Contracting in Afghanistan is turning that country into a deformed beast

My following investigation appears today in Crikey:

In the 10 years since 9/11, millions of people have been killed but countless firms have benefited from the explosion in Western defence spending. Brian Michael Jenkins, senior adviser to the president at Rand Corporation, recently told National Defence that “the war on terrorism cost $3.8 trillion in the first 10 years”.

Much of this money has also been used in American theatres of war including Iraq and Afghanistan. A just-released report by the US-based Commission on Wartime Contracting found that at least one out of every six dollars spent by the US on contractors in both countries in the past decade has been wasted or disappeared. That’s more than $30 billion.

A lawyer working on rule of law issues in Afghanistan exclusively tells Crikey from Kabul that nothing has changed on the contracting issue since Barack Obama assumed office and nor will it:

“People are tired of this war and it will be an issue in the forthcoming [2012] election. The news that the Obama administration is negotiating with Afghan President Hamid Karzai [to keep at least 25,000 troops in the country until 2024, according to media reports] would not be welcomed by American voters. Using [private] contractors is a great solution for Obama in terms of bringing the troops home while still maintaining a presence here.”

One of the key points of the Commission on Wartime Contracting is that America initiated wars after 9/11 without adequate planning, therefore relying on private contractors to fill the void. At times, more than 260,000 people in the contractor workforce has exceeded the number of US military forces in a conflict zone.

As The New Yorker revealed earlier this year, an army of largely invisible foreign workers populate American bases with little or no protection from exploitation.

America couldn’t fight its multiple wars without contractors.

The depth of the problem is shown by the presence of the controversial mercenary company Blackwater in Afghanistan, despite the Karzai government continually rejecting the presence of such forces.

Without them, however, the nation’s violence would spiral even further out of control, because the Afghan army is deserting in massive numbers and remains incapable of fighting an insurgency that is only strengthening as long as foreign troops occupy the nation.

Such dismal figures also put into perspective the role of Australia in Uruzgan Province as we’re constantly told that our role is to train Afghan soldiers to defend the country on their own. The possible success of this mission is highly questionable.… Confirmation that Australian forces are using drones to kill supposed enemies in southern Afghanistan will only increase the local hatred of Western forces.

Furthermore, this week’s important article in the Fairfax Media about Australian special forces using legally and morally suspect covert means to target insurgents missed one important element; the use of private companies to assist this process, something I revealed in Crikey in late 2010.

Various sources tell Crikey that Australian and American troops increasingly rely on private intelligence contractors to gain information on suspected insurgents. Tragically this information is often incorrect, causing the wrongful abduction or death of civilians.

The lawyer in Kabul tells says that the nexus between huge amounts of foreign money, a corrupt Karzai regime and private contractors make the job of reform almost impossible.

“The Afghan government is not in a position to be serious about fighting corruption because President Karzai is holding together the most fragile of coalitions and he’s only able to do it by carving out gifts to everybody he needs support from,” she said. “Those gifts include high-ranking positions, opportunities to collect money through corruption, control of provinces and the narcotics trade. Karzai doesn’t really have the option to be sincere about fighting corruption. The Afghan anti-corruption institution is essentially a fake institution. It may well have been set up with clear marching orders to occupy that space without doing anything.”

This is the government with whom the West is betting its future in Afghanistan.

Contractors hired by NATO or the US military to provide supplies to the troops have to pay off the Taliban in order to be able to do their job. Enormous amounts of money are going from defence budgets into the pockets of the people the troops are being deployed to fight.

“The military has become a prep school that you have to get through and graduate to be a well paid mercenary,” the Kabul lawyer tells Crikey. “These [contracting] companies are publicly traded. They don’t have a philosophy or a set of values of their own; they have shareholders. Their only next goal is to get the next contract.”

A recent investigation in Caravan magazine explained how Indian aid money to the country was feeding the insurgency by bribing the warlords New Delhi says it wants to defeat.

One of the key reasons private contractors will remain in Afghanistan and countless other nations are because the war-making Western powers have no desire for it to stop. A war economy is thriving in Afghanistan due to ongoing occupation policies dictating a never-ending supply of security to insulate those implementing it. And since the occupation will continue for years to come, mercenaries will always be in demand.

I’ve seen the price list of Western contractors in Afghanistan who can charge a small fortune to protect individuals and these companies are only demanding what the market can sustain.

One human rights source in Kabul, who requested anonymity, tells Crikey that the occupying army in Afghanistan is fighting dual battles to establish any kind of peace and stability. Private contractors, without which the Americans and Australians couldn’t operate in the country, are relied upon despite a shocking human rights record.

For example, DynCorp is integral to the American war effort despite being accused of complicity in the illegal transfer of terror suspects through extraordinary rendition. This is the same company that a US government report recently found massively failed to deliver on its contractual agreement to train the Afghan National Police.

The Kabul source explains how the entire Western war machine is seemingly destined not to succeed, therefore requiring a foreign troop presence for the foreseeable future:

“The real issue with ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] is that everybody is on a six-month tour, including the people with desk jobs. I never forget a meeting I had with two ISAF people dedicated to fighting corruption. An American and a French man. One of them said to me, ”˜Ma’am, ISAF understands that we aren’t going to be able to end corruption in Afghanistan in the next two years but ISAF’s goal is that within two years corruption will no longer be an obstacle between the people and the government with the people running into the arms of the insurgency’. I said that sounded ambitious. I said that you’re planning to be here for two years? He said, ”˜No, ma’am, I’m here for six months’.”

*Antony Loewenstein is an independent journalist currently working on a book about disaster capitalism

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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