Kill counts are surprisingly an amazingly difficult thing to come up with. In the past, this was true as well, but that was often because of a perceived lack of technology or historical accounts. Now though, these statistics remain elusive, even in the most highly advanced armies in the world.
In some situations the difficulties arise from a cultural change that has taken place over the last 50 years as many people, especially in the western world, no longer see their military as something of national pride. Thus, these militaries do not often “brag” about how many people they have killed; instead they often emphasize how many of their own soldiers sacrificed their lives for the cause.
In other wars, especially civil war, there is often censorship and blurred lines between who is a combatant and who is a civilian which often makes estimates unreliable. This list is based on which army has killed the most soldiers during armed conflicts in the last twenty years. Thus, this list will not count civilian casualties.
Due to the realities of unreliable data on wars and kill counts, all of these totals are estimates. In each section I will try my best to break down how each number was determined, but it is important to remember that these numbers are incredibly rough estimates. Usually the particular difficulties associated with coming to that specific kill count will be included in the description.
Further, I have included with each army their military budget and where that budget ranks among other countries. For armies that are not affiliated with a recognized country, such as rebel armies or terrorist groups, this number is unknown. In short, this list will do its best to demonstrate the top 10 most deadly armies of the last twenty years based solely on combatant kills.
10: The French Armed Forces
Military Spending: $58,943,000,000 (6th In The World)
The majority of kills for the French Armed Forces come from their involvement in the African continent. Since its colonial days, France has had a keen interest in Africa. This has led it to keeping around 12,000 troops in different regions for peace-keeping missions. Two major conflicts have led to substantial kills for the French military, first in 2008 in the Central African Republic, and then in Mali in 2013.
Between these two conflicts, mostly the one in Mali, we get about 1200 kills. This estimate is problematized by discrepancies in the number of rebels killed, as well as a lack of data about how many the French killed and how many the governments that they were helping killed.
France was also involved in some extent in Afghanistan and other NATO operations; however, the number of militants that they killed is not given. I have estimated 100 due to their mostly secondary duties, which included training and special operations.
9: The Serbian Armed Forces
Military Spending: $826,000,000 (71st In The World)
Serbia would likely be higher on this list if we went back an additional five years. However, most of the Balkan Wars fall outside of the twenty year limit. Although the final year of the Croatian War of Independence and the Bosnian War each squeak into the time limit, these two will also not be countedm because finding casualty counts by year is difficult.
Further, the nature of these wars, being both a civil war among former Yugoslavian states and an ethnic conflict, makes determining exactly who killed who nearly impossible, especially when we try to separate combatants from civilians. Thus, Serbia’s 1,500 kills comes entirely from the 1998/1999 Kosovo War.
8: The Armed Forces Of The Russian Federation
Military Spending: $90,749,000,000 (3rd In The World)
Rising from the ashes of the former Soviet Union, the Russian Federation and its army has been busy since the fall of its predecessor. The majority of its kills come from two major wars, the First Chechen War (1994-1996) and the Second Chechen War (1999-2009). During these two wars the Russian Armed Forces squared off against the separatists in Chechnya.
Statistics are questionable, but about 15,000 killed (civilians not included) seems to be a fair guess based on Russia’s own reports and estimates made by foreign observers. Russia also had a small conflict in 2008 with Georgia in which around 200 people in the Georgian military were killed.
Since the conflicts taking place in the Ukraine are still unfolding and the question of exactly how much the combatants are linked to Russia’s armed forces is still in question, that particular conflict has been left out of this count.
7: The Military of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria
Military Spending: Unknown
The Chechen Republic of Ichkeria was a secession government that wanted to break away from the Russian Federation; this resulted in two devastating wars in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. Official statistics put the casualties suffered by Russia to be around 10,000; however, experts argue it is at least double this.
