United States involvement in regime change

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United States involvement in regime change has entailed both overt and covert actions aimed at altering, replacing, or preserving foreign governments. In the latter half of the 19th century, the US government undertook regime change actions mainly in Latin America and the southwest Pacific, and included the Mexican–American, Spanish–American and Philippine–American wars. At the onset of the 20th century the United States shaped or installed friendly governments in many countries including Panama, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic.

In the aftermath of World War II, the US government expanded the geographic scope of its regime change actions, as the country struggled with the Soviet Union for global leadership and influence within the context of the Cold War. Significant operations included the US and UK-orchestrated 1953 Iranian coup d'état, the 1961 Bay of Pigs Invasion targeting Cuba, and support for the Argentinian Dirty War, in addition to the US's traditional area of operations, Central America and the Caribbean. In addition, the US has interfered in the national elections of many countries, including in Japan in the 1950s and 1960s to keep its preferred center-right Liberal Democratic Party in power using secret funds, in the Philippines to orchestrate the campaign of Ramon Magsaysay for president in 1953, and in Lebanon to help Christian parties in the 1957 elections using secret cash infusions.[1] The US has executed at 81 overt and covert known interventions in foreign elections during the period 1946-2000.[2]

Also after World War II, the United States in 1945 ratified[3] the UN Charter, the preeminent international law document,[4] which legally bound the US government to the Charter's provisions, including Article 2(4), which prohibits the threat or use of force in international relations, except in very limited circumstances.[5] Therefore, any legal claim advanced to justify regime change by a foreign power carries a particularly heavy burden.[6]

Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the United States has led or supported wars to determine the governance of a number of countries. Stated US aims in these conflicts have included fighting the War on Terror as in the 2001 Afghan war, or removing dictatorial and hostile regimes in the 2003 Iraq War and 2011 military intervention in Libya.


19th century interventions[edit]

1846 US-Mexico war[edit]

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The Mexican–American War was an armed conflict between the United States of America and Mexico from 1846 to 1848 in the wake of the 1845 U.S. annexation of Texas, which Mexico considered part of its territory despite the 1836 Texas Revolution.

American forces occupied New Mexico and California, then invaded parts of Northeastern Mexico and Northwestern Mexico; Another American army captured Mexico City, and the war ended with a victory for the United States. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo specified the major consequence of the war: the forced Mexican Cession of the territories of Alta California and New Mexico to the U.S. in exchange for $18 million. In addition, the United States forgave debt owed by the Mexican government to U.S. citizens. Mexico accepted the loss of Texas and thereafter cited the Rio Grande as its national border. The war did not result in a regime change in Mexico.

1887-1889 Samoa[edit]

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The Samoan crisis was a confrontation between the United States, Germany and Great Britain from 1887–1889 over control of the Samoan Islands during the Samoan Civil War.[7] The Samoan Civil War continued, involving Germany and the Americans, eventually resulting, via the Tripartite Convention of 1899, in the partition of the Samoan Islands into American Samoa and German Samoa.[8][9]

1893–1917 US empire and expansionism[edit]


1893 Overthrow of Kingdom of Hawaii[edit]

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Anti-monarchial elements, mostly Americans, in Hawaii, engineered the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii. On January 17, 1893, the native monarch, Queen Lili'uokalani, was overthrown. Hawaii was initially reconstituted as an independent republic, but the ultimate goal of the action was the annexation of the islands to the United States, which was finally accomplished in 1898.

1898 Cuba and Puerto Rico[edit]

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As part of the Spanish–American War, the U.S. invaded and occupied Cuba and Puerto Rico in 1898. Cuba was occupied by the U.S. from 1898–1902 under military governor Leonard Wood, and again from 1906–1909, 1912 and 1917–1922; governed by the terms of the Platt Amendment through 1934.

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The Puerto Rican Campaign was an American military sea and land operation on the island of Puerto Rico during the Spanish–American War. The United States Navy attacked the archipelago's capital, San Juan. Though the damage inflicted on the city was minimal, the Americans were able to establish a blockade in the city's harbor, San Juan Bay. The land offensive began on July 25 with 1,300 infantry soldiers. All military actions in Puerto Rico were suspended on August 13, after U.S. President William McKinley and French Ambassador Jules Cambon, acting on behalf of the Spanish government, signed an armistice whereby Spain relinquished its sovereignty over the territories of Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Philippines and Guam.

