WASHINGTON – From 2018 to 2020, the United States government undertook what it labeled “counterterrorism” activities in 85 countries. According to new data released today by the Costs of War Project and published in a map by USA Today, these activities ranged from direct combat to training foreign forces.
The map illustrates countries in which the U.S. government conducted operations it explicitly described as counterterrorism, in an outgrowth of President George W. Bush’s “Global War on Terror.” These operations include air and drone strikes, on-the-ground combat, so-called “Section 127e” programs in which U.S. special operations forces plan and control partner force missions, military exercises in preparation for or as part of counterterrorism missions, and operations to train and assist foreign forces. (The map does not comprehensively cover the full scope of U.S. post-9/11 warfare, as it does not document, for instance, U.S. military bases used for counterterror operations, arms sales to foreign governments, or all deployments of U.S. special operations forces.)
Despite the Pentagon’s assertion that the U.S. is shifting its strategic emphasis away from counterterrorism and towards great power competition with Russia and China, examining U.S. military activity on a country-by-country basis shows that there is yet to be a corresponding drawdown of the counterterror apparatus. If anything, the map demonstrates that counterterrorism operations have become more widespread in recent years.
Stephanie Savell, co-director of the Costs of War Project and lead researcher for this resource, says, “At a time when many Americans are calling for an end to endless wars, this map raises important questions: why is the United States undertaking militaristic operations in so many countries, and are these activities actually functioning to protect Americans and other civilians around the world? The U.S. public and its leaders must first recognize the true scope of the post-9/11 wars in order to end them.”
This map is the latest resource from the Costs of War project, housed at Brown University’s Watson Institute and Boston University’s Pardee Center. The project was launched by a group of scholars and experts to document the unacknowledged costs of the post-9/11 wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere.