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Mapping a World From Hell: 76 Countries Are Now Involved in Washington’s War on Terror

Photo Credit: kirill_makarov / Shutterstock

He left Air Force Two behind and, unannounced, “shrouded in secrecy,” flew on an unmarked C-17 transport craft into Bagram Air Base, the largest American castle in Afghanistan. All news of his revisit was embargoed until an hour before he was to skip the country.

More than 16 years after an American advance “liberated” Afghanistan, he was there to offer some good news to a U.S. couple fortuitous once again on the rise. Before a 40-foot American flag, addressing 500 American troops, Vice President Mike Pence praised them as “the world’s biggest force for good,” boasted that American air strikes had recently been “dramatically increased,” swore that their country was “here to stay,” and insisted that “victory is closer than ever before.” As an observer noted, however, the response of his assembly was “subdued.”  (“Several troops stood with their arms crossed or their hands folded behind their backs and listened, but did not applaud.”)

Think of this as but the latest partial in an upside down geopolitical angel tale, a grim, rather than Grimm, story for the age that competence begin: Once on a time — in Oct 2001, to be accurate — Washington launched its fight on terror.  There was then just one country targeted, the very one where, a little some-more than a decade earlier, the U.S. had finished a long substitute waragainst the Soviet Union during which it had financed, armed, or corroborated an extreme set of Islamic fundamentalist groups, including a abounding immature Saudi by the name of Osama bin Laden. 


By 2001, in the arise of that war, which helped send the Soviet Union down the trail to implosion, Afghanistan was mostly (but not completely) ruled by the Taliban.  Osama bin Laden was there, too, with a comparatively medium organisation of cohorts.  By early 2002, he had fled to Pakistan, leaving many of his companions upheld and his organization, al-Qaeda, in a state of disarray.  The Taliban, defeated, were pleading to be allowed to put down their arms and go back to their villages, an unfinished routine that Anand Gopal vividly described in his book, No Good Men Among the Living

It was, it seemed, all over but the entertaining and, of course, the formulation for nonetheless incomparable exploits opposite the region.  The top officials in the administration of President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were geopolitical dreamers of the first sequence who couldn’t have had some-more stretched ideas about how to extend such success to — as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld indicated only days after the 9/11 attacks — terror or mutinous groups in some-more than 60 countries.  It was a indicate President Bush would reemphasize nine months after in a triumphalist graduation discuss at West Point.  At that moment, the onslaught they had quickly, if immodestly, dubbed the Global War on Terror was still a one-country affair.  They were, however, already low into preparations to extend it in ways some-more radical and harmful than they could ever have illusory with the advance and function of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and the domination of the oil heartlands of the universe that they were certain would follow.  (In a criticism that held the moment exactly, Newsweek quoted a British central “close to the Bush team” as saying, “Everyone wants to go to Baghdad. Real men wish to go to Tehran.”) 

So many years later, maybe it won’t warn you — as it probably wouldn’t have surprised the hundreds of thousands of protesters who incited out in the streets of American cities and towns in early 2003 to dispute the advance of Iraq — that this was one of those stories to which the proverb “be clever what you wish for” applies.

Seeing War

And it’s a story that’s not over yet.  Not by a prolonged shot.  As a start, in the Trump era, the longest war in American history, the one in Afghanistan, is only getting longer.  There are those U.S. couple levels on the rise; those air strikes ramping up; the Taliban in control of poignant sections of the country; an Islamic State-branded terror group spreading ever some-more successfully in its eastern regions; and, according to the latest report from the Pentagon, “more than 20 militant or mutinous groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

Think about that: 20 groups.  In other words, so many years later, the fight on terror should be seen as an unconstrained practice in the use of computation tables — and not just in Afghanistan either.  More than a decade and a half after an American boss spoke of 60 or some-more countries as intensity targets, interjection to the useful work of a singular dedicated group, the Costs of War Project at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, we finally have a visible painting of the loyal border of the fight on terror.  That we’ve had to wait so prolonged should tell us something about the inlet of this epoch of permanent war.  

America’s fight on terror opposite the creation (from the Costs of War Project). Click on the map to see a incomparable version.

The Costs of War Project has constructed not just a map of the fight on terror, 2015-2017 (released at TomDispatch with this article), but the first map of its kind ever.  It offers an bizarre prophesy of Washington’s counterterror wars opposite the globe: their spread, the deployment of U.S. forces, the expanding missions to steer unfamiliar counterterror forces, the American bases that make them possible, the drone and other air strikes that are essential to them, and the U.S. fight troops assisting to fight them.  (Terror groups have, of course, morphed and stretched riotously as partial and parcel of the same process.) 

A peek at the map tells you that the fight on terror, an increasingly formidable set of intertwined conflicts, is now a remarkably global phenomenon.  It stretches from the Philippines (with its own ISIS-branded organisation that just fought an almost five-month-long campaign that devastated Marawi, a city of 300,000) by South Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, and low into West Africa where, only recently, 4 Green Berets died in an waylay in Niger. 

No reduction overwhelming are the series of countries Washington’s fight on terror has overwhelmed in some fashion.  Once, of course, there was only one (or, if you wish to embody the United States, two).  Now, the Costs of War Project identifies no reduction than 76 countries, 39% of those on the planet, as concerned in that global conflict.  That means places like Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya where U.S. drone or other air strikes are the normal and U.S. belligerent troops (often Special Operations forces) have been presumably directly or indirectly intent in combat.  It also means countries where U.S. advisers are training internal militaries or even militias in counterterror strategy and those with bases essential to this expanding set of conflicts.  As the map creates clear, these categories mostly overlap.

