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Militarism and Afghanistan: Death, destruction, and other deliverables

Decades of war, conflict, and occupation in Afghanistan has resulted in the extreme militarisation of the country. We are analysing its consequences and in this blog, we take a look at the various forms of violence that have resulted from the past twenty years of war in Afghanistan.

Silhouettes of soldiers walking into the distance, military helicopter in the distance
Credit: Mostafa Meraji
Written by Ray Acheson
2 December 2021

Decades of war, conflict, and occupation in Afghanistan has resulted in the extreme militarisation of the country. This militarisation has included a steady and massive supply of weapons and other equipment, death, injury, and violence on a massive scale, and rampant corruption and social destruction. The militarisation of Afghanistan has forced the displacement of millions of Afghans and has taken and devastated countless lives over decades, and continues to do so today.

But one cannot speak of militarism in today’s Afghanistan without understanding the war profiteering of weapons manufacturers, private military and security companies, and other multinational corporations and government officials from the United States and other occupying forces.

It is not just Afghanistan that has been militarised, but all of the governments that have waged war there have spent billions to do so, and have become increasingly militarised themselves — as a product of the privatised profits derived from the destruction and “reconstruction” of the country, as well as the investments in militarised “security” within their own countries as a response to 9/11 and the violence their militarised response has spawned.

The cyclical nature of violence begetting violence has spiralled out of control, leading us to a situation where weapons and war are posited as the only legitimate answer to the multitude of converging crises that weapons and war have created.

These blogs explores the myriad forms of violence and militarisation that arose during the conflict in Afghanistan; the financial costs and profits of the war; and the corruption and social destruction all of this has fostered. It also offers recommendations for disarmament, demilitarisation, and decolonisation that are critical to changing course within Afghanistan and the countries that invaded and occupied it and created a global militarised “security” state in the process.

Death, Destruction and Other Deliverables

The key cost of the war in Afghanistan has been paid in lives, livelihoods, safety, and security. The Cost of War Project at Brown University estimates that the war in Afghanistan resulted in the deaths of 46,319 Afghan civilians. Others have calculated that an additional 69,000 Afghan military and police and more than 51,000 Afghan opposition fighters have been killed in the war. At least 5.9 million Afghan civilians have fled their homes.

In addition, the Cost of War project calculates that 2,324 US military personnel and 4,007 US contractors were killed. Soldiers and civilians of other countries participating in the war have also been killed, including hundreds each from Canada, Germany, Australia, and the United Kingdom, as well as some from France, Germany, Italy, and Norway.

Explosive violence

All forms of weapons have been used in the conflict, from guns to cluster bombs to rockets. Explosive weapons have been used extensively in populated areas, by US and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) forces as well as non-state armed groups. This has had a devastating impact on civilians and the environment. Schools, homes, markets, and other community, social, and institutional spaces have been bombed and shelled, having immediate and long-term impacts on the lives and well-being of people throughout the country.

Between January 2018 and June 2021, the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack identified over 200 reported attacks on schools, students, and staff in Afghanistan that involved explosive weapons. These attacks injured or killed hundreds of students and educators and damaged or destroyed dozens of schools and universities. The use of landmines, including improvised explosive devices, contributed to a sharp upturn in casualties and land contamination.

The war in Afghanistan has also resulted in specific forms of violence and militarism, including, among other things:


One of the first things the US military did after gaining effective control over Afghanistan following the invasion in 2001 was to set up secret torture chambers. These black sites were primarily managed by the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and private contractors. While a few infamous cases reached mainstream media, much of the torture was made invisible until the US Senate’s investigation into the CIA’s “detention and interrogation” programme resulted in the release of the Torture Report executive summary. Meanwhile, these unlawful practices were simultaneously normalised amongst the US public through government propaganda masquerading as popular culture. Violating the Geneva Conventions and US law, torture of detainees resulted in death and profound and ongoing suffering of those subjected to it.

Drone strikes

The US began targeted killings with drone strikes in Afghanistan as soon as November 2001. Afghanistan soon became a test site for high-tech drone warfare, leading to countless civilian casualties. The US launched more than 13,000 drone strikes in Afghanistan between 2015 and 2020, killing up to 10,000 people, according to statistics kept by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

The CIA and Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) have been the main operators of drones. Relying on cellphone numbers to find, fix, and finish their “targets,” they have often launched missiles at the wrong targets or at targets standing amid groups of civilians. As an act of gender-based violence, men of a military age are often targeted as militants or treated as militants in official casualty recording. Drone war has reaped a fortune for General Atomics, manufacturer of the Predator and Reaper drones.