1899 Philippines[edit]

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The Philippine–American War was part of a series of conflicts in the Philippine struggle for independence against United States occupation. Fighting erupted between U.S. and Filipino revolutionary forces on February 4, 1899, and quickly escalated into the 1899 Battle of Manila. On June 2, 1899, the First Philippine Republic officially declared war against the United States.[10] The war officially ended on July 4, 1902.[11] This US intervention was intended to prevent regime change, and retain US control over the Philippines.

1898-1901 China[edit]

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The Boxer Rebellion was a proto-nationalist movement in China between 1898 and 1901, so called because it was led by fighters who called themselves the Society of the Righteous and Harmonious Fists. The US was part of an Eight-Nation Alliance that brought 20,000 armed troops to China, defeated the Imperial Chinese Army, and captured Beijing. The Eight-Nation Alliance was a military coalition formed to defeat the rebellion, and the eight nations, in addition to the US, were Japan, Russia, Britain, France, the Germany, Italy and Austria-Hungary.[12] The Boxer Protocol of 7 September 1901 ended the uprising.[13] This intervention did not result in regime change in China.


1903 Panama[edit]


In 1903, the US aided the secession of Panama from the Republic of Colombia. The secession was engineered by a Panamanian faction backed by the Panama Canal Company, a French-U.S. corporation whose aim was the construction of a waterway across the Isthmus of Panama thus connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. In 1903, the US signed the Hay-Herrán Treaty with Colombia, granting the United States use of the Isthmus of Panama in exchange for financial compensation.[14] [15] amidst the Thousand Days' War. The Panama Canal was already under construction, and the Panama Canal Zone was carved out and placed under United States sovereignty. The US did not transfer the zone back to Panama until 2000.Panama

1903, 1907, 1911, 1912, 1919, 1924 and 1925 Honduras[edit]

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In what became known as the "Banana Wars," between the end of the Spanish–American War in 1898 and the inception of the Good Neighbor Policy in 1934, the US staged many military invasions and interventions in Central America and the Caribbean.[16] The United States Marine Corps, which most often fought these wars, developed a manual called The Strategy and Tactics of Small Wars in (1921) based on its experiences. On occasion, the Navy provided gunfire support and Army troops were also used.

The United Fruit Company and Standard Fruit Company dominated Honduras' key banana export sector and associated land holdings and railways. The US staged invasions and incursions of US troops in 1903, 1907, 1911, 1912, 1919, 1924 and 1925 to defend US interests.[17] Writer O. Henry coined the term "Banana republic" in 1904 to describe Honduras.


1912-1933 Nicaragua[edit]

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The US government invaded Nicaragua in 1912 after intermittent US military landings and naval bombardments in the previous decades. The US was providing political support to conservative-led forces who were rebelling against President José Santos Zelaya, a liberal. U.S. motives included disagreement with the proposed Nicaragua Canal, since the US controlled the Panama Canal Zone, which included the Panama Canal, and President Zelaya's attempts to regulate access by foreigners to Nicaraguan natural resources. On November 17, 1909, two Americans were executed by order of Zelaya after the two men confessed to having laid a mine in the San Juan River with the intention of blowing up the Diamante. The U.S. justified the intervention by claiming to protect U.S. lives and property. Zelaya resigned later that year. The US occupied the country almost continuously from 1912 through 1933.

1914 Mexico[edit]

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US troops invaded Veracruz in Mexico in 1914 following the Tampico Affair. The US occupied the city for six months.

1915-1934 Haiti[edit]

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The US occupied Haiti from 1915-1934. US banks had lent money to Haiti and requested US government intervention. The US installed a new government in 1917 and dictated the terms of a new Haitian constitution in 1917 that instituted changes that included an end to the prior ban on land ownership by non-Haitians. The Cacos (military group) were originally armed militias of formerly enslaved persons who rebelled and took control of mountainous areas following the Haitian Revolution in 1804. Such groups fought a guerilla war against the US occupation in what were known as the "Caco Wars."[18]

1916-1924 Dominican Republic[edit]

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US marines invaded the Dominican Republic and occupied the it from 1916-1924, and this was preceded by US military interventions in 1903, 1904, and 1914. The US Navy installed its personnel in all key positions in government and controlled the Dominican army and police.[19] Within a couple of days, the constitutional president, Juan Isidro Jimenes, resigned.[20]

WWI and interwar period[edit]

