At any given point in time, a map of the world's armed conflicts will show a number of countries currently at war. However, some wars last longer than others, and countries embroiled in long, ongoing wars frequently experience massive destruction and enduring hardship as a result. These war-torn countries are typically plagued not by an invading country, but by armed conflict between different groups of their own citizens. In addition to lost lives, war-torn countries must often contend with unstable economies and heavily damaged infrastructures, which range from hard to impossible to repair while conflict is ongoing and can take years (even decades) to rebuild even after fighting ceases.
The World’s Most War-Torn Countries:
Afghanistan has been embroiled in a series of civil wars, international wars, and inter-ethnic conflicts continuously since 1978. In 2001, U.S. forces entered Afghanistan to eradicate the Taliban, a violent group of religious extremists, and help the country rebuild after years of conflict. The United States has also provided troops to protect the civilians of Afghanistan from Taliban attacks and enable the government to rebuild and reestablish power. Despite these efforts, Taliban attacks continued, killing several thousand people a year most years. Moreover, when U.S. troops left Afghanistan in 2021 as part of a plan to return control of Afghanistan to the Afghan people, the Taliban re-emerged and retook control of the country within months.
Iraq also has a long history of war, particularly since Saddam Hussein rose to power in 1979. The Iran-Iraq War ran from 1979 to 1988 and ended in a stalemate despite costing 500,000 to 1.5 million lives. The Gulf War saw Iraq invade Kuwait and ran from 1990-1991, and was followed by a civil conflict as a segment of Iraqi people sought to depose Hussein. From 2003-2007, following the 9-11 attacks on the U.S., a coalition of forces from the U.S. and its allies entered Iraq, deposed Hussein, and occupied Iraq while a new government was installed. Al-Qaeda and other internal regimes fought back, and the resulting violence resulted in 151,000 to 1.2 million Iraqi deaths. Since the U.S. and its allies pulled out, Iraq has suffered extended and violent political instability, including civil war between the Iraqi peacekeeping forces and the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
The Syrian Civil War is the second-deadliest war in the 21st century. The conflict arose from discontent with the Syrian government and escalated with protests in 2011 that called for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s removal. These protests were violently suppressed and led to war. The opponents of the war in Syria are the Ba’athist Syrian Arab Republic led by al-Assad (and their allies) and the domestic and foreign forces opposing the Syrian government. All sides involved in the war, including the Syrian government, opposition rebel groups, the United States, Turkey, and Russia, have been criticized by international organizations for massacres and human rights violations. The civil war has also caused a severe refugee situation, with over six million people internally displaced in Syria and over five million seeking refuge in other countries.
Yemen is currently experiencing a civil war that claimed over 20,000 deaths in 2019 alone. The Yemeni Civil War began in 2014 between two sides that both claimed to constitute the official government of Yemen: the Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi-led government and the Houthi armed movement. Saudi Arabia launched airstrikes to restore the former Yemeni government, an action that has been condemned by the international community because of the number of civilian deaths. The bombing campaign has killed over 17,700 civilians as of March 2019. It’s estimated that over 100,000 people have been killed in the Yemeni Civil War, including 12,000 civilians. Moreover, the widespread food shortages caused by the war have placed an estimated 13 million Yemeni people in danger of starvation.
The Mexican Drug War is an ongoing conflict between the Mexican government and various drug trafficking syndicates. The war also consists of violence between competing drug cartels throughout Mexico. Since 1982, federal law enforcement has been reorganized five times to attempt to reduce cartel violence and control corruption. Since 2006, at least 120,000 people have been killed and 27,000 have gone missing as a result of the Drug War. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has declared the war over since taking office in 2018, but critics point to the homicide rate as evidence that this claim is premature.
The Somali Civil War started in the 1980s and rose out of resistance to the military junta (military dictatorship) led by Siad Barre. From 1988 to 1990, the Somali Armed Forces began engaging armed rebel groups but the opposition groups overthrew Barre’s government in 1991. Following Barre’s ousting, a counter-revolution attempted to reinstate him as the leader of Somalia. The opposition groups began competing for power and conflicts in the south were particularly. The already impoverished country not only faced violence-related deaths but also deaths from starvation. In April 2020, humanitarian researchers voiced particular concerns about the country’s ability to handle the COVID-19 pandemic due to the damage to its infrastructure and health care system. The Somali Civil War has resulted in at least 500,000 deaths.
The Libyan Civil War started in 2011 when Libyans were inspired by the uprisings in neighboring countries, like Tunisia and Egypt, and began violently protesting against the government. The rebels were met with opposition from Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s troops. The conflict ended in October 2011 when the rebels took Benghazi and Tripoli and killed Gaddafi. It’s estimated that 20,000 people were killed an additional 50,000 were injured in the first Libyan Civil War. The Second Libyan Civil War erupted in 2014 between rival factions seeking control of Libya. The conflict is mostly between the House of Representatives and the Government of National Accord. About 9,000 people have been killed and over 20,000 people have been injured in the Second Libyan Civil War.
Other war-torn countries:
- The Democratic Republic of Congo
- Central African Republic
- The Kurdish-Turkey Conflict (Turkey, Iraq, and Syria)