Special operations

The United States and NATO jointly operated special forces in Afghanistan under the “counterterrorism” rubric. On average, more than 4,000 US Special Operations forces — e.g. Navy SEALs, Army Green Berets, and Marine Corps Raiders — were deployed to the Middle East each week as of 2019, more than anywhere else in the world.

Their operations lack oversight or accountability. There have been some well-publicised failures of special forces to train foreign armies, including in Afghanistan. Their “capture/kill raids,” including bursting into homes in the middle of the night, have fueled more resentment and violence than achieving “counterterrorism” objectives. Yet since 2001, the size of Special Operations Command has grown from about 33,000 personnel to about 70,000 in 2018, and have been deployed to about 149 countries.

Oppression of Afghan and other populations in the US and NATO

The “Global War on Terror,” beginning with the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, has resulted in mass repression of Muslim and other populations, particularly in the US and other NATO countries. They have been subject to surveillance, search and seizure, detention, and violence by state entities and the wider publics in these countries.

In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the US not only invaded and occupied Afghanistan but began to pour billions of dollars into “border security” and the newly-created Department of Homeland Security, which resulted in the vastly increased militarisation of the US border with Mexico, and the installation of Border Patrol and DHS agents globally to prevent migration.

Meanwhile, in NATO countries and other European states, the “Global War on Terror” has created a financial boon to “security companies” profiting from anti-migration measures, including the construction of Fortress Europe. This has resulted in human rights abuses and horrific treatment of migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers globally.

Changing course: Disarmament, demilitarisation, decolonisation

Addressing the violence and militarism within Afghanistan and within the states that occupied it will require concrete actions. States, international organisations, and others must take responsibility, heal and repair the damage that has been done, and prevent future catastrophes. Disarmament, demilitarisation, and decolonisation are vital aspects of this work. The following recommendations are not comprehensive but are critical.

  • In the near term, all actors must stop using explosive weapons in populated areas (EWIPA). A future government of Afghanistan should support the currently ongoing international negotiations of a political declaration against the use of EWIPA, as should the United States and every other government. And for the war in Afghanistan to truly end, the US and its allies must stop drone strikes and special operations in the country.
  • Access to education should be a priority in Afghanistan, and schools and universities, as well as their students and educators, should be protected from attack. A future government of Afghanistan should support the Safe Schools Declaration.
  • All actors must uphold the progress made in eliminating harm from landmines, cluster munitions, and other explosive remnants of war, respecting the emerging international norm against any use, and ensuring continuation of the country’s longstanding commitment to demining, risk awareness, and other obligations under the Mine Ban Treaty and Convention on Cluster Munitions (Afghanistan is party to both). This includes the provision of gender- and age-sensitive victim assistance, which must be provided to survivors and communities affected by contamination of explosive remnants of war.
  • More broadly, with the aim of preventing such military operations and interventions in the future, the United Nations (UN), national governments, and/or and independent bodies should commission in-depth studies of US and NATO aggression towards Afghanistan in the interests of holding governments accountable for the immense human suffering created by the “Global War on Terror” and the lack of UN action against US wars of aggression.

UN work against military spending should be renewed, with the General Assembly taking up the actions assigned to the Military Staff Committee and the Security Council through article 26 of the UN Charter in order to achieve commitments for serious reductions of military spending and regulation of weapons production.

A system for reparations to the people of Afghanistan and other countries affected by the “Global War on Terror” must be instituted. Military budgets should be redirected toward reparations. In the meantime, the US and all other countries must open their borders to people on the move from countries where their wars and arms transfers have impacted human well-being. Once admitted to a country, refugees, asylum seekers, and all other migrants must not be subjected to surveillance, harassment, or other forms of state violence on the basis of their ethnicity, religion, nationality, gender, etc. Funds must be divested from “border security” and instead put toward social services to provide care and integration support for people on the move.

These are not all of the measures that should be undertaken, but they are all necessary to disrupt the cycle of war, weaponisation, and violence — within Afghanistan, within the US and other occupying forces, and globally. Peace, justice, and equality cannot be achieved through the barrel of a gun or the dropping of bombs. It can only come from demilitarised and decolonised (i.e. not imposed by foreign military might) approaches to economic justice, social equality, and environmental welfare. 