1918 US invasion of Russia[edit]

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After the new Bolshevik government withdrew from World War I, the US military together with forces of its Allies invaded Russia in 1918. Approximately 250,000 invading soldiers, including troops from Europe, the US and and the Empire of Japan invaded Russia to aid the White Army against the Red Army of the new Soviet government in the Russian civil war. The invaders launched the North Russia invasion from Arkhangelsk and the Siberia invasion from Vladivostok. The invading forces included 13,000 US troops whose mission after the end of World War I included the toppling of the new Soviet government and the restoration of the previous Tsarist regime. US and other Western forces were unsuccessful in this aim and withdrew by 1920 but the Japanese military continued to occupy parts of Siberia until 1922 and the northern half of Sakhalin until 1925.[21]

1941 Panama[edit]

The United States government used its contacts in the Panama National Guard, which the U.S. had earlier trained, to orchestrate a coup against the government of Panama in October 1941. The U.S. had requested that the government of Panama allow it to build over 130 new military installations inside and outside of the Panama Canal Zone, and the government of Panama refused this request at the price suggested by the U.S.[22] President Arnulfo Arias fled the country and Ricardo Adolfo de la Guardia Arango, the leader of the coup and a friend of the US government, became president.[23]

Cold War era[edit]


South Korea 1945–1950[edit]

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As the Empire of Japan surrendered in August 1945, under the leadership of Lyuh Woon-Hyung committees throughout Korea formed to coordinate transition to Korean independence. On August 28, 1945 these committees formed the temporary national government of Korea, naming it the People's Republic of Korea (PRK) a couple of weeks later.[24][25] On September 8, 1945, the United States government landed forces in Korea and thereafter established the United States Army Military Government in Korea (USAMGK) to govern Korea south of the 38th parallel north. The USAMGK staffed the governing administration with Japanese governors and many other Japanese officials who had been part of the brutal Japanese imperial colonial government and with Koreans who had collaborated with it, which made the government unpopular and engendered popular resistance.[26] USAMGK refused to recognize the PRK government, which had been formed to self-govern the country, and the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea, which had been based in China during WWII and had fought against the Japanese, and then the USAMGK by military decree outlawed the PRK government.[27][28] In October 1948, USAMGK sent units to attack Koreans who were seeking Korean independence, and carried out several mass atrocities, including the killing hundreds of Korean civilians on Jeju Island who were suspected of supporting those in favor of independence.[29][30] [31]

China 1946-1949[edit]

The US government provided military, logistical and other aid to the right-wing Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) army led by Chiang Kai-shek in the Chinese Civil War against Chinese communist party forces. The US airlifted many KMT troops from central China to Manchuria. Approximately 50,000 US troops were sent to guard strategic sites in Hupeh and Shandong. The US trained and equipped KMT troops, and transported Korean troops and even enemy imperial Japanese troops back to help KMT forces to occupy Chinese zones and to contain Communist-controlled areas.[32] President Harry Truman explained that: "It was perfectly clear to us that if we told the Japanese to lay down their arms immediately and march to the seaboard, the entire country would be taken over by the Communists. We therefore had to take the unusual step of using the enemy as a garrison until we could airlift Chinese National troops to South China and send Marines to guard the seaports."[33] Within less than two years after the Sino-Japanese War, the KMT had received $4.43 billion from the US—most of which was military aid.[32] [34]

Greece 1946-1949[edit]

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The British military together with Greek forces under control of the Greek government fought for control of the country in the Greek Civil War against the Democratic Army of Greece (DSE). The DSE was composed mostly of communist partisans who as part of the Greek People's Liberation Army (ELAS) by Summer 1944 had liberated nearly all of the country from the military occupation of the Third Reich.[35] By early 1947, the British government could no longer afford the huge cost of financing the war against DSE, and pursuant to the October 1944 Percentages Agreement between Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin, Greece was to remain part of the Western sphere of influence. Accordingly, the British requested the US government to step in and the US flooded the country with military equipment, military advisers and weapons.[36]:553-4[37]:129 With increased U.S. military aid, by September 1949 the Greek government eventually succeeded in winning.[38]:616-17

Italy 1948-1970s[edit]

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The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) acknowledged giving $1 million to Italian centrist parties for the 1948 election. The CIA also publishing forged letters in order to discredit the leaders of the Italian Communist Party (PCI). U.S. agencies undertook a campaign of writing ten million letters, made numerous short-wave radio broadcasts and funded the publishing of books and articles, all of which warned the Italians of what was believed to be the consequences of a communist victory. Time magazine backed the campaign for US domestic audiences, featuring the Christian Democracy Party leader and Prime Minister Alcide De Gasperi on its cover and in its lead story on 19 April 1948.[39][40] [41] [42] CIA ultimately spent at least $65 million helping elect Italian politicians, including "every Christian Democrat who ever won a national election in Italy."[43]

March 1949 Syrian coup[edit]

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The democratically elected government of Shukri al-Quwatli was overthrown by a junta led by the Syrian Army chief of staff at the time, Husni al-Za'im, who became President of Syria on 11 April 1949. The exact nature of US involvement in that coup is still highly controversial. However, it is well documented that the construction of the Trans-Arabian Pipeline, which had been held up in the Syrian parliament, was approved by Za'im, the new president, just over a month after the coup.


