Follow us on social

6599764169_b45128820e_h

End of an era? Afghanistan is now graveyard of contractors, too.

They formed their own shadow army, some 90,000 in the country at its peak, but their problematic predomination is coming to an end.

Asia-Pacific

The golden post-9/11 years of the war contractor — the providers of food and transportation, fuel, construction, maintenance, IT, not to mention security and interrogation services for the U.S. military  — appear to be drawing down.

With the (hopeful) withdrawal of the remaining 3,600 troops in Afghanistan by September, attention is also on the nearly 17,000 contractors on the U.S. payroll there, 6,147 of whom are American citizens.  

“The U.S. contractors will come out as we come out. That is part of the planned withdrawal we have in place right now,” said CENTCOM Commander Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, in a briefing with reporters last week.

Despite earlier reports that the government has numerous contracts with companies stretching far beyond the deadline to leave, it would appear the thrust of U.S. operations in Afghanistan is diminishing, and the withdrawal has begun. Even if that takes a while, or the United States manages to keep some presence in the country after Sept. 11, the private sector footprint will never be as big as it was at its height in 2011, when there were over 90,000 contractors in Afghanistan.  At times, including now, contractors outnumbered uniformed personnel.

To put it into perspective, there were 155,000 contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan, compared to 145,000 active duty service members, in 2011. Contractors made up 62 percent of the workforce. The money paid to contractors is even more daunting: $104 billion for services in Afghanistan alone since 2002, nearly $9 billion just in the last five years.

With so much dependence on contractors, came trouble. Huge companies like Halliburton, with subsidiaries such as KBR, took advantage. Not only were companies overcharging and caught engaging in fraud during the early salad days, but worse, they cut corners to make more money. Who could forget the flimsy, defective showers and electrical systems electrocuting troops throughout Iraq? The unsafe drinking water on bases? Spoiled food?

Then there are the contractors who helped torture inmates at Abu Ghraib, and massacred civilians at Nisour Square. Armed mercenaries who rolled with our CIA in secret, trained troops, guarded dignitaries. 

Many died with no mention in the papers, came home injured and sick with none of the benefits of Pentagon health care or VA. They were a shadow army really, a massive experiment in how Uncle Sam could wage war across several countries cheaper and longer by leaning on the private sector to do it. But it wasn’t cheaper, and the cost not just in dollars: for every positive thing contractors did in-country, there is a school or a hospital or some facility that literally won’t stand after we’re gone. Afghan security forces that won’t be able to challenge the Taliban, bridges and infrastructure that will crumble. The largesse was corruptible and it was corrupted.

Halliburton and KBR and Blackwater are names of the past. But they got their gold, they care not about “the graveyard of empires.” Others, like Fluor Group, which provides logistical support to the military currently in Afghanistan, are going to see an end to the lush days, and they’re feeling it. 

“The timetable to do this properly is already too tight,” said David Berteau, president of the Professional Services Council representing 400 government contractors, many working in Afghanistan. “We don’t have years, we have only months.”

All good things must come to end, right?

Call Home FORWARD OPERATING BASE KUNDUZ, Afghanistan ( (Photo by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Christopher Klutts, 170th IBCT Public Affairs))
Asia-Pacific
Diplomacy Watch: Ukraine risks losing the war — and the peace

Diplomacy Watch: Ukraine risks losing the war — and the peace

QiOSK

This week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky offered his starkest warning yet about the need for new military aid from the United States.

“It’s important to specifically address the Congress,” Zelensky said. “If the Congress doesn’t help Ukraine, Ukraine will lose the war.”

keep readingShow less
Shutterstock_1761729383-scaled
House Armed Services Committee Chair Rep. Adam Smith (Photo: VDB Photos / Shutterstock.com)
House Armed Services Committee Chair Rep. Adam Smith (Photo: VDB Photos / Shutterstock.com)

Top House Dem blasts 'nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine' approach

QiOSK

Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) offered a rare Democratic rebuke of the Biden administration’s rhetoric on the war in Ukraine during a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Wednesday.

Smith, the ranking member on the committee, was following up on questions from Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla) to Celeste Wallander, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, on whether the administration considered the repatriation of Crimea and the Donbas as necessary for a Ukrainian victory.

keep readingShow less
Japan debuts as a weapons exporter

Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida sits in a F/A-18 Hornet fighter jet as he boards the USS Ronald Reagan, a Nimitz-class nuclear-powered supercarrier, at Sagami Bay, off Yokosuka, south of Tokyo, Japan November 6, 2022. REUTERS/Tim Kelly

Japan debuts as a weapons exporter

Asia-Pacific

Japan has gone through a gradual process of dismantling its self-imposed ban on exporting lethal weapons, a process that reached a new plateau with last month’s decision to permit the export to third countries of the next-generation fighter aircraft to be developed jointly with the United Kingdom and Italy.

When this policy change is read in conjunction with the U.S.-Japan Joint Leaders’ Statement issued on April 10, 2024, it is likely that Japan has agreed to jointly develop and produce missiles with the United States and export them to third countries. (It also marks the latest development in its departure from its pacifist defense policy that dates back to the immediate post-World War II era.) This article tries to explain the background and implications of Japan’s policy changes.

keep readingShow less

Israel-Gaza Crisis

Latest