USA’s “Global War on Terror” Following 9/11

Compiled by Gp Capt Kumar Kirinde, SLAF [retd]: “A global counter-terrorism military campaign initiated by the U.S. in 2001”  ……….. Sources:,, ChatGPT, and Google Images … [with only some photographs 

Introduction:  ……  The war on terror, officially the Global War on Terrorism”” (GWOT), is a global counterterrorism military campaign initiated by the United States following the September 11 attacks and is also the most recent global conflict spanning multiple wars. The main targets of the campaign were militant Islamist and Salafi jihadist armed organisations such as al-Qaeda, the Islamic State, and their international affiliates, which were waging military insurgencies to overthrow governments of various Muslim-majority countries. Other major targets included the Ba’athist regime in Iraq, which was deposed during an invasion in 2003, and various militant factions that fought during the ensuing insurgency

IntroductionThe war on terror, officially the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT), is a global counterterrorism military campaign initiated by the United States following the September 11 attacks and is also the most recent global conflict spanning multiple wars. The main targets of the campaign were militant Islamist and Salafi jihadist armed organisations such as al-Qaeda, the Islamic State, and their international affiliates, which were waging military insurgencies to overthrow governments of various Muslim-majority countries. Other major targets included the Ba’athist regime in Iraq, which was deposed during an invasion in 2003, and various militant factions that fought during the ensuing insurgency.

The initial conflict was aimed at al-Qaeda, with the main theater in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

With the major wars over and only low-level combat operations in some places, end of the war in Afghanistan in August 2021 symbolizes the visible ending of the war, or at least its main phase, for many in the West. The duration of this main phase is recorded as 19 years, 11 months, 2 weeks and 2 days (14 September 2001 to 30 August 2021)

As of 2023, various operations in the campaign are ongoing, including an ongoing counter-insurgency campaign in Somalia. However, security analysts assert that there is no military solution to terrorism, pointing out that it is not an identifiable enemy, and have emphasized the importance of negotiations and political solutions to resolve the underlying roots of the crises.

According to the Costs of War Project, the post-9/11 wars of the campaign have displaced 38 million people, the second largest number of forced displacements of any conflict since 1900, and caused at least 4.5 million deaths (direct and indirect) in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Philippines, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria and Yemen. They also estimate that it has cost over $8 trillion for the US Treasury.

2 – Countries with major military operations of the war on terror.

Background:  Precursor to the 11 September attacks

In May 1996 the group World Islamic Front for Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders (WIFJAJC), sponsored by Osama bin Laden (and later re-formed as al-Qaeda), started forming a large base of operations in Afghanistan, where the Islamist extremist regime of the Taliban had seized power earlier in the year. In August 1996, Bin Laden declared jihad against the United States. In February 1998, Osama bin Laden signed a fatwa, as head of al-Qaeda, declaring war on the West and Israel; in May al-Qaeda released a video declaring war on the U.S. and the West.

3 Osama bin Laden (left) and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri (right) photographed in 2001




  4-7 — Members of an al-Qaeda factions

On 7 August 1998, al-Qaeda struck the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing 224 people, including 12 Americans. In retaliation, U.S. President Bill Clinton launched Operation Infinite Reach, a bombing campaign in Sudan and Afghanistan against targets the U.S. asserted were associated with WIFJAJC.  But the strikes failed to kill any leaders of WIFJAJC or the Taliban.

8 —U.S. embassy in Nairobi, Kenya after the explosion





 9 —U.S. Embassy in the capital Dar es Salaam, Tanzania after the explosion



Next came the 2000 millennium attack plots, which included an attempted bombing of Los Angeles International Airport. On 12 October 2000, the USS Cole bombing occurred near the port of Yemen, and 17 U.S. Navy sailors were killed.

 10 – USS Cole after the attack





11 September attacks

On the morning of 11 September 2001, nineteen men hijacked four jet airliners, all of them bound for California. Once the hijackers assumed control of the jet airliners, they told the passengers that they had a bomb on board and would spare the lives of passengers and crew once their demands were met – no passenger and crew actually suspected that they would use the jet airliners as suicide weapons since it had never happened before in history, and many previous hijacking attempts had been resolved with the passengers and crew escaping unharmed after obeying the hijackers.