1953 Iran coup d'etat[edit]

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The 1953 Iranian coup d'état, (known in Iran as the "28 Mordad coup" [44]) was the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh on 19 August 1953, orchestrated by the intelligence agencies of the United Kingdom (under the name "Operation Boot") and the United States (under the name "TPAJAX Project").[45][46][47] The coup saw the transition of Mohammad-Rezā Shāh Pahlavi from a constitutional monarch to an authoritarian one who relied heavily on United States government support to hold on to power until his own overthrow in February 1979.[48]

1955-1960 Laos[edit]

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The US government took over funding of the military budget of the Royal Lao Government in its civil war against the Pathet Lao communist movement, which had taken control of a part of the country. The US paid for 100% of the government's military budget and by 1957 was paying the salaries of the Royal Lao Army. Also the US set up the covert Programs Evaluation Office to field US civilian personnel with former US military experience because a treaty the US had signed expressly forbade US military advisors.[49] [50] By July 1959 however, the US sent in US commando units dressed as civilians to train the Royal Lao Army.[51]

Failed coup plots against Syria[edit]

  • 1956 Operation Straggle failed coup plot against Syria. The CIA made plans for a coup for late October 1956 to topple the Syrian government. The plan entailed takeover by the Syrian military of key cities and border crossings.[52] [53] [54] The plan was postponed when Israel invaded Egypt in October 1956 and US planners thought their operation would be unsuccessful at a time when the Arab world is fighting "Israeli aggression." The operation was uncovered and American plotters had to flee the country.[55]
  • 1957 Operation Wappen failed coup plan against Syria. A second coup attempt the following year called for assassination of key senior Syrian officials, staged military incidents on the Syrian border to be blamed on Syria and then to be used as pretext for invasion by Iraqi and Jordanian troops, an intense US propaganda campaign targeting the Syrian population, and "sabotage, national conspiracies and various strong-arm activities" to be blamed on Damascus.[56] [57] [58] [59] This operation failed when Syrian military officers paid off with millions of dollars in bribes to carry out the coup revealed the plot to Syrian intelligence. The US Department of State denied accusation of a coup attempt and along with US media accused Syria of being a "satellite" of the USSR.[57] [60] [61]

1954 Guatemala[edit]

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In a CIA operation code named Operation PBSUCCESS, the U.S. government executed a coup that was successful in overthrowing the democratically-elected government of President Jacobo Árbenz and installed the first of a line of brutal right-wing dictators in its place.[62][63] The perceived success of the operation made it a model for future CIA operations because the CIA lied to the president of the United States when briefing him regarding the number of casualties.[64]

Indonesia 1957-1959[edit]

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As a founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement and host of the April 1955 Bandung Conference, Indonesia was charting a course toward an independent foreign policy that was not militarily committed to either side in the Cold War.[65] [66] Starting in 1957, the CIA supported a failed coup plan by rebel Indonesian military officers. CIA pilots, such as Allen Lawrence Pope, piloted planes operated by CIA front organization Civil Air Transport (CAT) that bombed civilian and military targets in Indonesia. The CIA instructed CAT pilots to target commercial shipping in order to frighten foreign merchant ships away from Indonesian waters, thereby to weaken the Indonesian economy and thus to destabilize the democratically elected government of Indonesia. The CIA aerial bombardment resulted in the sinking of several commercial ships[67] and the bombing of a marketplace that killed many civilians.[68] The coup attempt failed at that time[69] and US President Eisenhower denied any US involvement.[70]

1958 Lebanon[edit]

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The US launched Operation Blue Bat in July 1958 to intervene in the 1958 Lebanon crisis. This was the first application of the Eisenhower Doctrine, according to which the U.S. was to intervene to protect regimes it considered threatened by international communism. The goal of the operation was to bolster the pro-Western Lebanese government of President Camille Chamoun against internal opposition and threats from Syria and Egypt.


