A study released Monday found that half of the $14 trillion the Pentagon spent since 9/11 went to defense contractors. It is the latest work to debate America’s reliance on private corporations for battle-field duties that were carried out by soldiers who contributed to the failure of the mission in Afghanistan.
In the wars after 9/11, US corporations contracted by the Department of Defense not only handled battle-field logistics such as fueling convoys and staffing chow lines but also performed mission-critical tasks such as training and equipping Afghan security forces – security forces that The last collapsed the month the Taliban ravaged the country.
Within weeks, and before US forces had completed their withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Taliban had easily repulsed an Afghan government and army that the Americans had spent 20 years and billions of dollars to stand. President Joe Biden put the blame entirely on the Afghans themselves. “We gave them every chance,” he said last month. “What we could not provide them was the will to fight.”
But William Hartung and others, author of Monday’s study by Brown University’s Cost of War Project and the Center for International Policy, say it is essential that Americans examine the potential for reliance on private contractors in post-9/11 wars. What is the role In Afghanistan, in which contractors reportedly paid security money to warlords and the Taliban, and the Defense Department insisted on equipping the Afghan Air Force with complex Blackhawk helicopters and other aircraft, few American contractors knew that how to maintain.
“If it was only money, it would be quite outrageous,” said Hartung, director of the weapons and security program at the Center for International Policy. “But the fact that it undermined the mission and put soldiers in danger is even more outrageous.”
Earlier this year, before Biden began the final US withdrawal from Afghanistan, there were far more contractors than US troops in Afghanistan and also in Iraq.
The US saw the deaths of about 7,000 military members in all conflicts after 9/11, and about 8,000 contractors, another cost estimate of the war study.
The Professional Services Council, an organization representing businesses that contract with the government, cited a low figure from the U.S. Department of Labor as saying that nearly 4,000 federal contractors have been killed since 2001.
A spokesman told the organization’s president, David J. Bertau’s statement: “For nearly two decades, government contractors have provided comprehensive and necessary assistance for American and allied forces, for the Afghan military and other elements of the Afghan government, and for humanitarian and economic development assistance.” for.”
After the September 11, 2001 attacks, US officials included private contractors as an essential part of the US military response.
It started with then-Vice President Dick Cheney, the former CEO of Halliburton. As of 2008, Halliburton received more than $30 billion to help set up and run bases, feed troops, and do other things in Iraq and Afghanistan, the study said. Cheney and Defense Contractors argued that relying on private contractors for work that service members had done in previous wars, a trimmer the US military would allow, would be more efficient and cost-effective.
By 2010, Pentagon spending had increased by more than a third, as the US fought double wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In America after 9/11, politicians struggled to show support for the military in a country that had become more security-conscious.
“Any member of Congress who doesn’t vote for the money needed to defend this country will look for a new job after next November,” said the study to Boeing’s then-vice president, Harry Stoneyfer, to The Wall Street Journal. Told. A month after the attacks.
And a third of the Pentagon’s contracts went to only five arms suppliers. Last fiscal year, for example, the money Lockheed Martin received from Pentagon contracts alone was one and a half times the entire budget of the State Department and the US Agency for International Development, according to the study.
Lawmakers and the government’s special investigators said the Pentagon pumped out more contracts than it did.
For example, a Florida Republican Party official earned millions when the US awarded a one-of-a-kind contract to fuel convoys from Jordan to Iraq, the study notes. The electrocution of at least 18 service members from poor wiring in bases in Iraq, some of whom were blamed on prime contractors Kellogg, Brown and Root, was one of several instances where government investigations found shoddy logistics and reconstruction work. pointed to.
The Taliban’s surprise victory in Afghanistan last month is now drawing attention to even more dire consequences: the extent to which reliance on US contractors has exacerbated the difficulties for Afghan security forces.
Jodi Vettori, a former Air Force lieutenant colonel and scholar on corruption and fragile states at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who was not involved in the study, points to the US insistence that the Afghan Air Force use US-made helicopters . The Afghans preferred Russian helicopters, which were easy to fly, could be maintained by the Afghans, and were suited to rugged Afghanistan.
When US contractors withdrew with US troops this spring and summer, taking with them information on how to maintain US-provided aircraft, top Afghan leaders bitterly complained to the US that This has deprived them of an essential advantage over the Taliban.
Hartung, like others, points to corruption stemming from weak surveillance of billions of dollars, which the US has put in Afghanistan as a central reason that the US-backed government of Afghanistan has lost popular support, and of Afghan fighters. Morale lost.
Hillary Clinton, while secretary of state under President Barack Obama, accused defense contractors of risk in war zones by resorting to payments to armed groups, making security funding one of the biggest sources of funding for the Taliban.
The United States also relied on defense contractors to fulfill one of the most important tasks to its hopes of success in Afghanistan – helping to set up and train an Afghan army and other security forces that would work for extremist groups. Can stand up for insurgents including the Taliban.
Vettori said, clearly, it was the Afghan commandos, who were constantly trained by US special operations forces and others, who fought most of the fighting against the Taliban last month.
Vettori said relying less on private contractors and more on the US military as in previous wars could give the US a better chance of victory in Afghanistan. She said it would mean that the US president accepts the political risks of sending more US troops to Afghanistan, and receives back the body bags of US soldiers.
“The use of contractors allowed America to fight a war that many Americans forgot we were fighting,” Vettori said.