Cost of War: US ‘counterterrorism’ activities in 85 countries

"If the U.S. is truly to end the post-9/11 wars and related activities around the world, then the U.S. public and its leaders must take a broader view of their reach."


New research conducted by Watson Institute International and Public Affairs at Brown University revealed the United States government engaged in “counterterrorism” activities in 85 countries post-9/11 warfare from 2018 to 2020. As part of former President George W. Bush’s “Global War on Terror,” the study concluded that counterterrorism operation have become more widespread in recent years contrary to the Pentagon’s assertion.

Such operations included “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,” according to the report.

“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,” the report said.

According to the Pentagon, counterterrorism includes “actions taken directly against terrorist networks and indirectly to influence and render global and regional environments inhospitable to terrorist networks.”

While the U.S. government only published some of the information found in this report, the research team compiled the information in the map based on academic and media sources, as well as input from scholars and experts. The map focuses on operations labeled as counterterrorism by the U.S. government and conducted by the Departments of Defense, State, Homeland Security, and other U.S. agencies abroad.

According to the report, U.S. counterterrorism operations between 2018 to 2020 are broken into four categories

1. Countries where the U.S. conducted direct air and/or drone strikes against militant groups (seven, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen);

2. Countries where U.S. service members engaged in combat, using force on the ground against militants (eight, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Kenya, Mali, Nigeria, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen). Additionally, this category includes four other countries (Cameroon, Libya, Niger, and Tunisia) with active “Section 127e” programs. Section 127e is a U.S. legal authority that allows U.S. special operations forces to plan and control certain missions, remaining in charge of, rather than simply at the side of, the African counterparts they are ostensibly advising and assisting. Thus U.S. service members on the ground in these countries could have used force against militants via surrogates.

3. Countries in which the U.S. conducted formal, named military exercises to prepare for or rehearse scenarios of combatting terrorists (41);

4. Countries whose military, police, and/or border patrol forces the U.S. Departments of Defense, State, or others trained and/or assisted to increase their capacity to combat militants (79).

“Now, as many Americans are calling for an end to ‘endless war,’ the map is a stark reminder that this war stretches far beyond Afghanistan,” the report said. “If the U.S. is truly to end the post-9/11 wars and related activities around the world, then the U.S. public and its leaders must take a broader view of their reach.”


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