The hijackers – members of al-Qaeda’s Hamburg cell – intentionally crashed two jet airliners into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. Both buildings collapsed within two hours from fire damage related to the crashes, destroying nearby buildings and damaging others. The hijackers crashed a third jet airliner into the Pentagon in Arlington County, Virginia, just outside Washington, D.C. The fourth jet airliner crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, after some of its passengers and flight crew attempted to retake control of the jet airliner (Flight 93), which the hijackers had redirected toward Washington D.C., to target the White House or the U.S. Capitol. None of the flights had any survivors. A total of 2,977 victims and the 19 hijackers perished in the attacks. Fifteen of the nineteen were citizens of Saudi Arabia, and the others were from the United Arab Emirates  Egypt, and Lebanon.


The WTC and a fireball rises in the immediate aftermath of United Airlines Flight 175 hitting the South Tower of the WTC during the September 11 attacks


The Pentagon and smoke pours from the southwest corner of the Pentagon Building minutes after a hijacked airliner crashed into it on September 11, 2001.

15-16 — Flight 93 crash site and one of its engines unearthed

On 13 September, for the first time ever, NATO invoked Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, which commits each member state to consider an armed attack against one member state to be an armed attack against them all. The invocation of Article 5 led to Operation Eagle Assist* and Operation Active Endeavour**. On 18 September 2001, President Bush signed the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists passed by Congress a few days prior; the authorization is still active to this day and has been used to justify numerous military actions.

* Operation Eagle Assist was a NATO operation where AWACS aircraft patrolled the skies over the United States following the September 11 attacks. On October 4, 2001, the North Atlantic Council decided to operationalize Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty. The operation began on October 9, 2001. It was NATO’s first deployment “in the defense of one of its member countries”. In total, 830 crew members from 13 NATO nations executed 360 operational sorties, totaling nearly 4300 hours.

* Operation Active Endeavour was a maritime operation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. It operated in the Mediterranean Sea and was designed to prevent the movement of terrorists or weapons of mass destruction. It had collateral benefits in enhanced security of shipping in general. It was one of the first military actions taken by NATO in response to an invocation of Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty which provides for collective defense and the first-ever operation conducted by the Alliance in direct application of the defense clause of the Treaty.

17-18 —  U.S. objectives

The Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists or “AUMF” was made law on 14 September 2001, to authorize the use of United States Armed Forces against those responsible for the 11 September attacks. It authorized the President to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on 11 September 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or individuals.

The 2001 AUMF has authorized US President to launch military operations across the world without any congressional oversight or transparency. Between 2018-20 alone, US forces initiated what it labelled “counter-terror” activities in 85 countries. Of these, the 2001 AUMF has been used to launch classified military campaigns in at least 22 countries. The 2001 AUMF has been widely perceived as a bill that grants the President powers to unilaterally wage perpetual “worldwide wars”.

Intelligence gathering to commence the Global War on Terrorism from Afghanistan 

President George W. Bush ordered Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet to launch operations against the al-Qa’ida terrorist organization and its Taliban supporters in Afghanistan. This order called for the CIA to collect real-time, actionable intelligence to help shape the battlefield and to use all means to target al-Qa’ida under an operation codenamed ‘Jawbreaker’.  Within 15 days of the attacks on US soil, the first team of CIA officers was on the ground and operating in Afghanistan–some 8,000 miles from home.

This rapid deployment was possible because the CIA had developed and nurtured relationships with the Afghan Northern Alliance for several years prior to 9/11.  Because of this thorough, low-key, and persistent effort, CIA officers knew the language, the history, and the culture of the region and were in position to move quickly against the terrorists. In addition to being “first on the ground” in October 2001, the CIA team was able to quickly amass an enormous body of information and a large stable of assets to launch rapid and robust efforts against the Taliban.

As the weeks unfolded, a core group of more than 100 CIA officers–primarily operations and paramilitary officers as well as officers from the Directorate of Support, all highly experienced leaders known for their independence, skill, initiative, and bravery–worked with some 300 US Special Forces personnel and partnered with local tribal and military forces. Team members took risks and worked with key groups in the area, doing whatever was necessary to accomplish the mission.


A CIA officer and US Special Forces in Afghanistan

Military operations launched for Global War on Terrorism

Operation Enduring Freedom

Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) was the official name used by the U.S. government for both the War in Afghanistan (2001–2021) and the larger-scale Global War on Terrorism i.e.  it was also affiliated with counterterrorism operations in other countries in addition to the main effort in Afghanistan as listed below. These global operations were/are intended to seek out and destroy any al-Qaeda fighters or affiliates.



Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in Afghanistan

[2001 – 2014]

The initial military objectives of OEF, as articulated by President George W. Bush in his  7 October 2001 address to the country, announced that airstrikes targeting Al-Qaeda and the Taliban had begun in Afghanistan in response to the September 11 attacks. This marked the beginning of OEF for the destruction of terrorist training camps and infrastructure within Afghanistan, the capture of al-Qaeda leaders, and the cessation of terrorist activities in Afghanistan.


