The war on terror. A phrase forever in the media and on our lips. Its very ubiquity helps obscure the reality of that war.
America, according to a from Brown University, is running counter-terror operations in 76 countries – 39% of all the nations in the world. Since 2001, at least half-a-million people have been killed in wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq alone. The real figure is likely to be far higher. A investigation last year suggested that the civilian toll in Iraq from coalition airstrikes could be 31 times greater than officially admitted.
Include the conflicts in Libya, Syria and Yemen and the toll would be significantly higher still. These are just direct deaths. The number of indirect deaths – from the destruction of health facilities or infrastructure – run into the millions. Meanwhile, the suggested that terrorist attacks accounted for 25,000 deaths in just the previous year. Up to 106 countries, more than half the nations in the world, suffered deadly attacks, 94% of which were in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
The level of terrorism is usually the justification for the intensity of the war on terror. Yet, despite the effective destruction of Islamic State, the influence and scope of terror groups is greater now than it was in 2001. Already this year, the US has dropped more bombs on Afghanistan than in any previous year. The Taliban still controls 20% of the country and its bloodlust remains undiminished. Just , a suicide bomber killed at least 53 people in Kabul.
Afghanistan suicide bomber kills scores of Muslim scholars
What began after 9/11 as an attempt to eliminate al-Qaida has metastasised into a never-ending war against an ever-expanding universe of terror groups. And yet it’s become little more than background noise in the west. Isn’t it time we started asking serious questions about the war on terror, its scope and its consequences?
• Kenan Malik is an Observer columnist