These are America’s 9 longest foreign wars


A U.S. Marine watched as an Osprey carrying then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta arrived  at Forward Operating Base Shukvani, Afghanistan, in March 2012.(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

President Obama announced Tuesday that 9,800 U.S. troops will stay in Afghanistan after the end of combat operations this year. That number will be cut in half at the end of 2015, and finally reduced at the end of 2016 to a small military operation tied to the U.S. Embassy.

It's a remarkable moment for a number of reasons – not least for what it means for the future of Afghanistan. But the announcement of a final exit from Afghanistan for the U.S. military also hammers home a fascinating statistic: The Afghan war will have lasted 15 years by the time it ends. It will be America's longest war by quite some years.

It's truly remarkable when you think about it. The Vietnam War may have defined 1960s and 1970s America, but it lasted 10 years by the most widely accepted metric (and, officially, it was never a war at all). And while World War I and II may have killed far more American troops, the fighting didn't linger for a decade and a half.

WorldViews broke down the nine longest foreign wars, including Afghanistan, that the United States has fought in. As you can see, Afghanistan is the clear winner:

We've included a fuller list below.

[A quick note on the semantics here, as military conflict is complicated. First, we're only including wars on this list, not military interventions or occupation. For example, the occupation of Haiti between 1915 and 1934 has not been included. Second, we're limiting the list to America's foreign wars, so battles fought on U.S. soil (such as the Civil War) or on it's borders (the Mexican-American War) are not included. None of these wars were longer than the Afghan war, anyway.]

Here we go:

1. Afghan war

  • October 2001 to 2016
  • ~15 years
  • 1,806 U.S. troops killed in action (source)

2. Vietnam War

  • March 1965 to May 1975*
  • 10 years and 2 months
  • 47,434 U.S. troops killed in action (source)

3. Iraq War

  • March 2003 to December 2012
  • 8 years and 9 months
  • 3,519 U.S. troops killed in action (source)

4. World War II

  • December 1941 to July 1945
  • 3 years and 8 months
  • 291,557 U.S. troops killed in action (source)

5. Korean War

  • June 1950 to July 1953
  • 3 years and 1 month
  • 33,739 U.S troops killed in action (source)

6. Philippine-American War

  • June 1899 to July 1902**
  • 3 years and 1 month
  • 4,165 total military deaths (source)***

7. World War I

  • April 1917 to November 1918
  • 1 year and 7 months
  • 53,402 U.S. troops killed in action (source)

8. Spanish-American War

  • May 1898 to December 1898
  • 8 months
  • 385 U.S. troops killed in action (source)

9. Persian Gulf War

  • July 1990 to February 1991
  • 7 months
  • 148 U.S. troops killed in action (source)

* There is some dispute over the length of the Vietnam War (which was officially a "police action," as the U.S. Congress never declared war, but everyone knows it was a war). This GlobalPost article, for example, makes the argument that it could be dated back to 1955.

** Though the Philippine-American War officially ended in 1902, an insurgency continued in some parts of the Philippines, and the United States subsequently occupied the country, which gained independence in 1945.

***Data for troops specifically killed in action was unavailable for the Philippine-American War.

Adam Taylor writes about foreign affairs for The Washington Post. Originally from London, he studied at the University of Manchester and Columbia University.
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Adam Taylor · May 28