Between the War for Independence and Operation Iraqi Freedom, the armed forces of the United States have participated in twenty-one principal wars and in numerous smaller conflicts and operations. In each of these American men and women have paid a high price for the nation's freedom, selflessly sacrificing life or limb for an honorable cause.
Principal sources of information for the figures, explanatory text and illustrations appearing below include the National Archives and Records Administration; U.S. Navy Historical Center; Department of Defense; Department of Veterans Affairs; and The Oxford Companion to American Military History, from which all quotations are taken.
Second Gulf War 2003-2011
The Iraq War was a protracted armed conflict that began with the 2003 invasion of Iraq by a United States-led coalition. The invasion regime toppled the government of Saddam Hussein. However, the conflict continued for much of the next decade as aninsurgency emerged to oppose the occupying forces and the post-invasion Iraqi government. An estimated 151,000 to 600,000 or more Iraqis were killed in the first 3–4 years of conflict. The United States officially withdrew from the country in 2011 but became re-involved in 2014 at the head of a new coalition; the insurgency and many dimensions of the civil armed conflict continue.
The invasion began on 20 March 2003, with the U.S., joined by the United Kingdom and several coalition allies, launching a war with a bombing campaign characterized by General Schwarzkopf as a "shock and awe." Iraqi forces were quickly overwhelmed as U.S. forces swept through the country. The invasion led to the collapse of the Ba'athist government; Saddam was captured on December 2003 and executed by a military court three years later. However, the power vacuum following Saddam's demise and the mismanagement of the occupation led to widespread sectarian violence between Shias and Sunnis as well as a lengthy insurgency against U.S. and coalition forces. The United States responded with a troop surge in 2007 to attempt to reduce the violence. The U.S. began withdrawing its troops in the winter of 2007–08. The winding down of U.S. involvement in Iraq accelerated under President Obama. The U.S. formally withdrew all combat troops from Iraq by December 2011.
The Bush 2 administration based its rationale for war principally on the assertion that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and that Saddam's government posed an immediate threat to the United States and its coalition allies. Select U.S. officials accused Saddam of harboring and supporting al-Qaeda, while others cited the desire to end a repressive dictatorship and bring democracy to the people of Iraq. After the invasion, no substantial evidence was found to verify the initial claims about WMDs. The rationale and misrepresentation of pre-war intelligence faced heavy criticism within the U.S. and internationally.
As a result of the war, Iraq held multi-party elections in 2005. Nouri al-Maliki became Prime Minister in 2006 and remained in office until 2014. The al-Maliki government enacted policies that were widely seen as having the effect of alienating the country's Sunni minority and worsening sectarian tensions. In the summer of 2014, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) launched a military offensive in Northern Iraq and declared a worldwide Islamic caliphate, eliciting another military response from the United States and its allies. The Iraq War caused hundreds of thousands of civilian, and thousands of military casualties. The majority of casualties occurred as a result of the insurgency and civil conflicts between 2004 and 2007.