1960 Laos counter-coup[edit]

On 9 August 1960, Captain Kong Le with his paratroop battalion seized control of the administrative capital city of Vientiane in a bloodless coup on a "Neutralist" platform with the stated aims of ending the civil war raging in Laos, ending foreign interference in the country, ending the corruption caused by foreign aid, and better treatment for soldiers.[71] [72] With CIA support, Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat, the prime minister of Thailand, set up a covert Thai military advisory group, called Kaw Taw. Kaw Taw together with the CIA orchestrated a November 1960 counter-coup against the new Neutralist government in Vientiane, supplying artillery, artillerymen, and advisers to General Phoumi Nosavan, first cousin of Sarit. It also deployed the CIA-sponsored Police Aerial Reinforcement Unit (PARU) to operations within Laos.[73] With the help of CIA front organization Air America to airlift war supplies and with other US military assistance and covert aid from Thailand, General Phoumi Nosavan's forces captured Vientiane in November 1960.[74] [75]

1961 Bay of Pigs invasion[edit]


The CIA orchestrated a force composed of CIA-trained Cuban exiles to invade Cuba with support and equipment from the US military, in an attempt to overthrow the Cuban government of Fidel Castro. The invasion was launched in April 1961, three months after John F. Kennedy assumed the presidency in the United States. The Cuban armed forces, trained and equipped by Eastern Bloc nations, defeated the invading combatants within three days.

1960s Cuba assassination attempts, embargo and sabotage[edit]

Operation MONGOOSE was a years' long US government effort to overthrow the government of Cuba.[76] The operation included economic warfare, including an embargo against Cuba, “to induce failure of the Communist regime to supply Cuba's economic needs,” a diplomatic initiative to isolate Cuba, and psychological operations “to turn the peoples' resentment increasingly against the regime.”[77] The economic warfare prong of the operation also included the infiltration of CIA operatives to carry out many acts of sabotage against civilian targets, such as a railway bridge, a molasses storage facilities, an electric power plant, and the sugar harvest, notwithstanding Cuba’s repeated requests to the United States government to cease its armed operations.[78] [77] In addition, the CIA orchestrated a number of assassination attempts against Fidel Castro, head of government of Cuba, including attempts that entailed CIA collaboration with the American mafia.[79] [80] [81]

1961-1964 Brazil[edit]


When the president of Brazil resigned in August 1961, he was lawfully succeeded by João Belchior Marques Goulart, the democratically elected vice president of the country.[82] João Goulart was a proponent of democratic rights, the legalization of the Communist Party, and economic and land reforms, but the US government insisted that he impose a program of economic austerity. The United States government implemented a plan with the code name Operation Brother Sam for the destabilization of Brazil, by cutting off aid to the Brazilian government, providing aid to state governors of Brazil who opposed the new president, and encouraging senior Brazilian military officers to seize power and to back army chief of staff General Humberto de Alencar Castelo Branco as coup leader.[83] [84] General Branco led the April 1964 overthrow of the constitutional government of President João Goulart and was installed as first president of the military regime, immediately declaring a state of siege and arresting more than 50,000 political opponents within the first month of seizing power, while the US government expressed approval and re-instituted aid and investment in the country.[85]

1965-1966 Dominican Republic[edit]


In the Dominican Civil War, a junta led by President Joseph Donald Reid Cabral was battling "constitutionalist" or "rebel" forces who advocated restoring to power the Dominican Republic's first ever democratically elected president, President Juan Emilio Bosch Gaviño, whose term had been cut short by a coup. The U.S. launched "Operation Power Pack," a US military operation to interpose the US military between the rebels and the junta's forces so as to prevent the rebel's advance and possibly victory.[86] [87] Most civilian advisers had recommended against immediate intervention hoping that the junta could bring an end to the civil war but US President Lyndon B. Johnson took the advice of his Ambassador in Santo Domingo, William Tapley Bennett, who suggested that the US intervene.[88] Chief of Staff General Wheeler told a subordinate: "Your unannounced mission is to prevent the Dominican Republic from going Communist."[89] A fleet of 41 US vessels was sent to blockade the island as the US invaded. Ultimately, 42,000 soldiers and marines were ordered to the Dominican Republic and the US occupied the country.[90]

1965-1967 Indonesia[edit]