Who could be astounded that such a “war” has been eating American taxpayer dollars at a rate that should substitute the imagination in a country whose infrastructure is now visibly crumbling?  In a separate study, expelled in November, the Costs of War Project estimated that the cost tab on the fight on terror (with some future losses included) had already reached an astronomical $5.6 trillion.  Only recently, however, President Trump, now sharpening those conflicts, tweeted an even some-more towering figure: “After having foolishly spent $7 trillion in the Middle East, it is time to start rebuilding the country!” (This figure, too, seems to have come in some conform from the Costs of War estimate that “future seductiveness payments on borrowing for the wars will likely supplement some-more than $7.9 trillion to the inhabitant debt” by mid-century.)

It couldn’t have been a rarer criticism from an American politician, as in these years assessments of both the financial and human costs of fight have mostly been left to small groups of scholars and activists.  The fight on terror has, in fact, widespread in the conform today’s map lays out with almost no critical discuss in this country about its costs or results.  If the request constructed by the Costs of War plan is, in fact, a map from hell, it is also, we believe, the first full-scale map of this fight ever produced. 

Think about that for a moment.  For the last 16 years, we, the American people, appropriation this formidable set of conflicts to the balance of trillions of dollars, have lacked a singular map of the fight Washington has been fighting.  Not one. Yes, tools of that morphing, swelling set of conflicts have been somewhere in the news regularly, nonetheless occasionally (except when there were “lone wolf” terror attacks in the United States or Western Europe) in the headlines.  In all those years, however, no American could see an picture of this strange, incessant dispute whose finish is nowhere in sight.

Part of this can be explained by the inlet of that “war.”  There are no fronts, no armies advancing on Berlin, no armadas temperament down on the Japanese homeland.  There hasn’t been, as in Korea in the early 1950s, even a together to cranky or fight your way back to.  In this war, there have been no apparent retreats and, after the conventional entrance into Baghdad in 2003, few advances either.

It was tough even to map its member tools and when you did — as in an August New York Times map of territories tranquil by the Taliban in Afghanistan — the imagery was formidable and of singular impact.  Generally, however, we, the people, have been demobilized in almost every possible way in these years, even when it comes to simply following the unconstrained set of wars and conflicts that go under the rubric of the fight on terror.

Mapping 2018 and Beyond

Let me repeat this mantra: once, almost seventeen years ago, there was one; now, the count is 76 and rising.  Meanwhile, good cities have been incited into rubble; tens of millions of human beings have been displaced from their homes; refugees by the millions continue to cranky borders, unsettling ever some-more lands; terror groups have turn code names opposite poignant tools of the planet; and the American universe continues to be militarized. 

This should be suspicion of as an wholly new kind of incessant global war.  So take one some-more demeanour at that map.  Click on it and then increase it to consider the map in full-screen mode.  It’s critical to try to suppose what’s been happening visually, given we’re confronting a new kind of disaster, a heavenly militarization of a arrange we’ve never truly seen before.  No matter the “successes” in Washington’s war, trimming from that advance of Afghanistan in 2001 to the holding of Baghdad in 2003 to the new drop of the Islamic State’s “caliphate” in Syria and Iraq (or many of it anyway, given at this moment American planes are still droppingbombs and banishment missiles in tools of Syria), the conflicts only seem to morph and decrease on.

We are now in an epoch in which the U.S. military is the heading corner — mostly the only corner — of what used to be called American “foreign policy” and the State Department is being radically downsized.  American Special Operations forces were deployed to 149 countries in 2017 alone and the U.S. has so many troops on so many bases in so many places on Earth that the Pentagon can’t even comment for the locale of 44,000 of them. There may, in fact, be no way to truly map all of this, nonetheless the Costs of War Project’s painting is a delight of what can be seen.

Looking into the future, let’s urge for one thing: that the folks at that plan have copiousness of stamina, given it’s a given that, in the Trump years (and presumably good beyond), the costs of fight will only rise.  The first Pentagon bill of the Trump era, upheld with bipartisan concord by Congress and sealed by the president, is a staggering $700 billion.  Meanwhile, America’s heading military men and the president, while sharpening the country’s conflicts from Niger to Yemen, Somalia to Afghanistan, seem evermore in hunt of nonetheless some-more wars to launch. 

Pointing to Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea, for instance, Marine Corps Commandant General Robert Neller recently told U.S. troops in Norway to design a “bigass fight” in the future, adding, “I wish I’m wrong, but there’s a fight coming.”  In December, National Security Adviser Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster similarly suggested that the probability of a fight (conceivably nuclear in nature) with Kim Jong-un’s North Korea was “increasing every day.”  Meanwhile, in an administration packaged with Iranophobes, President Trump seems to be scheming to tear up the Iran nuclear deal, presumably as early as this month. 

In other words, in 2018 and beyond, maps of many artistic kinds may be indispensable simply to start to take in the latest in America’s wars.  Consider, for instance, a recent report in the New York Times that about 2,000 employees of the Department of Homeland Security are already “deployed to some-more than 70 countries around the world,” mostly to forestall terror attacks.  And so it goes in the twenty-first century. 

So acquire to 2018, another year of constant war, and while we’re on the subject, a tiny warning to the leaders: given the last 16 years, be clever what you wish for.

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