U.S. Soldiers during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan

Operation Enduring Freedom – Kyrgyzstan

[2001 – 2014]

The United States and its allies established an airbase called the Manas Air Base (also known as the Transit Center at Manas) in Bishkek, the capital city of Kyrgyzstan. This airbase served as a key logistics and transportation hub for the coalition forces involved in the Afghanistan campaign. It was used for refueling, supply shipments, and troop movements to and from Afghanistan. The presence of the Manas Air Base in Kyrgyzstan was significant because it provided a strategic location for the international coalition’s operations in Afghanistan, particularly during the early years of the conflict. Over time, the base’s importance evolved, and it also served as a base for various other missions, including humanitarian and disaster relief efforts in the region.


Manasas Air Base and its Transit Center

Operation Active Endeavour: A naval operation of NATO in the Mediterranean

[2001 – 2016]

Operation Active Endeavour was a maritime operation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. It operated in the Mediterranean Sea and was designed to prevent the movement of terrorists or weapons of mass destruction. It had collateral benefits in enhanced security of shipping in general.


Operation Enduring Freedom – Philippines (OEF-P)

[2002 to 2015]

The Operation targeted the various Jihadist terror groups operating in the Philippines. By 2009, about 600 U.S. military personnel were advising and assisting the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in the Southern Philippines. In addition, by 2014, the CIA had sent its elite paramilitary officers from their Special Activities Division to hunt down and kill or capture key terrorist leaders. This group had the most success in combating and capturing Al-Qaeda leaders and the leaders of associated groups like Abu Sayyaf.


Operation Enduring Freedom – Pankisi Gorge


In the Republic of Georgia, terrorists working closely with al Qaeda operated in the Pankisi Gorge near the Russian border. The Georgian military took on the terrorists; Operation Enduring Freedom – Pankisi Gorge after a America sponsored a 18-month, $64-million program, the Georgia Train and Equip Program (GTEP), aimed at increasing the capabilities of the Georgian armed forces by training and equipping four 600-man battalions with light weapons, vehicles and communications.


10th Special Forces Group soldiers instructing Georgian troops

Operation Iraqi Freedom: War to overthrow the Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein

[2003 – 2011]

The Iraq War was a protracted armed conflict in Iraq from 2003 to 2011 that began with the intervention in Iraq by the United States-led coalition that overthrew the Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein. The conflict continued for much of the next decade as an insurgency emerged to oppose the coalition forces and the post-invasion Iraqi government. US troops were officially withdrawn in 2011. The United States became re-involved in 2014 at the head of a new coalition, and the insurgency and many dimensions of the armed conflict are ongoing.


Clockwise from top: US troops at Saddam Hussein’s sons, Uday and Qusay ‘s hideout; insurgents in northern Iraq; the toppling of the Saddam Hussein statue in Firdos Square

Operation Enduring Freedom – Horn of Africa (OEF-HOA)

[2005 to 2012]

OEF-HOA did not have a specific organization as a target. OEF-HOA instead focused its efforts to disrupt and detect militant activities including piracy in the region and to work with willing governments to prevent the reemergence of militant cells and activities.


Operation Enduring Freedom – Trans Sahara (OEF-TS)

[2007 – present]

Operation Enduring Freedom – Trans Sahara (OEF-TS), later termed as Operation Juniper Shield, is the military operation conducted by the United States and partner nations in the Saharan and Sahel regions of Africa, consisting of counterterrorism efforts and policing of arms and drug trafficking across central Africa.


A United States special forces NCO watches weapons marksmanship training for a member of a Malian counter-terrorism unit in December 2010 and Nigerien soldiers train during Flintlock 2018 training exercises.  

Operation Enduring Freedom – Caribbean and Central America (OEF-CCA)


Operation Enduring Freedom – Caribbean and Central America was part of the U.S. government’s broader efforts to address security challenges in its own hemisphere and strengthen the capacity of regional partners to combat transnational threats. Over time, the specific goals and activities of the operation may have evolved to address changing security dynamics in the region.



