In 30 years of conflict, the US has killed at least 435,573 Muslims
Staff investigate a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Afghanistan bombed by the US in October 2015. (AFP: Najim Rahim)
The perception that the West is waging a war against Islam is a major motivator for Muslim men and women who leave their homes to join the ranks of Daesh or Al Qaeda. After all, the Koran says that Muslims are obligated to defend their faith if it’s being attacked, so regardless of whether or not the West is deliberately waging a war against Muslims, the perception that it is continues to be a potent recruiting tool for terror groups.
Meanwhile, in the Western world, the impact of our wars with Muslim-majority countries is often glossed over. That’s partly because those wars are fought almost entirely in faraway places, or often simply by remote control, and this allows us to ignore war’s grisly effects.
But if we want to understand why terror attacks happen, we must understand the consequences of our governments’ actions in the Muslim world.
Consider, for example, the fact that the United States (US) military has killed at least 435,573 Muslims in the past thirty years.
That number is the sum of the estimated death tolls from all US conflicts with Muslim-majority nations since 1986. We at Al Bawaba adjusted the death tolls from each conflict according to what proportion of each country’s population is Muslim in order to extrapolate the number of Muslims who died in these clashes.
For example, at least 60 people were killed by US airstrikes on Libya in 1986, which were conducted in retaliation for terror attacks orchestrated by Muammar Gaddafi. Since Libya is about 97% Muslim, we extrapolate that 58 Muslims were killed during the bombing.
After the 1986 Libya airstrikes, the next US conflict with a Muslim country was the Gulf War of 1991, when a US-led bombing campaign killed at least 23,664 Iraqis, according to the Project for Defense Alternatives, a Washington DC-based think tank. At the time, Iraq was about 93% Muslim, so it can be deduced that at least 22,007 Muslims died in the war.
The next US conflict with a majority-Muslim country came In 1993, when US special forces attempted to seize two Somali militia leaders from Mogadishu. The ensuing battle was reported to have killed at least 500 Somalians. About 99% of Somalians are followers of Islam, so 495 of those killed would have been Muslims.
In 1999, the US-led NATO bombing of Kosovo killed at least 278 civilians, according to Human Rights Watch. Since Kosovo is about 95% Muslim, it can be inferred that at least 264 Muslim Kosovars died in the bombing.
From the 2003 US invasion of Iraq until 2011, about 113,000 people were killed by US-led coalition forces in the country, according to a 2014 study by university researchers in the US, Canada and Baghdad, in cooperation with the Iraqi Ministry of Health. Because Iraq is 99% Muslim, the Muslim death toll for that period is 111,870.
In the 12 years following the 2001 Al Qaeda attacks on the Twin Towers in New York, the US army’s “War on Terror” has claimed the lives of at least 220,000 people in Afghanistan and at least 80,000 in neighboring Pakistan, according to a landmark 2015 study by a team of Nobel Prize-winning public health experts with the Physicians for Social Responsibility. Since Pakistan is 95-97% Muslim, it can be inferred that about 76,800 Pakistani Muslims have been killed in the US’s “War on Terror” during those years. (Islam is the religion of more than 99% of Afghans, so nearly all those killed in Afghanistan were Muslims.)
Since 2002, when the first known US drone strike hit Yemen, at least 552 people in Yemen have died from drone strikes, according to The Bureau for Investigative Journalism, a UK-based non-profit.
Since 2007, US drone strikes and covert operations in Somalia have killed at least 281 people there, the Bureau for Investigative Journalism says. (US covert operations in the East African country have been going on since 2001, but Al Bawaba was unable to find statistics on the resulting death toll that far back.)
Since the summer of 2014, when the US began conducting airstrikes on Daesh positions in Iraq--a mission that was extended to Syria that fall--at least 1,574 civilians have been killed by bombs dropped by the US-led “coalition” of 14 countries involved in the bombing campaign, according to Airwars, a non-profit organization that tracks the conflict. The US-led coalition has dropped nearly 50,000 bombs and missiles in Syria and Iraq in the past two years, Airwars says.
America’s wars with Muslim combatants don’t only occur in the Middle East and North Africa. In 2012, a US drone strike in the Philippines killed 15 people. The attack was intended to kill members of the Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiyah extremist groups, but there are no reliable reports in international media on who was killed in the attack. Still, because the strike occurred in a predominantly Muslim area, it’s likely that those killed were Muslims.
The real figure is likely much higher
For several reasons, the true number of Muslims killed in US conflicts is likely much higher than 435,573. First of all, Al Bawaba chose the conservative death toll estimates for the wars mentioned above. Thus when the Project for Defense Alternatives says that the 1991 Gulf War killed between 23,664 - 29,664 Iraqis, we used the number 23,664 in our calculation.
Secondly, our figure only counts people directly killed by US warfare, not those killed by the indirect effects of these wars, like inability to obtain medical care because of destroyed infrastructure.
For example, a 1992 study by a demographer at the US Commerce Department found that the American bombing of Iraq during the Gulf War killed about 158,000 people if deaths caused by “war-related damage” to Iraq’s infrastructure were taken into account. (NB: The study in question was later suppressed by the US defense establishment because its findings were politically unpopular.)
Our figure of 435,573 Muslim deaths also does not include the number of people who have perished as a result of US-imposed sanctions regimes. For example, the 12 years of sanctions enforced on Iraq by the US and the UK after the Gulf War--which were intended to keep Saddam Hussein from obtaining the materials with which to manufacture weapons of mass destruction--were said to have killed hundreds of thousands of people, including about 576,000 children.
Our figure also does not include the number of Muslims killed by the US-led NATO bombing of Libya in 2011, conducted to remove Gaddafi from power, because the death toll from those airstrikes is not known. It also does not include the number of Muslims killed by US drone attacks and airstrikes on Daesh’s local affiliate in Libya, because there are no reliable figures for how many people have died in such strikes.
Lastly, our figure does not include the number of Muslims killed in conflicts where the US funds or otherwise helps one of the warring powers. For example, it does not include the 3,218 people in Yemen who have been killed by Saudi Arabia since Saudi Arabia began bombing Yemen in 2015 with support from the US, or the estimated 7,258 Palestinians killed by Israeli forces since 1987, even though the US has provided Israel with tens of billions of dollars in military aid over the years which Israel uses to conduct its military occupation of the West Bank and its periodic airstrikes on the densely-populated Gaza Strip.
All of this is to say that the US has done significant damage to the lives of Muslims around the world. While there is no excuse for killing innocent people, Americans would do better to reflect on these numbers the next time a terror attack happens in the US.
Correction: An earlier version of this article said that the US had killed 1,323,703 Muslims in 30 years of war. The earlier version cited the 2015 Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) report as saying that 1,000,000 Iraqis had been killed since the 2003 US invasion. That figure, however, is the total number of war-related deaths that have happened in Iraq since 2003, many of which were caused by the Iraqi government or militias, not by the US.
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By Hunter Stuart
Follow me on Twitter @Hoont
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