The True Cost of War Since September 11, 2001

The War on Terrorism has produced numerous casualties

U.S. Casualties from the War of Terror: Operation Freedom Sentinel, 1/1/2015-present, 49 deaths. Operation inherent resolve, 10/15/2014-present, 62 deaths. Operation new dawn, 9/1/2010-12/31/2011, 73 deaths. Operation iraqi freedom, 3/19/2003-8/4/2010, 4,424 deaths. Operation enduring freedom, 10/7/2001-12/31/2014, 2,346 deaths.

Image by Lara Antal © The Balance 2019

What is the real cost of war? On just one day in September 2001, 2,996 people lost their lives at the Pentagon, in New York when the twin towers fell, and on the each of the three hijacked planes. When the leader of al-Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden, was killed by U.S. special forces, the war on terror did not subside. In fact, the monetary costs continued each year since then at a steady rate in defense and homeland security spending. In all, the U.S. government has spent more than $7.6 trillion on defense and homeland security since the 9/11 attacks.

But the true cost of war lies in lives lost. According to the Department of Defense Casualty Report, here are casualties from the various campaigns in the subsequent War on Terrorism.

  • Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF): This campaign includes casualties that occurred between October 7, 2001, and December 31, 2014. The DoD reports 2,347 military deaths and four civilian deaths, with a total of 20,096 injured in and around Afghanistan. There are other locations in the world that are classified within the OEF spectrum. These include deaths and injuries in Guantanamo Bay (Cuba), Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Jordan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Philippines, Seychelles, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Uzbekistan, and Yemen. 
  • Operation Freedom Sentinel (OFS): This campaign includes casualties that occurred in Afghanistan immediately after OEF concluded on December 31, 2014. OFS began on January 1, 2015. As of June 2019, there are 71 U.S. deaths and 397 wounded in this military operation.
  • Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF): This campaign includes casualties that occurred in Iraq starting March 19, 2003. On August 31, 2010, President Obama announced that the American combat mission in Iraq had ended. There were 4,423 U.S. deaths and 31,957 wounded in that military operation. These casualties occurred in Iraq as well as in the Arabian Sea, Bahrain, Gulf of Aden, Gulf of Oman, Kuwait, Oman, Persian Gulf, Qatar, Red Sea, Saudi Arabia, and ​the United Arab Emirates. Prior to March 19, 2003, casualties in these countries were considered OEF. ​
  • Operation New Dawn (OND): This campaign includes casualties that occurred between September 1, 2010, and December 31, 2011. There were 73 U.S. deaths and 295 wounded in this operation. These deaths occur in the areas of the Arabian Sea, Bahrain, Gulf of Aden, Gulf of Oman, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Persian Gulf, Qatar, Red Sea, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates during the dates above. 
  • Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR): Effective October 15, 2014, OIR was created to wage war against the terrorist group the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, another name for the Islamic State) along the Syrian-Iraqi border. To date, there are 79 U.S. deaths and 81 wounded in OIR. OIR campaign includes casualties that occurred in Bahrain, Cyprus, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, the Mediterranean Sea east of 25° Longitude, the Persian Gulf, and the Red Sea.

War on Terrorism Casualties by Military Branch

The Army (including the Army National Guard and Reserves) comprises 49 percent of the total DoD force but sustained more than 70 percent of the combat deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Marine Corps (including the Reserves) makes up only 10 percent of the total DoD force but experienced 23 percent of the combat-related deaths.

The Navy (including Reserves) makes up 19 percent of the total DoD force and sustained over 2 percent of the total combat casualties. The Air Force (including Air National Guard and Reserves) comprises 21 percent of the total DoD force and experienced just over 1 percent of the total casualties. 

The active duty forces comprise 55 percent of the total DoD force and have experienced more than 80 percent of the total deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Reserve forces (Reserves and National Guard) comprise 45 percent of the force and received nearly 19 percent of the total casualties.

Just under 3 percent of the total fatalities were women, who make up 16 percent of the total DOD force. Men, who make up 84 percent of the total force experienced 97 percent of the deaths in the two theaters of operation.

Previous War Casualties

In contrast, during the first Gulf War (1990-1991), 382 American service members died in-theater; 147 (38 percent) of those a result of direct combat.

During the Vietnam War (1964 to 1975), there were 47,413 U.S. military battle-related deaths, and 10,785 service members died from other causes.

In the five years of World War II (1940-1945), 291,557 American troops lost their lives in combat, and 671,846 were wounded.