Years After 9/11, Neverending War
By Alex Emmons
11, 2016 "Information
In the days
after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks,
when Congress voted to authorize military force
against the people who “planned, authorized,
committed, or aided” the hijackings, few Americans
could have imagined the resulting manhunt would span
West Africa all the way to the
Philippines, and would outlast two two-term
military engagement in the Middle East looks
increasingly permanent. Despite the White House
having formally ended the wars
Afghanistan, thousands of U.S. troops and
contractors remain in both countries. The U.S. is
dropping bombs on Iraq and Syria
faster than it can make them, and according to
the Pentagon, its bombing campaign in Libya has “no
end point at this particular moment.” The U.S.
is also helping Saudi Arabia wage war in
Yemen, in addition to conducting occasional
airstrikes in Yemen and Somalia.
years after the September 11 attacks, it looks
like the War on Terror is still in its opening act.
drawdown of U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan only
revealed how little war has achieved and how much
damage it has inflicted. In Afghanistan, the Taliban
more territory than it has at any point since
2001. One poll from 2016 found that more than
90 percent of young people in Iraq now consider
the United States an “enemy” of their country.
State, which was largely created by the U.S.
invasion of Iraq, controls vast swaths of territory
in Iraq, Syria, and Libya, and has demonstrated an
emboldened capability to orchestrate attacks in
Europe. In June, CIA Director John Brennan
told Congress that “despite all our progress
against ISIL on the battlefield and in the financial
realm, our efforts have not reduced the group’s
terrorism capability and global reach.”
the original enemy, today controls territory in
Yemen and Somalia, but it is no longer considered a
priority. In the span of one year, for example,
the U.S.-backed war in Yemen quadrupled the size of
al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula — the terror
group’s most dangerous offshoot. The CIA has
continued to arm Syrian rebels, despite the fact
that those weapons have found their way
to a former al Qaeda affiliate. Retired General
David Petraeus, formerly the commander of U.S.
forces in Iraq and Afghanistan,
actually suggested arming al Qaeda directly to
help fight ISIS.
lack of progress, the last 15 years of war have come
at a horrific cost.
lost nearly 2,300 service members in Afghanistan,
and nearly 4,500 in Iraq.
Hundreds of thousands were forever damaged.
Those figures do not include at least
6,900 U.S. contractors and at least
43,000 Afghan and Iraqi troops who lost their
toll in the countries the U.S. attacked remains
untallied, but conservative estimates range from the
hundreds of thousands to well over
a million. Add to that the hundreds of people
tortured in U.S. custody, and thousands killed by
U.S. drones in Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia.
financial cost of the War on Terror is incalculable.
The Iraq and Afghan wars, including the medical
costs for veterans, are estimated to end up costing
the U.S. at least
$4 trillion dollars. Intelligence budgets have
doubled, on top of more than
$800 billion spent on “homeland security.”
dollars have been wasted on fruitless projects –
like a failed plan to install radiation detectors at
airports, which cost the government $230 million.
The Department of Homeland Security wasted
$1.1 billion on a “virtual fence” of sensors
along the Mexican border before scrapping the
program. The examples go on and on. The CIA paid one
$20 million to build a program that could
discover encoded terrorist messages in Al Jazeera
news broadcasts. Just last year, the Pentagon spent
$43 million on one gas station in Afghanistan.
Two contract psychologists were paid
$80 million for designing the CIA’s torture
years, the only winners in the War on Terror have
been the contractors.
the War on Terror has become a Constitutional
nightmare. The U.S. has adopted a practice of
indefinitely detaining terror suspects. Police
departments across the country secretly import
military grade spy equipment. Courts have
ruled that families cannot sue to get their
children off government kill lists. NSA
whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed that the U.S.
has become the largest surveillance state in
In the 2016
presidential campaigns, torture has become one
party’s applause line, in no small part due to
President Obama’s failure to prosecute the
architects of the Bush-era torture program.
multiple countries in the Middle East has become
business as usual, and often goes unreported. On
August 1, for example, the day the Obama
administration announced a
new bombing campaign against ISIS in Libya,
American journalists were far more occupied with
election polls than they were with the new war.
All of this
foreshadows a war that could stretch 10, 20, or 50
more years. As the U.S. shifts its strategy towards
bombing and away from ground troops, media
engagement with the wars diminishes, and it is all
too easy to forget about our permanent state of war.
But the victims of U.S. violence are unlikely to
forget, creating a potentially endless supply of new
Alex Emmons is a reporter covering national
security, foreign affairs, human rights, and
politics. Prior to joining
he worked for Amnesty International and the ACLU on
their campaigns against targeted killing, mass
surveillance, and Guantánamo Bay.