Major Danny Sjursen, US Army (retd) – A Life and Nation Transformed: 20 Years from the War on Terror

Being a member of the US Army wasn’t all that dangerous before America set off on its quixotic post-9/11 adventures. This was no longer the case when I was serving at the height of both “surges” to nowhere-but-failure in 2007 (Iraq) and 2011 (Afghanistan). During a 2007 spent driving down Baghdad’s bomb-laden streets and dallying around its alleys, 847 (mostly) soldiers and marines were killed in action in various “war on terror” theaters. Another 211 took their own lives – a 38 percent jump from 2001.

In 2011, the last year of the initial iteration of Operation Iraqi Freedom (2003-11), 35 army soldiers were still killed by hostile fire in Mesopotamia. Another 250 soldiers – including three of my own – were killed in polite emperor Barack Obama’s failed Afghanistan surge. Another 301 committed suicide – a 43 percent increase from 2007, and almost double the number that took their own lives in 2001.

Fatal casualties in combat were way down by 2020 – as the Pentagon pivoted to more invisible and abstract war via drone, contracted mercenaries, and warlord proxies – with only nine killed (four in Iraq, four in Afghanistan, and one in Kenya – for god’s sake). Nonetheless, more service-members than ever were killing themselves – 326 active duty personnel alone in a year plagued by pandemic. Since 9/11, US troops have also been killed in such far-flung locales as Syria (five), Yemen (one Navy SEAL), Somalia (two – one green beret one Navy SEAL), and Niger (four) – which would’ve been unheard of back in the 1990s.

Even as the war in Afghanistan ostensibly ends, and the Iraq deployment has shrunken – without ending – the Army’s overall basing posture has still altered considerably, 20 years on. In 2001, some 90 percent of the 300,000 odd US military personnel stationed overseas were in Europe or East Asia. By 2010, more than half of the now nearly 400,000 foreign-based troops were in the Middle East and Africa. Admittedly, Obama announced a “pivot” back to Asia, and then Trump and Biden made some meaningful moves in that direction. Yet even as of March 2021, assignments to Germany, South Korea, and Japan had been cut nearly in half, replaced by tours in far hotter – literally and metaphorically – winding-down war zones.

Moreover, the US military footprint in Africa has literally transformed over two decades. According to formerly secret 2019 Pentagon documents, there are now 29 “enduring” and “non-enduring” – a purposefully misleading bit of bureaucratic titular trickery – American bases on the continent. Over 6,000 US service-members are reportedly stationed in Africa on any given day – around 130 times as many as were there back on 9/11.

Something else changed too. Thousands still serve in Syria and Iraq, but we can’t know exactly how many, since the Pentagon quietly raised a secrecy-middle-finger at a compliant Congress and cowed citizenry back in December 2017 – and classified the actual troop numbers in what it euphemistically brands “Overseas Contingency Operations” (OCO). One wonders if America’s statistical shift towards worldwide militarism is the biggest open secret in history….

Tom Engelhardt: Biden’s indirect admission highlights the steady decline of American empire

Chris Hedges: The Collective Suicide Machine