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The Human Cost of War

And How to Assess the Damage

Alicia Casilio, dressed as an Iraqi civilian, stands silently at an anti-Iraq war protest in Boston, Massachusetts, January 11, 2007. Brian Snyder / Reuters

The wars that the United States has waged in the Middle East have generally led to yet more interventions. There was the support for the mujahideen in Afghanistan in the 1990s and the hot pursuit of Osama bin Laden in 2001. Then came the Iraq wars in 1991 and 2003 and, now, support for the forces seeking to bring down Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Among the many reasons for the record of poor outcomes is the United States’ failure to account for the human costs of war.

Washington and the broader policy world are often quick to analyze the failures and occasional successes of U.S. armed conflicts. But rarely do they look at how war affects local populations—from the scale of destruction and the severity of injuries to the reasons why millions of the displaced never return to their old towns or homes. Nor do policymakers consider how many were killed

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