Further, one estimate claims 100,000 ethnic Russians, this would include both soldiers and civilians, and there is no way to tell how many of either. Although Russia officially won the war, the victory was bought at an embarrassingly high price. Thus, details about official statistics have been kept out of public hands and statistics that have been released have been met by most experts with scepticism.
6: Al-Qaeda And The Taliban Army
Military Spending: Unknown
Unfortunately reliable statistics are always more difficult to come by when the military in question is not affiliated with legitimate governments. This rough estimate of kills is based on US and NATO allies’ casualty reports. The US and its western allies have lost about 8,200 soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq, and roughly 10,000 Afghani security forces have also been killed, bringing the total to 18,200.
Al-Qaeda have also been involved around the world in many conflicts. Unfortunately, it is difficult to put any number to these conflicts, and so many will not be counted. However, they are currently involved in the war in Pakistan, where they, along with allies, are fighting the Pakistan Armed Forces, which has suffered 5,000 casualties. It is hard to say how many the Taliban and Al-Qaeda are responsible for, but considering they make up the majority on the other side, 4,000 seems fair.
5: The Pakistan Armed Forces
Military Spending: $6,987,000,000 (25th In The World)
Fighting against insurgents in their North-West primarily consisting of Taliban and Al-Qaeda forces, the Pakistani Armed Forces have been at war since 2004.
Estimates peg their kill count at roughly 27,000; however, an assist would go the United States, which has a small presence as well, mostly through drone strikes. Those account for roughly 1,000 kills.
4: The United States Armed Forces & NATO Allies
Military Spending: $682,478,000,000 (US Only) (1st In The World)
Surprisingly not number one on the list, the US has nonetheless been involved in the most conflicts over the last twenty years. I have decided to group the US with its NATO allies because it is a rare thing these days to see the US acting without the backup of NATO.
Most of their kills comes from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq through the beginning of the 21st century, which accounts for roughly 30,000 killed. This total is added to by about 2,000 killed by drone strikes around the world.
Further, in 1998 and 1999, the US led a NATO bombing campaign during the Kosovo War which accounts for another 1,000. Finally, in Haiti in 1994, some several hundred rebels were killed, which I have pegged at 300.
3: The Syrian Armed Forces
Military Spending: $1,871,000,000 (60th In The World)
The Armed Forces of Bashar Al-Assad’s regime in Syria have been involved in a civil war since 2011. The Syrian Armed Forces’ entire total comes from this war, where a Reuter’s estimate from April 2014 posits that about 38,000 rebels have been killed to date.
These numbers are complicated because the war is still ongoing, there are problems collecting proper data, and the line between civilian and rebel is often a very blurred thing. Due to this, this particular statistic may change depending upon which source you look at.
2: The Islamic Front And The Free Syrian Army
Military Spending: Unknown
Technically two armies, but unfortunately it is difficult to split the two apart and analyse them separately. As the two biggest groups in the Syrian Rebel Faction, these two armies are accountable for the bulk of the 58,000, estimated by the April 2014 Reuter’s report, Syrian Army losses.
Determining how many kills each is responsible for is essentially impossible; considering their shared target and goal, they will occupy one spot on this list.
1. The Puntland Security Forces And The Somali Armed Forces
Military Spending: Unknown
Easily the most difficult estimate to make, the Puntland Security Forces and the Somali Armed Forces are two different sides in a multi-sided civil war that has raged in Somalia since 1991. Although there are many involved factions, these two are the two largest and longest lasting. The Puntland Forces represent a breakaway government who looks to set up the Autonomous region of Puntland. In contrast, the Somali Armed Forces represent what is the closest thing the area has to a legitimate government. The estimate of 300,000 -500,000 is the best that I could find and it encompasses the entire conflict both civilians and militants. Thus I have chosen to halve the estimate to account for civilian casualties. Separating how many of this total were perpetrated by each side is impossible. Nevertheless, based on how high these total numbers are it seems most likely that either side surpasses any other army’s kill count on this list.