Junior army officers and the commander of the palace guard of President Sukarno accused senior Indonesian military brass of planning a CIA-backed coup against President Sukarno and killed six senior generals on October 1, 1965. General Muhammad Suharto and other senior military officers attacked the junior officers on the same day and accused the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI) of orchestrating the killing of the six generals.[91] The army launched a propaganda campaign based on lies and riled up civilian mobs to attack those believed to be PKI supporters and other political opponents. Indonesian government forces with collaboration of some civilians perpetrated mass killings over many months. The CIA acknowledged that "in terms of the number of people killed, the anti-PKI massacres in Indonesia rank as one of the worst mass murders of the 20th Century."[92] Estimates of the number of civilians killed range from a half million to a million[93] [94] but more recent estimates put the figure at two to three million.[95] [96] US Ambassador Marshall Green encouraged the military leaders to act forcefully against the political opponents.[97] The US had advance, detailed knowledge of the mass killings.[98] US diplomats later admitted that they had provided the Indonesian army with thousands of names of alleged PKI supporters and other alleged leftists,[99] [100] and that the US officials then checked off from their lists those who had been murdered.[101] President Sukarno's base of support was thus trampled and terrified, and he was forced out of power in 1967, replaced by General Suharto.[102]


1971 Bolivia[edit]

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The US government supported the 1971 coup led by General Hugo Banzer that toppled President Juan José Torres of Bolivia.[103] [104] Torres had displeased Washington by convening an "Asamblea del Pueblo" (People's Assembly or Popular Assembly), in which representatives of specific proletarian sectors of society were represented (miners, unionized teachers, students, peasants), and more generally by leading the country in what was perceived as a left wing direction. Banzer hatched a bloody military uprising starting on August 18, 1971 that succeeded in taking the reigns of power by August 22, 1971. After Banzer took power, the US provided extensive military and other aid to the Banzer dictatorship as Banzer cracked down on freedom of speech and dissent, tortured thousands, "disappeared" and murdered hundreds, and closed labor unions and the universities.[105][106] Torres, who had fled Bolivia, was kidnapped and assassinated in 1976 as part of Operation Condor, the US-supported campaign of political repression and state terrorism by South American right-wing dictators.[107]

1973 Chile[edit]

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The democratically elected President Salvador Allende was overthrown by the Chilean armed forces and national police. This followed an extended period of social and political unrest between the right dominated Congress of Chile and Allende, as well as economic warfare waged by the US government.[108] As a prelude to the coup, the chief of staff of the Chilean army, René Schneider, a general dedicated to preserving the constitutional order, was assassinated in 1970. The regime of Augusto Pinochet that came to power with the coup is notable for having, by conservative estimates, disappeared some 3200 political dissidents, imprisoned 30,000 (many of whom were tortured), and forced some 200,000 Chileans into exile.[109][110] [111] The CIA, through Project FUBELT (also known as Track II), worked secretly to engineer the conditions for the coup. The US initially denied any involvement however many relevant documents have been declassified in the decades since.[112]

1979-1989 Afghanistan[edit]

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In what was known as "Operation Cyclone," the US government secretly provided weapons and funding for the collection of warlords and Jihadi guerillas known as the Mujahideen of Afghanistan fighting to overthrow the Afghan government and the Soviet military forces that supported it. Supplies were channeled through the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan.[113] [114] [115] [116] Although Operation Cyclone officially ended in 1989 with the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan, U.S. government funding for the Mujahideen continued through 1992, when the Mujahideen overran the Afghan government in Kabul.[117]


1980-1992 El Salvador Civil War[edit]

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The government of El Salvador fought a bloody civil war against the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), an umbrella organization of leftist political opposition groups, and against leaders of agricultural cooperatives, labor leaders and others who advocated for land reform and better conditions for "campesinos" (tenant farmers and other agrarian laborers) that supported the FMLN. The Salvadoran army organized military death squads to terrorize the rural civil population to cease its support for the FMLN.[118] Government forces killed more than 75,000 civilians during the war 1980-1992.[119] [120] [121] [122] [123] [124] The U.S. government provided military training and weapons for the Salvadoran military. The Atlacatl Battalion, a counter-insurgency battalion, was organized in 1980 at the US Army School of the Americas and had a leading role in the “scorched earth” military policy against the FLMN and the rural villages that supported it. Atlacatl soldiers were equipped and directed by U.S. military advisers operating in El Salvador.[125][126] [127] The Atlacatl battalion also participated in the El Mozote massacre in December 1981.[128] By May 1983, US officers took over positions in the top levels of the Salvadoran military, were making critical decisions and running the war.[129] [130] [131] [132] A US Congressional fact finding commission found that the Salvadoran military’s “drying up the ocean” policy of repression entailed eliminating “entire villages from the map, to isolate the guerrillas, and deny them any rural base off which they can feed."[133] The “drying up the ocean” or "scorched earth" strategy was based on tactics similar to those being employed by the junta’s counter-insurgency in neighboring Guatemala and were primarily derived and adapted from U.S. strategy during the Vietnam War and taught by American military advisors.[134] [135]

