What have been the environmental impacts thus far of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars?



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    As the bumper sticker goes, “War is not healthy for children or other living things,” and that includes the environment. There are so many environmental issues surrounding wars that I doubt I could touch on a small fraction of the major ones in this short answer, and nothing distinguishes the Iraq and Afghanistan wars from any others. Aside from the direct environmental damage done by bombs, battles and other disturbances, which is nothing to sneer at, consider that we have been fighting in Iraq since March 2003 and in Afghanistan since 2001. Hundreds of thousands of military and support personnel have been engaged. Both of those countries are very far from the United States; imagine the fossil fuel consumption that it takes to put even one American soldier’s boots on the ground in Afghanistan, and then to keep him or her fed, healthy, and flush with the ammunition, equipment, medical care, intelligence, transportation and administration necessary for that soldier to do their job over there. Think of the millions of tons of supplies that travel by ships, planes and trucks across oceans, into ports and over desert highways to reach our troops. Think of the enormous energy expenditures of military bases such as Bhagram in Afghanistan. There are also numerous other issues, for instance, depleted uranium used in ammunition which has been blamed for health problems in soldiers and in civilians exposed in war zones.  Think of the fields and crops that will not be irrigated in Iraq because of the damage to water infrastructure, the pollution caused by local inhabitants who are forced to use dirty rivers for drinking water and waste disposal because they can’t get clean processed water, or the acres of land in Afghanistan used for the cultivation of opium poppies that aren’t being used for crops to feed the local people because the war has devastated the Afghans’ economy, leading to drugs as the only viable source of income. This is not to say that these effects do or do not outweigh the very real political reasons why these wars were fought, but as your question asks strictly about the environmental impacts, you can see that the subject is very large and unfortunately very depressing.

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