Like every other major world power, the United States has been involved in many small and large-scale conflicts in its nearly 250-year-old history. Other than the more significant ones like the world wars, though, most people in and outside America have hardly heard of them, either because they happened a long time ago or due to their limited impact on global politics.
10. 1958 Beirut Crisis
While American troops had remained in the Middle East after WW2, the 1958 Beirut crisis would be their first post-war military engagement in the region. It was a massive operation, involving three aircraft carriers, over 10,000 troops, and plans to deploy nukes from American bases in Germany.
It was one of the many conflicts of the Cold War, caused by a series of events threatening pro-Western leaders in the Middle East, particularly the bloody massacre of the Iraqi Hashemite Dynasty in July. In Lebanon, a civil war between Muslim factions and the staunchly anti-communist government of President Camille Nemr Chamoun triggered a response from the Eisenhower administration, as it was seen as yet another middle-Eastern nation about to fall to the Soviet sphere of influence.
Despite the scale of the mission, there was almost no fighting between the two sides, other than a few isolated sniper attacks. The entire issue was ultimately settled by diplomacy, with a total death toll of one American Marine.
9. Invasion Of Grenada
The Caribbean nation of Grenada became a part of the Cold War in 1979, when a coup led to the formation of a Marxist-Leninist government under Prime Minister Maurice Bishop. In 1983, he was executed by even more hardline communists in another coup, leading to large-scale protests and a civil-war kind of situation.
To protect American interests and civilians, President Raegan ordered an invasion with nearly 2,000 troops called Operation Urgent Fury, along with troops from a coalition of other Caribbean nations, primarily Jamaica. They were met by Grenadan and Cuban troops almost as soon as they landed, followed by a few days of intense fighting.
By the end of it, American forces totaled more than 7,000 troops, compared to about 1,500 on the Grenadan side. Resistance subsided after about three days of combat, and the communist government was eventually replaced with a parliamentary council.
8. Dominican Civil War
The US invasion and occupation of the Dominican Republic lasted for about eight years. Beginning in 1916, it was a part of the larger trend of American interventions in the Caribbean and Central America, influenced by factors like business interests, construction of the Panama Canal, political unrest, and growing foreign influence from military rivals like Germany, among others.
It was an unpopular operation, both in the Dominican Republic and at home in the United States, as the country was already involved in major wars in Europe and Haiti. Unlike Haiti, however, resistance against US forces subsided within the first few months of the occupation. For eight years, a military government favorable to the US ruled over the Caribbean nation, building infrastructure like roads, sanitation facilities, and schools, along with land reforms that favored American businesses.
7. First Barbary War
By the turn of the 19th century, piracy had emerged as a major problem for international ships passing through the Mediterranean Sea. Like other European powers, the US government had been paying tribute to the pirate-ruled states of Algiers, Tunis, Morocco, and Tripoli, until the election of Thomas Jefferson to the office in 1801. He discontinued the payments, which was immediately followed by a threat of war by the ruler of Tripoli, Yusuf Karamanli.
Before he could fully mobilize, though, Jefferson’s administration sent a naval squadron to secure the waters. From May, 1801 to June, 1805, US forces fought one of its first few naval battles as a free nation around Tripoli. The First Barbary War, as it’d come to be known, ended with the capture of key forts in Tripoli, and a peace treaty favorable to American interests. It would not be the end of piracy in the Mediterranean, however, which continued until at least the 1830s.
6. Korean War Of 1871
The American military expedition to Korea in 1871 was influenced by many factors, the most immediate one being the capture and destruction of an American merchant ship, the General Sherman, back in 1866. At the time, Korea was ruled by the Joseon dynasty and was increasingly turning hostile towards foreign powers navigating on its waters, especially from Europe. After a series of failed diplomatic negotiations, five American gunships and more than 1,200 soldiers were sent in to settle the matter, so to speak.
The invasion began in June, and while the Koreans fought bravely, they were quickly outmatched and outnumbered by American firepower. By one estimate, more than 240 Koreans lost their lives during the entire operation, with a total loss of three soldiers on the American side.