Destabilizing Nicaragua 1982–1989[edit]

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The U.S. government attempted to topple the government of Nicaragua by secretly arming, training and funding the Contras, a millitant group based in Honduras that was created to sabotage Nicaragua and to destabilize the Nicaraguan government.[136][137][138][139] As part of the training, the CIA distributed a detailed "terror manual" entitled "Psychological Operations in Guerrilla War," which instructed the Contras, among other things, on how to blow up public buildings, to assassinate judges, to create martyrs, and to blackmail ordinary citizens.[140] In addition to orchestrating the Contras, the U.S. government also blew up bridges and mined Corinto harbor, causing the sinking of several civilian Nicaraguan and foreign ships and many civilian deaths.[141][142][143][144] After the Boland Amendment made it illegal for the U.S. government to provide funding for Contra activities, the administration of President Reagan secretly sold arms to the Iranian government to fund a secret U.S. government apparatus that continued illegally to fund the Contras, in what became known as the Iran-Contra affair.[145] The U.S. continued to arm and train the Contras even after the Sandanista government of Nicaragua won the elections of 1984.[146][147]

1983 Invasion of Grenada[edit]

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In what the U.S. government called Operation Urgent Fury, the U.S. military invaded the tiny island nation of Grenada to remove the Marxist government of Grenada that the Reagan Administration found objectionable.[148][149] The United Nations General Assembly called the U.S. invasion "a flagrant violation of international law"[150] but a similar resolution widely supported in the United Nations Security Council was vetoed by the U.S.[151][152]

1989 Invasion of Panama[edit]

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In December 1989, in a military operation code-named Operation Just Cause, the U.S. invaded Panama. President George H. W. Bush launched the war ten years after the Torrijos–Carter Treaties were ratified to transfer control of the Panama Canal from the United States to Panama by the year 2000. The U.S. deposed de facto Panamanian leader, general, and dictator Manuel Noriega and brought him to the United States, president-elect Guillermo Endara was sworn into office, and the Panamanian Defense Force was dissolved.

After the dissolution of the USSR[edit]


1991 Gulf War[edit]

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After Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990, the US government strenuously lobbied governments represented on the UN Security Council to support a resolution authorizing UN members states to use "all necessary means" for removing Iraqi forces from Kuwait.[153] UN Security Council Resolution 678, including such language, was passed and the US assembled a 34 state coalition force to invade. The operation was launched in January 1991 and had US code name "Operation Desert Storm." The U.S.-led coalition repelled the Iraqi forces from Kuwait and returned to power the emir, Sheikh Jaber al-Ahmad al-Sabah.[154]

1991 Haiti[edit]

  • 1991 Haiti. Eight months after what was widely considered the first honest election held in Haiti,[citation needed] the newly elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was deposed by the Haitian army. It is alleged by some that the CIA "paid key members of the coup regime forces, identified as drug traffickers, for information from the mid-1980s at least until the coup."[155] Coup leaders Cédras and François had received military training in the United States.[156]

1991-2003 Iraq[edit]

Iraq (orthographic projection)

Following the Persian Gulf War in 1991, the U.S. government successfully advocated that the pre-war sanctions[157] be made more comprehensive, which the UN Security Council did in April 1991 by adopting Resolution 687.[158][159] After the UN imposed the tougher sanctions, U.S. officials stated in May 1991—when it was widely expected that the Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein faced collapse[160][161]—that the sanctions would not be lifted unless Saddam was ousted.[162][163][164] In the subsequent president's administration, U.S. officials took the position that the sanctions could be lifted if Iraq complied with all of the UN resolutions it was violating, not just with UN weapons inspections.[165] The effects of the sanctions on the Iraqi civilian population, including the child mortality rate, were disputed at the time. Whereas it was widely believed at the time that the sanctions caused a major rise in child mortality, recent research has shown that commonly cited data were fabricated by the Iraqi government and that "there was no major rise in child mortality in Iraq after 1990 and during the period of the sanctions."[166][167] [168][169][170]

1994-2000 Iraq[edit]

