Special Report

The Year the Most Americans Have Died in War Since 1980

Hulton Archive / Archive Photos via Getty Images

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

Source: FPG / Getty Images

1980
> Military personnel deaths: 0
> Active duty military: 2,050,758

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Source: Gene Forte / Getty Images

1981
> Military personnel deaths: 0
> Active duty military: 2,093,032

Source: Hulton Archive / Getty Images

1982
> Military personnel deaths: 0
> Active duty military: 2,112,609

Source: Tony Duffy / Getty Images

1983
> Military personnel deaths: 18
> Active duty military: 2,123,909

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Source: Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

1984
> Military personnel deaths: 1
> Active duty military: 2,138,339

Source: Space Frontiers / Getty Images

1985
> Military personnel deaths: 0
> Active duty military: 2,150,379

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Source: Getty Images / Staff

1986
> Military personnel deaths: 2
> Active duty military: 2,177,845

Source: Rick Stewart / Getty Images

1987
> Military personnel deaths: 37
> Active duty military: 2,166,611

Source: Getty Images / Staff

1988
> Military personnel deaths: 0
> Active duty military: 2,121,659

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Source: Pascal Rondeau / Getty Images

1989
> Military personnel deaths: 23
> Active duty military: 2,112,128

Source: Space Frontiers / Getty Images

1990
> Military personnel deaths: 0
> Active duty military: 2,046,806

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Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

1991
> Military personnel deaths: 147
> Active duty military: 1,943,937

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

1992
> Military personnel deaths: 0
> Active duty military: 1,773,996

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

1993
> Military personnel deaths: 0
> Active duty military: 1,675,269

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Source: Phil Cole / Getty Images

1994
> Military personnel deaths: 0
> Active duty military: 1,581,649

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

1995
> Military personnel deaths: 0
> Active duty military: 1,502,343

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Source: Jeff J Mitchell / Getty Images

1996
> Military personnel deaths: 1
> Active duty military: 1,456,266

Source: Doug Pensinger / Getty Images

1997
> Military personnel deaths: 0
> Active duty military: 1,418,773

Source: Space Frontiers / Getty Images

1998
> Military personnel deaths: 0
> Active duty military: 1,381,034

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Source: USAF / Getty Images

1999
> Military personnel deaths: 0
> Active duty military: 1,367,838

Source: NASA / Getty Images

2000
> Military personnel deaths: 0
> Active duty military: 1,372,352

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Source: Mark Wilson / Getty Images

2001
> Military personnel deaths: 12
> Active duty military: 1,384,812

Source: Mark Wilson / Getty Images

2002
> Military personnel deaths: 17
> Active duty military: 1,411,200

Source: Scott Barbour / Getty Images

2003
> Military personnel deaths: 312
> Active duty military: 1,423,348

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Source: Chris Jackson / Getty Images

2004
> Military personnel deaths: 735
> Active duty military: 1,411,287

2005
> Military personnel deaths: 739
> Active duty military: 1,378,014

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Source: Wathiq Khuzaie / Getty Images

2006
> Military personnel deaths: 769
> Active duty military: 1,371,533

Source: David Paul Morris / Getty Images

2007
> Military personnel deaths: 847
> Active duty military: 1,368,226

Source: Spencer Platt / Getty Images

2008
> Military personnel deaths: 352
> Active duty military: 1,402,227

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Source: Alex Wong / Getty Images

2009
> Military personnel deaths: 346
> Active duty military: 1,421,668

Source: Chris Graythen / Getty Images

2010
> Military personnel deaths: 456
> Active duty military: 1,430,985

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Source: Majid Saeedi / Getty Images

2011
> Military personnel deaths: 473
> Active duty military: 1,468,000

Source: Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images

2012
> Military personnel deaths: 312
> Active duty military: 1,492,000

Source: Michael Buckner / Getty Images

2013
> Military personnel deaths: 127
> Active duty military: 1,433,000

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Source: Sean Gallup / Getty Images

2014
> Military personnel deaths: 58
> Active duty military: 1,381,000

Source: NASA / Getty Images

2015
> Military personnel deaths: 30
> Active duty military: 1,347,000

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Source: Scott Olson / Getty Images

2016
> Military personnel deaths: 32
> Active duty military: 1,348,000

Source: NASA / Getty Images

2017
> Military personnel deaths: 37
> Active duty military: 1,359,000

Source: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

2018
> Military personnel deaths: 31
> Active duty military: 1,379,000

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Source: Anthony Kwan / Getty Images

2019
> Military personnel deaths: 36
> Active duty military: 1,401,559

Source: flyparade / Getty Images

2020
> Military personnel deaths: 22
> Active duty military: 1,416,759

Methodology

To identify the year the most Americans died in war. 24/7 Wall St. referenced the Congressional Research Service’s report “American War and Military Operations Casualties: Lists and Statistics.” This report includes the total reported U.S. military casualties from 1980 to 2010. For the purposes of our report, we only included deaths caused by hostile action, which excludes accidental deaths. 

For the years 2011 to 2020, we referenced reported totals of U.S. military deaths in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which represent the vast majority of deaths involving American service members during that period. Some of the reported deaths from 2011 to 2020 likely include some accidents, and the 1980 to 2010 entries should not be treated as comparable to the 2011 to 2020 entries. Figures for the total active-duty military came from the report as well as other independent research. Active-duty personnel figures after 2010 are estimates.  

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