A study published Monday shows that nearly half of the $ 14 trillion spent by the Pentagon since Sept. 11 has gone to lucrative defense corporate contractors. It is this latest study that argues that US support for private corporations for engagement in war zones, once carried out by military troops, contributed to the failure of the mission in Afghanistan.
In the post-9/11 wars, US corporations contracted by the Department of Defense not only dealt with logistics of operations such as refueling or food supplies, but performed important mission tasks such as training and equipping Afghan security forces. which collapsed after the Taliban advanced on Kabul.
Within weeks, and before the U.S. military completed its withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Taliban easily destroyed an Afghan government and military that the Americans had spent 20 years and billions of dollars building. President Joe Biden blamed the Afghans themselves. “We gave them every chance,” he said last month. “What we could not provide for them was the will to fight.”
But William Hartung, author of the study published Monday by Brown University and the Center for International Policy ‘War Costs’ project, and other experts say it’s important for Americans to analyze what role reliance on private contractors played in wars. and after 9/11. In Afghanistan, this included contractors reportedly paying money to tribal chiefs and the Taliban themselves to provide protection, while the Department of Defense insisted that the Afghan Air Force be equipped with sophisticated Blackhawk helicopters and other aircraft they knew little to maintain. , in addition to US contractors.
“It’s not just scandalous payments,” said Mr. Hartung, director of the weapons and security program at the Center for International Policy, in cases where the Pentagon’s reliance on contractors was wrong. “But the fact that this support undermined the mission and put the troops in danger is even more scandalous.”
Earlier this year, before President Biden began the final US withdrawal, there were far more contractors in Afghanistan and Iraq than US troops.
Another study of the Costs of War project estimates that the United States had about 7,000 soldiers and 11,000 contractors who died in all conflicts after 9/11.
The Professional Services Council, an organization representing businesses that receive contracts with the U.S. government, cited a lower figure obtained by the U.S. Department of Labor where it says nearly 4,000 federal contractors have been killed since 2001.
A spokeswoman noted a statement last month from the organization’s president, David J. Berteau: “For nearly two decades, government contractors have provided extensive and substantial support to US and allied forces, the Afghan military and other elements of government. Afghans, and for humanitarian and economic development assistance ”.
U.S. officials in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks include private contractors as an essential part of the U.S. military response.
It all started with then-Vice President Dick Cheney, the former CEO of Halliburton. Halliburton received more than $ 30 billion to help set up and run military bases, feed troops and carry out other work in Iraq and Afghanistan by 2008, the study said. Mr. Cheney and defense contractors argued that relying on private contractors for the work members of the service had done in previous wars would allow for a smaller U.S. military presence that would be more efficient and cost-effective.
By 2010, Pentagon spending had risen by more than a third since the United States waged dual wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In post-9/11 America, politicians tried to show support for the military in a country that was much more security-conscious.
“Any member of Congress who does not vote for the funds we need to defend this country will be looking for a new job after November,” said Harry Stonecipher, then Boeing’s vice president, months after the attacks on The Wall Street Journal.
Nearly a third of the Pentagon’s contracts went to only five arms suppliers. According to the study, for example the money Lockheed Martin received only from Pentagon contracts last fiscal year was one and a half times the entire budget of the State Department and the US Agency for International Development.
The Pentagon signed more contracts than it could oversee, lawmakers and special government investigators said.
The study cites as an example a Republican Party official in Florida who won millions of dollars when the US awarded a contract of a special kind for the supply of fuel from Jordan to Iraq. The deaths of at least 18 service members from faulty electrical installations at military bases in Iraq, some of which were made by leading contractors Kellogg, Brown and Root, were one of many cases where government investigations highlighted logistics and reconstruction work. weak.
The Taliban’s stunning victory last month in Afghanistan is now drawing attention to even more serious consequences: the extent to which the United States relied on contractors may have increased the hardships of the Afghan security forces.
Jodi Vittori, a former Air Force lieutenant colonel and researcher on corruption and fragile states at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Foundation, who was not included in the study, points to the United States’ insistence that the Afghan Air Force use US-made helicopters. . Afghans preferred Russian helicopters, which were easier to fly, could be maintained by Afghans, and were suitable for the rugged terrain of Afghanistan.
When U.S. contractors withdrew with U.S. troops this spring and summer, gaining their knowledge of how to maintain aircraft, top Afghan leaders complained it had deprived them of a substantial advantage over the Taliban.
Mr Hartung also points to the multibillion-dollar corruption that the United States has poured into Afghanistan as a major reason why the US-backed Afghan government lost popular support and Afghan fighters lost morale.
Hillary Clinton, while secretary of state under President Barack Obama, accused endangered defense contractors in war zones of using payments to armed groups, making defense money one of the Taliban’s biggest sources of funding.
The United States also relied, in part, on defense contractors to carry out one of the most central tasks for the hope of success in Afghanistan – helping to build and train an Afghan army and other security forces that can resist extremist groups and insurgents, including the Taliban.
It was clear, said expert Vittori, that it was Afghan commandos who had been trained by US special operations forces and others who did most of the fighting against the Taliban last month.
Relying less on private contractors and more on the US military as in past wars, the United States could have the best chance of victory in Afghanistan, Ms Vittori noted. She said this would have meant that US presidents would accept the political risks of sending more American troops to Afghanistan and consider the consequences of more casualties from the ranks of US troops.
“The use of contractors allowed America to fight a war that many Americans had forgotten they were fighting,” Vittori said.
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