WASHINGTON: The US military spent $14 trillion during two decades of war in Afghanistan and the Middle East, enriching arm manufacturers, dealers and contractors.
A detailed, full-page report in The Wall Street Journal shows that since Sept 11, 2001, US military outsourcing pushed up Pentagon spending to $14 trillion. One-third to half of that sum went to contractors.
The report includes numerous examples of how American tax-payers’ money was wasted on projects that never came to fruition. On one such project, “the Pentagon spent $6 million on a project that imported nine Italian goats to boost Afghanistan’s cashmere market. The project never reached scale.” Five defence companies — Lockheed Martin Corp, Boeing Co, General Dynamics Corp, Raytheon Technologies Corp and Northrop Grumman Corp — took the lion’s share, $2.1 trillion, for weapons, supplies and other services.
The newspaper collected the data from Brown University’s Costs of War Project, area scholars, legal experts and others who are working on the hidden impact of America’s wars.
The WSJ report also includes some rags-to-riches stories: A young Afghan translator transformed a deal to provide forces with bed sheets into a business empire including a TV station and a domestic airline.
A California businessman running a bar in Kyrgyzstan started a fuel business that brought in billions in revenue. Two Army National Guardsmen from Ohio started a small business providing the military with Afghan interpreters. It grew to become one of the US Army’s top contractors, collecting nearly $4 billion in federal contracts.
The Biden administration has now ordered an inquiry to determine how the reliance on battlefield contractors multiplies the war cost.
The US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), created to monitor the almost $150 billion spent on rebuilding the country, collected hundreds of reports of waste and fraud. A SIGAR survey released in early 2021 found that, of the $7.8 billion earmarked for projects, only $1.2 billion, or 15 percent, was spent on new roads, hospitals, bridges, and factories. At least $2.4 billion was spent on military planes, police offices, farming programs and other development projects that were abandoned, destroyed or used for other purposes.
The US Agency for International Development gave $270 million to a company to build 1,200 miles of gravel road in Afghanistan. The USAID canceled the project after the company built 100 miles of road in three years of work that left more than 125 people dead in insurgent attacks.
In 2008, the US had 187,900 troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, the peak of the US deployment, and 203,660 contractor personnel.
When President Barack Obama ordered most US troops to leave Afghanistan at the end of his second term, more than 26,000 contractors were in Afghanistan, compared with 9,800 troops.
By the time President Donald Trump left office four years later, 18,000 contractors remained in Afghanistan, along with 2,500 troops.
More than 3,500 US contractors died in Afghanistan and Iraq and more than 7,000 American service members died during two decades of war.
The contractors often used Afghans to do their work but paid them only a fraction of what they would pay an American or a European employee. Average monthly income for Afghan linguists fell from about $750 in 2012 to $500 in 2021. Some
Afghan linguists working alongside US soldiers in the toughest parts of the country were paid as little as $300 a month.
In January 2010, an Afghan interpreter working for a contracting firm Mission Essential on an Army Special Forces base near Kabul grabbed a gun and killed two US soldiers.
Published in Dawn, January 3rd, 2022