Want to know more about the consequences of the militarisation of Afghanistan? Then continue to our blogs “Militarism and Afghanistan: Costs and Profits” and Militarism and Afghanistan: Corruption and Social Destruction.

– – –

In our series of blogs about Afghanistan, we are bringing new perspectives and voices to the mainstream narrative told by the media. Read the blog series or visit our webpage dedicated our work on Afghanistan.

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Ray Acheson Speaking for Reaching Critical Will at a conference

About the author

Ray Acheson is the Director of WILPF’s Disarmament Programme, which provides analysis, research, and advocacy across a range of disarmament issues from an antimilitarist feminist perspective. Acheson represents WILPF on the steering committees of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, and the International Network on Explosive Weapons.

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Melissa Torres


Prior to being elected Vice-President, Melissa Torres was the WILPF US International Board Member from 2015 to 2018. Melissa joined WILPF in 2011 when she was selected as a Delegate to the Commission on the Status of Women as part of the WILPF US’ Practicum in Advocacy Programme at the United Nations, which she later led. She holds a PhD in Social Work and is a professor and Global Health Scholar at Baylor College of Medicine and research lead at BCM Anti-Human Trafficking Program. Of Mexican descent and a native of the US/Mexico border, Melissa is mostly concerned with the protection of displaced Latinxs in the Americas. Her work includes training, research, and service provision with the American Red Cross, the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Centre, and refugee resettlement programs in the U.S. Some of her goals as Vice-President are to highlight intersectionality and increase diversity by fostering inclusive spaces for mentorship and leadership. She also contributes to WILPF’s emerging work on the topic of displacement and migration.

Jamila Afghani


Jamila Afghani is the President of WILPF Afghanistan which she started in 2015. She is also an active member and founder of several organisations including the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organisation (NECDO). Elected in 2018 as South Asia Regional Representative to WILPF’s International Board, WILPF benefits from Jamila’s work experience in education, migration, gender, including gender-based violence and democratic governance in post-conflict and transitional countries.

Sylvie Jacqueline Ndongmo


Sylvie Jacqueline NDONGMO is a human rights and peace leader with over 27 years experience including ten within WILPF. She has a multi-disciplinary background with a track record of multiple socio-economic development projects implemented to improve policies, practices and peace-oriented actions. Sylvie is the founder of WILPF Cameroon and was the Section’s president until 2022. She co-coordinated the African Working Group before her election as Africa Representative to WILPF’s International Board in 2018. A teacher by profession and an African Union Trainer in peace support operations, Sylvie has extensive experience advocating for the political and social rights of women in Africa and worldwide.

WILPF Afghanistan

In response to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and its targeted attacks on civil society members, WILPF Afghanistan issued several statements calling on the international community to stand in solidarity with Afghan people and ensure that their rights be upheld, including access to aid. The Section also published 100 Untold Stories of War and Peace, a compilation of true stories that highlight the effects of war and militarisation on the region. 

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WILPF Germany (+Young WILPF network), WILPF Spain and MENA Regional Representative

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WILPF uses feminist analysis to argue that militarisation is a counter-productive and ill-conceived response to establishing security in the world. The more society becomes militarised, the more violence and injustice are likely to grow locally and worldwide.

Sixteen states are believed to have supplied weapons to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2020 with the US supplying 74 % of weapons, followed by Russia. Much of this equipment was left behind by the US military and is being used to inflate Taliban’s arsenal. WILPF is calling for better oversight on arms movement, for compensating affected Afghan people and for an end to all militarised systems.

Militarised masculinity

Mobilising men and boys around feminist peace has been one way of deconstructing and redefining masculinities. WILPF shares a feminist analysis on the links between militarism, masculinities, peace and security. We explore opportunities for strengthening activists’ action to build equal partnerships among women and men for gender equality.

WILPF has been working on challenging the prevailing notion of masculinity based on men’s physical and social superiority to, and dominance of, women in Afghanistan. It recognizes that these notions are not representative of all Afghan men, contrary to the publicly prevailing notion.

Feminist peace​

In WILPF’s view, any process towards establishing peace that has not been partly designed by women remains deficient. Beyond bringing perspectives that encapsulate the views of half of the society and unlike the men only designed processes, women’s true and meaningful participation allows the situation to improve.

In Afghanistan, WILPF has been demanding that women occupy the front seats at the negotiating tables. The experience of the past 20 has shown that women’s presence produces more sustainable solutions when they are empowered and enabled to play a role.

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