Special Report

The Year the Most Americans Have Died in War Since 1980

During World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt described the United States as the “Arsenal of Democracy,” and more than 70 years later, it remains one. The U.S. is the undisputed military power in the world in terms of numbers and technology, according to an index created by The Global Firepower. (These are the countries spending the most on war.)

Even though America has overwhelming military advantages, the United States has paid the cost of exercising its power in the lives of its youth, and some years have been more deadly than others. The year the most Americans died in war since 1980 is 2007.

To find this, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the Congressional Research Service’s report “American War and Military Operations Casualties: Lists and Statistics,” which includes U.S. military casualties from 1980 to 2010. We only included deaths caused by hostile action, excluding accidental deaths. 

Since 1980, there have been 14 years in which there were no military deaths caused by hostile actions, though military personnel did die from other causes such as accidents, self-inflicted wounds, and homicides. 

Eighteen military personnel were killed in combat during the U.S. invasion of Grenada in 1983. Deaths in action in 1987 occurred during confrontations with Iraq in the Persian Gulf over protection of Kuwaiti-owned tankers. Two years later, the U.S. invaded Panama to depose that country’s leader, General Manuel Noriega, and America lost 23 people in that action.

There was no significant spike in deaths because of hostile action until 1991, when the U.S. and its allies launched Operation Desert Storm to expel Iraq from Kuwait. In that conflict, 147 American military personnel lost their lives.

The two wars in Afghanistan (begun in 2001) and Iraq (2003) as part of the U.S. war on terror led to a surge in American war casualties, the most since the Vietnam War. In 2007, the number of casualties peaked at 847. Though the number of casualties were lower in the years after, they remained in the hundreds until 2013.

The U.S. pulled out of Afghanistan last year, failing to defeat the Taliban. Iraq has become a constitutional republic after the fall of strongman Saddam Hussein, though debates about the war’s success are ongoing. (These are the most disastrous battles in U.S. history.)

Click here to see the year the most Americans died in war
Click here to read our detailed methodology

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