5. Boxer Rebellion
The Boxer rebellion was one of the largest and bloodiest rebellions in Chinese history, with a total death toll of over 100,000 by even the most conservative estimates. It was an anti-foreign, anti-colonial peasant uprising originating in northern China, explicitly aimed at removing all foreign influence from the country. At its peak in the spring and summer of 1900, the rebels – named after a secret Chinese martial arts society specializing in boxing techniques – controlled vast parts of the countryside, as well as a few quarters in the capital city of Beijing, then called Peking.
To protect foreign interests in China, an international coalition of around 19,000 soldiers was sent in, including American forces stationed in the Philippines due to the Spanish-American War of 1898. After weeks of intense fighting, Beijing was finally captured on August 14, with a formal peace treaty signed in September, 1901.
4. Invasion Of Haiti
The 1915 invasion of Haiti was triggered by many factors. Since its successful slave revolution in 1804, the tiny Caribbean nation had been forced to pay a yearly debt to France, which was financed by further debt from banks in America, Germany, and France. Due to those obligations, Haiti’s finances had been controlled by an international consortium of banks since 1910.
On top of that, the country was going through a period of instability since another revolution had broken out in 1911, leading to the assassination or deposition of seven Haitian presidents from 1911 to 1915. The invasion came after the rather brutal, public assassination of President Jean Vilbrun Guillaume Sam in July 1915, triggering a military response from the Woodrow Wilson administration.
The US invasion and subsequent occupation of Haiti would last for about two decades. While the numbers vary, one estimate places Haitian casualties around 15,000. To settle the debt, a large part of the country’s financial reserves was moved to banks within America.
3. Guatemalan Coup
At the time of the 1954 coup in Guatemala, the central American nation was caught in the middle of the Cold War. Since the revolution of 1944, democratically-elected governments in Guatemala had pursued a policy of land reform and socialization, provoking a reaction from landowners and foreign business interests in the country, particularly the United Fruit Company.
In June 2015, CIA-backed mercenaries invaded Guatemala from Honduras, led by Colonel Carlos Castillo Armas. While the invasion itself was a military failure, Guatemalan soldiers – commanded by President Jacobo Arbenz – were intimidated by the supposed size of the invasion force and refused to fight.
Arbenz resigned on June 27, and with power now firmly in the hands of Castillo Armas, he went on to reverse or nullify most reforms of the past few years. The events of 1954 triggered a long and bloody civil war within Guatemala, eventually leading to the massacre of over 200,000 civilians.
2. Philippine-American War
When the Philippine-American War started in 1899, the country was already in the middle of a series of rebellions against other European powers, most recently Spain. Philippines was ceded to America after the Spanish defeat in the Spanish-American War of 1898, though the treaty wasn’t ratified by the US senate before February, 1899.
By that time, fighting had erupted between American forces and groups of nationalist Filipinos across the Philippines, resulting in heavy losses for the rebels commanded by Emilio Aguinaldo. Due to the casualties, the rebels were forced to shift to a more guerrilla style of warfare in November of the same year.
It was a brutal conflict, with instances of torture and summary executions on both sides. While American forces emerged victorious by the end of it in 1902, intermittent fighting between rebel groups and US forces continued for many years after the conflict. All in all, around 4,200 American and 20,000 Filipino combatants lost their lives, with an added loss of over 200,000 civilians due to massacres, famine, and disease.
1. Somalia Intervention
From around 2007 to the temporary withdrawal in 2020, US forces were involved in large-scale fighting and air strikes against al-Shabaab – one of the terrorist groups operating in East Africa. Until about 2007, US military involvement in Somalia had been limited, largely due to the high cost of previous encounters such as the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu. It all changed with the Ethiopian invasion of 2006, which resulted in a large part of the population turning sympathetic, or at least tolerable, towards al-Shabaab’s stated methods and ideology.
The airstrikes began in 2007 as a part of the larger War on Terror in the region, supported by a coalition of forces from multiple countries. It has been a bloody conflict, especially for Somalia’s citizens and soldiers from other nations in Africa. The true number of deaths and casualties is unknown, but it may well be in the hundreds of thousands, with millions of people displaced across Somalia and neighboring countries like Kenya.