone strikes that resulted in the deaths of suspected terrorists as well as civilians. Many of these actions were supported by other countries, including the 54 countries that were involved with CIA black sites, or those that helped with drone strikes. Critics accuse participating governments of using the “War on Terror” to repress minorities or sideline domestic opponents, and have criticized negative impacts to health and the environment, resulting from the “War on Terror”. Critics assert that the term “war” is not appropriate in this context (much like the term “war on drugs”) since terror is not an identifiable enemy and it is unlikely that international terrorism can be brought to an end by military means.
NO MORE WAR
THE IRAQ WAR (2003-2011)
The Iraq War was a protracted armed conflict from 2003 to 2011 that began with the invasion of Iraq by the United States–led coalition which overthrew the authoritarian government of Saddam Hussein. The conflict continued for much of the next decade as an insurgency emerged to oppose the coalition forces and the post-invasion Iraqi government.
An estimated 151,000 to 1,033,000 Iraqis died in the first three to five years of conflict.
US troops were officially withdrawn in 2011. The United States became re-involved in 2014 at the head of a new coalition; the insurgency and many dimensions of the armed conflict continue. The invasion occurred as part of the George W. Bush administration’s War on Terror following the September 11 attacks despite no connection of the latter to Iraq.
In October 2002, Congress granted President Bush the power to decide whether to launch any military attack in Iraq. The Iraq War began on 20 March 2003, when the US, joined by the UK, Australia, and Poland launched a “shock and awe” bombing campaign. Iraqi forces were quickly overwhelmed as coalition forces swept through the country. The invasion led to the collapse of the Ba’athist government; Saddam Hussein was captured during Operation Red Dawn in December of that same year and executed three years later. The power vacuum following Saddam’s demise and mismanagement by the Coalition Provisional Authority led to widespread civil war between Shias and Sunnis, as well as a lengthy insurgency against coalition forces. Many of the violent insurgent groups were supported by Iran and al-Qaeda in Iraq. The United States responded with a build-up of 170,000 troops in 2007. This build-up gave greater control to Iraq’s government and military, and was judged a success by many. In 2008, President Bush agreed to a withdrawal of all US combat troops from Iraq. The withdrawal was completed under President Barack Obama in December 2011.
The Bush administration based its rationale for the Iraq War on the claim that Iraq had a weapons of mass destruction (WMD) program, and that Iraq posed a threat to the United States and its allies. Some US officials falsely accused Saddam of harbouring and supporting al-Qaeda. In 2004, the 9/11 Commission said there was no evidence of an operational relationship between the Saddam Hussein regime and al-Qaeda. No stockpiles of WMDs or an active WMD program were ever found in Iraq. Bush administration officials made numerous claims about a purported Saddam–al-Qaeda relationship and WMDs that were based on sketchy evidence, and which intelligence officials rejected. The rationale for war faced heavy criticism both domestically and internationally. Kofi Annan called the invasion illegal under international law as it violated the UN Charter. The Chilcot Report, a British inquiry into its decision to go to war, was published in 2016 and concluded peaceful alternatives to war had not been exhausted, that the United Kingdom and the United States had undermined the authority of the United Nations Security Council, that the process of identifying the legal basis was “far from satisfactory”, and that the war was unnecessary. When interrogated by the FBI, Saddam Hussein confirmed that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction prior to the US invasion.
In the aftermath of the invasion, Iraq held multi-party elections in 2005. Nouri al-Maliki became Prime Minister in 2006 and remained in office until 2014. The al-Maliki government enacted policies that alienated the country’s previously dominant Sunni minority and worsened sectarian tensions. In the summer of 2014, ISIL launched a military offensive in northern Iraq and declared a worldwide Islamic caliphate, leading to Operation Inherent Resolve, another military response from the United States and its allies.
The Iraq War caused at least one hundred thousand civilian deaths, as well as tens of thousands of military deaths. The majority of deaths occurred as a result of the insurgency and civil conflicts between 2004 and 2007. Subsequently, the War in Iraq of 2013 to 2017, which is considered a domino effect of the invasion and occupation, caused at least 155,000 deaths, in addition to the displacement more than 3.3 million people within the country.