The CIA launched DBACHILLES, a coup d'état operation against the Iraqi government, recruiting Ayad Allawi, who headed the Iraqi National Accord, a network of Iraqis who opposed the Saddam Hussein government, as part of the operation. The network included Iraqi military and intelligence officers but was penetrated by people loyal to the Iraqi government.[171][172][173] Also using Ayad Allawi and his network, the CIA directed a government sabotage and bombing campaign in Baghdad between 1992 and 1995, against targets that—according to the Iraqi government at the time—killed many civilians including people in a crowded movie theater.[174] The CIA bombing campaign may have been merely a test of the operational capacity of the CIA's network of assets on the ground and not intended to be the launch of the coup strike itself.[174] The coup was unsuccessful, but Ayad Allawi was later installed as prime minister of Iraq by the Iraq Interim Governing Council, which had been created by the U.S.-led coalition following the March 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq. As a non-covert measure, the U.S. in 1998 enacted the "Iraq Liberation Act," which states, in part, that "It should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq," and appropriated funds for U.S. aid "to the Iraqi democratic opposition organizations."[175]


2005 Iran[edit]

According to U.S. and Pakistani intelligence sources, beginning in 2005 the U.S. government secretly encouraged and advised a Pakistani Balochi militant group named Jundullah that is responsible for a series of deadly guerrilla raids inside Iran.[176] Jundullah, led by Abdolmalek Rigi (sometimes written as Abd el Malik Regi), also known as "Regi," was suspected of being associated with Al Qaeda, a charge that the group has denied. ABC News learned from tribal sources that money for Jundullah was routed to the group through Iranian exiles. “They are suspected of having links to Al Qaeda and they are also thought to be tied to the drug culture," according to Professor Vali Nasr.[177] U.S. intelligence sources later claimed that the orchestration of Jundallah operations was, in actuality, an Israeli Mossad (intelligence agency) false flag operation that Israeli agents disguised to make it appear to be the work of American intelligence.[178]

2006-2007 Palestinian territories[edit]

Occupied Palestinian Territories

The U.S. government pressured the Fatah faction of the Palestinian leadership to topple the Hamas government of Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh.[179][180][181] The Bush Administration was displeased with the government that the majority of the Palestinian people elected in the January Palestinian legislative election of 2006.[179][180][182][183] The U.S. government set up a secret training and armaments program that received tens of millions of dollars in Congressional funding, but also, like in the Iran-contra scandal, a more secret Congress-circumventing source of funding for Fatah to launch a bloody war against the Haniyeh government.[179][184][185] The war was brutal, with many casualties and with Fatah kidnapping and torturing civilian leaders of Hamas, sometimes in front of their own families, and setting fire to a university in Gaza. When the government of Saudi Arabia attempted to negotiate a truce between the sides so as to avoid a wide-scale Palestinian civil war, the U.S. government pressured Fatah to reject the Saudi plan and to continue the effort to topple the Faniyeh government.[179] Ultimately, the Faniyeh government was prevented from ruling over all of the Palestinian territories, with Hamas retreating to the Gaza strip and Fatah retreating to the West Bank.

Syria 2005-present[edit]

Syria in its region (de-facto).svg

According to some journalists, in 2005, the US government launched a policy of regime change against the Syrian government by funding Syrian opposition groups working to topple the Syrian government, attempting to block foreign direct investment in Syria, attempting to frustrate Syrian government efforts at economic reform and prosperity and thus legitimacy for the regime, and getting other governments diplomatically to isolate Syria.[citation needed] The Barack Obama administration inaugurated in 2009 continued such policies while taking steps toward diplomatic engagement with the Syrian government and denying that it was engaging in regime change. After the outbreak of the Syrian civil war, the U.S. government called on Syrian President Bashar Al Assad to “step aside” and imposed an oil embargo against the Syrian government to bring it to its knees.[186][187][188] Starting in 2013, the U.S. also provided training, weapons and cash to Syrian Islamic and secular insurgents fighting to topple the Syrian government.[189][190] On the 30th March 2017, Ambassador Nikki Haley told a group of reporters that the US's priority in Syria was no longer on "getting Assad out."[191] Earlier that day at a news conference in Ankara, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also said that the "longer term status of President Assad will be decided by the Syrian people."[192] While the US Defense Department's program to aid predominantly Kurdish rebels fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) will continue, it was revealed in July 2017 that US President Trump had ordered a "phasing out" of the CIA's support for anti-Assad rebels.[193]


Libya in its region.svg

Covert involvements[edit]

See Human rights violations by the CIA#Assassination and targeted killing

During the modern era, Americans were involved in numerous covert regime change efforts. During the Cold War in particular, the U.S. government secretly supported military coups that overthrew democratically elected governments in Syria in 1949, Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, the Congo Crisis of 1960, Brazil in 1964 and Chile in 1973.

See also[edit]


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