US military training in Caribbean and Central America

Killing of a chief of a militant group in Kashmir


A U.S. drone strike reportedly killed Ilyas Kashmiri, who was the chief of Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami, a Kashmiri militant group associated with al-Qaeda


Military intervention in Yemen: Drone strikes on Islamist militant presence in Yemen, in particular Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula

[2009 – present]

The United States has been involved in an armed conflict with al-Qaeda and affiliated groups in Yemen arguably since the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole off the coast of Yemen, at the time one of al-Qaeda’s most significant attacks. However, Yemen did not become a first tier front in the U.S. counterterrorism campaign until 2009. In the intervening years, al-Qaeda elements in Yemen and Saudi Arabia united under seasoned leadership that had trained with Osama bin Laden to form al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). On Christmas Day 2009, the group attempted to bring down an airliner en route to Detroit, Michigan. The device malfunctioned and the crisis was averted, but the U.S. government sprang into action, launching a military campaign against AQAP in Yemen that continues to this day.


US troops in Yemen

Operation Neptune Spear: Killing of Osama bin Laden


On May 2, 2011, Osama bin Laden, the founder, and first leader of the Islamist militant group al-Qaeda, was shot and killed at his compound in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad by United States Navy SEALs of SEAL Team Six (also known as DEVGRU). The operation, code-named Operation Neptune Spear, was carried out in a CIA-led mission, with the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) coordinating the Special Mission Units involved in the raid. In addition to SEAL Team Six, participating units under JSOC included the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne), also known as the “Night Stalkers,” and the CIA’s Special Activities Division, which heavily recruits from former JSOC Special Mission Units


Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad and US Navy SEALs on Operation Neptune Spear

Operation Inherent Resolve: War against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria and Iraq

[2014 – present]

Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) is the United States military’s operational name for the international war against the Islamic State (IS),[96] including both a campaign in Iraq and a campaign in Syria, with a closely related campaign in Libya. Through 18 September 2018, the U.S. Army’s III Armored Corps was responsible for Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF—OIR) and were replaced by the XVIII Airborne Corps. The campaign is primarily waged by American and British forces in support of local allies, most prominently the Iraqi security forces and Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).


U.S. soldiers in Syria during Operation Inherent Resolve

Operation Freedom’s Sentinel – Afghanistan

[2015 – 2021]

Operation Freedom’s Sentinel (OFS) was the official name used by the U.S. government for the mission succeeding Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in continuation of the War in Afghanistan as part of the larger Global War on Terrorism. Operation Freedom’s Sentinel is part of the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission, which began on January 1, 2015. OFS had two components: counterterrorism and working with allies as part of Resolute Support. There were 16,551 NATO and non-NATO troops in Afghanistan around February 2020. Around June 2020, that number dropped to 15,937. In February 2021, there were 9,592 NATO and non-NATO troops in Afghanistan.

A U.S. Army crew chief with 17th Cavalry Regiment surveys the area over Jalalabad, Afghanistan


(Top left) and US troops during Operation Freedom’s Sentinel

Military intervention in Libya: Air strikes and drone strikes against the ISIL

[2015 to 2019]

From November 2015 to 2019, the United States and allies carried out a large series of both airstrikes and drone strikes to invade Libya in its revived conflict in support of the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord against the ISIL presence in the region.


Military intervention in Cameroon: Supporting African forces in a non-combat role in their fight against ISIL insurgency


The U.S. deployed 300 soldiers to Cameroon, with the invitation of the Cameroonian government, to support African forces in a non-combat role in their fight against ISIL insurgency in that country. The troops’ primary missions will revolve around providing intelligence support to local forces as well as conducting reconnaissance flights.


US military training for the Cameroon army


There is no widely agreed on figure for the number of people that have been killed so far in the War on Terror as the Bush Administration has defined it to include the war in Afghanistan, the war in Iraq, and operations elsewhere.

According to Joshua Goldstein, an international relations professor at the American University, The Global War on Terror has seen fewer war deaths than any other decade in the past century.

A 2015 report by the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War and the Physicians for Social Responsibility and Physicians for Global Survival estimated between 1.3 million to 2 million casualties from the War on Terror.

A report from September 2021 by Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs “Costs of War” project puts the total number of casualties of the War on Terror in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan at between 518,000 and 549,000. This number increases to between 897,000 and 929,000 when the wars in Syria, Yemen, and other countries are included. The report estimated that many more may have died from indirect effects of war such as water loss and disease. They also estimated that over 38 million people have been displaced by the post-9/11 wars participated in by the United States in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, and the Philippines; 26.7 million people have returned home following displacement.



NATO   Trans-Sahara initiative   Major military operations (as of 2011) (Afghanistan • Pakistan • Iraq • Somalia • Yemen)   Other allies involved in major operations Major terrorist attacks by al-Qaeda and affiliated groups: (as of 2011) 1. 1998 United States embassy bombings • 2. September 11 attacks • 3. Bali bombings 2002• 4. Madrid bombings 2004 • 5. London bombings 2005 • 6. Mumbai attacks 2008










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