The 15 Secret Wars the US Government is Involved in Right Now
Under the terms of the United States Constitution, congress is the only branch of government with the power to declare war – a power it has not exercised since 1941, the year the United States entered World War II. Still, the U.S. has engaged directly in large-scale military conflicts around the globe in the decades since.
Without congressional approval, American military action in the 21st century and second half of the 20th century has been authorized by executive branch under a range of often-dubious legal justifications.
President Harry Truman, for example, committed American troops to Korea in the 1950s, at the request of the U.N. Security Council. In the 1960s, President Lyndon Johnson sent troops into Vietnam following the passage of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, which greatly expanded presidential authority in military matters. In the 1980s, President George H.W. Bush invaded Panama, citing America’s right to self-defense under a provision of the U.N. charter
In the years since the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, more checks and balances on military deployment have been stripped away. In the ongoing War on Terror, Congress has authorized the Department of Defense to train and equip military forces anywhere in the world and to provide backing to foreign forces supporting counterterrorism operations. Under these provisions, known as Section 333 and Section 127e, the U.S. military is involved in over a dozen shadow wars around the world.
Unlike the Korean War or the Vietnam War, which pitted the U.S. against nations with clearly defined borders, America’s military campaigns of today are generally small-scale operations that target diffuse militant groups that operate across broad regions.
Using data from the 2022 Brennan Center for Justice report, “Secret War: How the U.S. Uses Partnerships and Proxy Forces to Wage War Under the Radar,” 24/7 Wall St. identified the 15 countries where the U.S. government is engaging in secret wars. Each of the countries on this list is verified to have active programs covered under Section 333 and Section 127e.
It is important to note that this list of countries is not necessarily exhaustive and is instead based on publicly available information. Many of these countries, located exclusively in the Middle East and Africa, are home to branches of terrorist groups like al-Shabaab, al-Qaeda, and the Islamic State.
The degree to which the U.S. is involved in these countries varies. In some, such as Iraq, thousands of American troops are deployed. In others, such as Yemen and Libya, American military intervention is limited to airstrikes or supplying partner nations with weapons to use in combat. (These are the most expensive drones used by the U.S. military.)
Since these clandestine military operations have become public, they have drawn public criticism. In addition to a lack of transparency, there have been reported instances in which American-backed forces have been accused of egregious human rights abuses, including torture and summary executions. And though American service men and women are in many of these countries to ostensibly support and train local fighters, U.S. troops have, at times, directly engaged in combat, sometimes incurring casualties. (Here is a look at the countries where the most U.S. troops are stationed.)
Click here to see the 15 countries the US government is involved in secret wars with.
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