Who Won in Afghanistan? Private Contractors

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The US military spent $14 trillion during the two decades of war; Those who benefited ranged from major manufacturers to entrepreneurs.

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Two Army National Guardsmen from Ohio who started a small business providing Afghan interpreters to the military became one of the Army’s top contractors. According to publicly available records, it collected approximately $4 billion in federal contracts.

Four months after the last US troops left Afghanistan, the US is assessing the lessons to be learned. Among them, some officials and watchdog groups say, is a reliance on battlefield contractors and how this adds to the cost of waging war.

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Since the September 11, 2001 attacks, military outsourcing has helped increase Pentagon spending by $14 trillion, creating profit opportunities as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq progressed.

One-third to half of that amount went to contractors, including five defense companies – Lockheed Martin Corporation

, Boeing Co.

normal mobility Corporation

, Raytheon Technologies Corp. and Northrop Grumman Corporation

— Taking the lion’s share of $2.1 trillion for weapons, supplies and other services, according to Brown University’s Cost of War Project, a group of scholars, legal experts and others, aims to draw attention to the hidden influence of the U.S. military To do. ,

A large number of smaller companies also made billions of dollars from efforts, including training Afghan police officers, building roads, establishing schools, and providing security to Western diplomats.

During the past two decades, both Republican and Democratic administrations saw the use of contractors as a way to keep the number of soldiers and casualties of service members down, current and former officials said.

Christopher Miller, stationed in Afghanistan as the Green Beret in 2005, said, “when fighting a war with an all-volunteer army that is smaller and without a draft than in previous conflicts,” you have to “outsource so much to contractors to do your tasks.” has to be done” and later became acting Secretary of Defense in the final months of the Trump administration.

The vast amount of money being spent on the war effort and rebuilding Afghanistan after years of conflict was to ensure the US government’s ability to investigate and ensure contractors.

The US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, created to oversee the roughly $150 billion spent on rebuilding the country, lists hundreds of reports ruined and sometimes fraudulent. A survey released by the office in early 2021 found that of the $7.8 billion in projects its inspectors examined, only $1.2 billion, or 15%, was spent as expected on new roads, hospitals, bridges and factories. . The report found that at least $2.4 billion was spent on military aircraft, police offices, agricultural programs and other development projects that were abandoned, destroyed or used for other purposes.

The Pentagon spent $6 million on a project to import nine Italian goats to boost Afghanistan’s cashmere market. The project never reached scale. The US Agency for International Development awarded $270 million to a company to build 1,200 miles of gravel road in Afghanistan. USAID said the company canceled the project after building 100 miles of road in three years of work, killing more than 125 people in rebel attacks.

“The dedicated support provided by thousands of contractors to US military missions in Afghanistan played a vital role in freeing up uniformed forces for the critical war fighting effort,” said Pentagon spokesman Major Rob Lodwick.

John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction since 2012, who has documented the contractors’ failures for years, said many of them were doing their best to meet demands placed on them by policymakers who made poor decisions. .

“It is too easy to say that all contractors are crooks or war profiteers,” Mr. Sopko said. “The fact that some of them made a lot of money—that’s what the capitalist system is all about.”

American use of military contractors extends back to the Revolutionary War, when the Continental Army relied on private firms to provide supplies and even raid ships. According to the Congressional Budget Office, during World War II, for every seven service members, one contractor worked in the war effort.

More recently, the practice began around the time of the Gulf War in the 1990s. Then the decision to prosecute for the Global War on Terror after 9/11 caught the Pentagon short-handed, which came after the US military’s post-Cold War war.

In 2008, the US had 187,900 troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, the peak of US deployment, and 203,660 contractor workers.

The ratio of soldiers and contractors increased. When President Barack Obama ordered most American troops to leave Afghanistan at the end of his second term, more than 26,000 contractors were in Afghanistan compared to 9,800 soldiers.

By the time President Donald Trump stepped down four years later, 18,000 contractors along with 2,500 troops remained in Afghanistan.

“The contract is moving in only one direction — growing — whether there are Democrats or Republicans in the White House or not,” said Heidi Peltier, program manager for the Cost of War project.

Ms Peltier said the reliance on contractors has led to the rise of a “camo economy”, in which the US government undercuts the cost of war which could reduce public support for it.

More than 3,500 American contractors died in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to Labor Department figures that they say are unfinished. More than 7,000 American service members died during the two decades of war.

One entrepreneur who had the opportunity was Doug Edelman, who is from Stockton, Calif., and opened a bar and a fuel-trading business in Bishkek, the Kyrgyz capital, in 1998. Three years later, when war broke out in neighboring Afghanistan, Bishkek. Transformed into a center for American troops and supplies. Former aides said Mr Edelman worked closely with a Kyrgyz partner to run the two companies, Red Star and Mina Corp, which became key links in the war effort.

After winning a series of Pentagon single-source contracts that allow the Pentagon to bypass the traditional bidding process, those aides said, Mr. Edelman’s firms have agreed to build a fleet of Bishkek-based US Air Force C-135 air tankers. supplied fuel for those who performed in the air. Refueling campaign on Afghanistan. Inside Afghanistan, his company built a fuel pipeline at Bagram Air Base.

His companies won billions of dollars in contracts, and Mr. Edelman made hundreds of millions of dollars, as evidenced by a lawsuit filed in California in 2020 by a former associate who said he would later buy one of Mr. Edelman’s businesses. was deducted from equity. According to court filings and former associates, Mr Edelman resided in a London mansion that once belonged to former media mogul Conrad Black.

Mr Edelman denied the allegations in response to the lawsuit. He declined to comment.

Mission Essentials Group, an Ohio-based company that became the leading provider of military battlefield interpreters in Afghanistan, exemplifies the arc of contracting in Afghanistan.

Mission Essentials began in 2003 after two Army National Guardsmen, Chad Monin and Greg Miller, considered the poor quality of the interpreters used by the military, and wanted to do better.

In 2007 it won a five-year, $300 million contract to provide the military with interpreters and cultural advisers in Afghanistan.

The company grew rapidly. Mr Monin, who former Mission Essential staff said was known to sleep in his car to save money on hotel rooms, in a $1.3 million dollar home next to a country club golf course, according to public records. Moved into 6,400 square feet. , He bought a classic Ferrari sports car from the 1970s.

While interpreters were paid handsomely when contracts were flushed, the former staff of the mission said, wages for Afghans plummeted as business contracted.

As military missions in Afghanistan began back in 2012, Mission Essential said there was pressure to reduce costs. Mission Essential said it renegotiated contracts with Afghan linguists, reducing the average monthly salary by about 20 to 25%.

The average monthly income of Afghan linguists has fallen from about $750 in 2012 to $500 this year, the company said.

“They were taking in billions from the US government,” said Anees Khalil, an Afghan-American linguist who worked for several months for the Mission Essentials subcontractor. “The way they were treating the linguists was very dehumanizing.”

He and other former employees said some Afghan linguists working with US troops in the hardest-hit parts of the country are paid $300 a month. The company said it has no records showing anyone paid $300 a month when working full-time.

Mission Essentials said its interpreters were “paid very well compared to the average income in the market” and the company placed a priority on ensuring they were well looked after. Mission Essential said it went to the very end to help its staff in Afghanistan escape the Taliban regime.

“Supporting this work is not about profits,” said Mr. Miller. “its…

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