Afghanistan jackpot

| January 13, 2010 | 9 Replies

I’ve often written about my frustration with the U.S. occupation in Afghanistan.  I don’t see any real progress.  What business would be willing to keep spending huge amounts of money without seeing any progress?  Yet our government continues to do this.  And I have yet to see any meaningful government benchmarks regarding Afghanistan, probably because there aren’t actually any benchmarks. We have also kept our troops in Afghanistan because of the sunk costs fallacy; we are there shedding blood and inconceivable numbers of tax dollars because we’ve been there.  It is circular and insane.

I can think of yet another reason that we are still there. All you need to do is follow the money.  An acquaintance of mine recently informed me that a close relative of hers, formerly a career military man, quit the military but stayed in Afghanistan.  For the past few years he’s been making $250,000 per year in Afghanistan doing essentially the same job that he had been doing with the military.  She told me that there are large numbers of these private soldiers in Afghanistan making similar obscene amounts of money. If our mission in Afghanistan were really vital to national security, then we should be allowing our government military handle the situation. You know, the same guys who prevailed in Iwo Jima.

But no. The private contractors are swarming all over Afghanistan:

According to a report last week from the Congressional Research Service, there were about 64,000 uniformed U.S. troops in Afghanistan in September and 104,101 military contractors . . . The Obama administration’s planned deployment of 30,000 more troops in the coming months could require as many as 56,000 more contractors, the report estimated. Xe, the Moyock, N.C.-based private military company, is already on the ground in Afghanistan despite its controversial history in Iraq, and is in the running for additional contracts.

It’s also becoming clear that economically powerful companies are convincing our politicians that we need to be there, whether or not there is actually a well-defined mission. Even Blackwater (now renamed “Xe”) is in the thick of it. Charles Lewis reports:

Fascinated and alarmed by the Tammany Hall feeling of political favoritism or cronyism I was getting, we launched into another epic investigation and published “Outsourcing the Pentagon: Who’s Winning the Big Contracts” in the fall of 2004. We examined 2.2 million contract actions over six fiscal years, totaling $900 billion in authorized expenditures, and discovered that no-bid contracts had accounted for more than 40 percent of Pentagon contracting, $362 billion in taxpayer money to companies without competitive bidding. In other words, the multi-billion dollar no-bid contracts Halliburton had received actually weren’t such an aberration, unfortunately. Indeed, we found contractors had written the Department of Defense budget, were guarding our soldiers in the Green Zone in Iraq, had participated in the Abu Ghraib interrogations and when the Secretary of Army wanted to find out just how many contractors were being employed, he naturally hired a company to find it out.

That was back in 2004. It’s much worse now, which you can see by examining these links at Citizens for Legitimate Government. Check out this chart demonstrating that the high-priced private contractors far outnumber U.S. soldiers. Oh, and read the advertisements to see what kind of people are signing up to  “fighting for our freedom” overseas:

Thousands of men and women have said goodbye to the 9-5 dead-end hometown job lock-down and are happily hopping from one country to the next. With nothing to worry about but where to spend their 3 months vacation or what to do with all the money they have made  99.9% of the population doesn’t have this luxury – because they don’t know about it. They have never even heard of High Paying International Civilian Contractor Jobs. Your career doesn’t have to be connected to just one country; you can work wherever you want! If it’s the Big Bucks that you’re looking for, then places like Iraq and Afghanistan are paying 6 figs.

What is the historical context of the ratio of contractors to soldiers?

Image by Wikimedia Commons (with permission)

Image by Wikimedia Commons (with permission)

According to a Congressional Research Service report obtained by the Federation of American Scientists blog Secrecy News, the ratio of contractors to troops is higher “than in any conflict in the history of the United States.”

The phenomenon Eisenhower called the military-industrial complex is alive and well.  There are so very many better ways to spend these tax dollars.   Actually, we are spending tax dollars that we don’t actually have in Afghanistan.  And we’re spending and fighting regarding “terrorists” who are almost non-existent in Afghanistan.

U.S. intelligence officials have concluded there are only about 100 al Qaeda fighters in the entire country.

With 100,000 troops in Afghanistan at an estimated yearly cost of $30 billion, it means that for every one al Qaeda fighter, the U.S. will commit 1,000 troops and $300 million a year.

It is time to stand up and say “no” to the military-industrial complex.  It’s time to pull the plug on this “war,” in which our main accomplishment seems to be protecting the opium trade.

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Category: Military, The Middle East, War

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (9)

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  1. Brynn Jacobs says:

    Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) is preparing legislation aimed at dramatically reducing the role and involvement of private contractors in our warfighting. Jeremy Scahill reports:

    “In 2009, the U.S. government employed well over 20,000 armed private security contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan, and there is every indication that these figures will continue to rise in 2010,” Schakowsky wrote in a “Dear Colleage” letter asking for support for her Stop Outsourcing Security (SOS) Act. “These men and women are not part of the U.S. military or government. They do not wear the uniform of the United States, though their behavior has, on numerous occasions, severely damaged the credibility and security of our military and harmed our relationship with other governments.”

    Schakowsky originally introduced the bill in 2007, but it only won two co-sponsors in the Senate: Vermont’s Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. Ironically, Clinton—now Secretary of State— is currently the US official responsible for most of Blackwater’s contracts. “The legislation would prohibit the use of private contractors for military, security, law enforcement, intelligence, and armed rescue functions unless the President tells Congress why the military is unable to perform those functions,” according to Schakowsky. “It would also increase transparency over any remaining security contracts by increasing reporting requirements and giving Congress access to details about large contracts.”

  2. Erich Vieth says:

    From Ryan Grim at Huffpo:

    "On Tuesday, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) introduced the Stop Outsourcing Security Act, which would make it the military's responsibility to use its own personnel to train troops and police, guard convoys, repair weapons, run military prisons and do military intelligence activity. There are strategic reasons to move away from a reliance on contractors, says Schakowsky, a senior member of the intelligence committee. They damage the U.S. reputation with reckless behavior, are overly costly and hurt the morale of troops, who see private guards earning much more money than they do."

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/02/23/house-de

    Grim states that, even a few years ago, it would have been easy to pass this sort of bill, but it won't be easy anymore, because the paramilitary now has a powerful lobby.

  3. Brynn Jacobs says:

    The Department of Homeland Security now employs more private contractors than full-time employees.
    http://www.cnn.com/2010/POLITICS/02/24/dhs.contra

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Who ever thought that shrinking the government would mean reducing the number of official "government" employees while allowing government expenditures (and the budget deficit ) sky-rocket? And in the case of Homeland security, why? What can most outsider contractors do that government employees can't? Couple that with the creation of powerful outside lobbies that excel at lobbying Congress for their continued existence and funding.

  4. Erich Vieth says:

    The latest U.S. Department of Defense numbers show there are actually more civilian contractors on the ground in Afghanistan than there are soldiers. The Pentagon reported [2] 107,292 U.S.-hired civilian workers in Afghanistan as of February 2010, when there were about 78,000 soldiers. This is apparently the first time that contractors have exceeded soldiers by such a large margin.

    http://www.propublica.org/feature/contractor-deat

  5. Erich Vieth says:

    Speaking of military contractors,

    "Courtesy Wikileaks, we now know that many more deadly shootings have taken place by these unregulated private security contractors than we knew of before. Given this new knowledge, it is time that we demand an inquiry into the privatization of the military. Right now, the prime facie evidence is that it has considerably increased the number of unnecessary violent incidents, while reducing military discipline and accountability and costing taxpayers a bundle."

    http://www.commondreams.org/view/2010/10/23-4

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