In the 1960s a popular poster bearing the words, “War isn’t healthy for children and other living things,” was tacked to walls everywhere. Any remaining copies of the original posters are now considered collectible antiques, but the saying remains as true today as it ever was.
While we all should agree that war isn’t the healthiest of environments for kids and whatever those other living things are, it’s a windfall for defense contractors.
Between 9/11 and the ending of America’s 20-year war, the Pentagon authorized the spending of $14 trillion. It would be easy to assume that the bulk of the money was spent on military supplies and weaponry, but no cigar for you if you thought this. Right around half of your hard-earned tax money filled the pockets of civilian defense contractors.
Recent research has also concluded that many of America’s failures in the war, especially in Afghanistan, were the direct result of relying on civilians to carry out war-zone-related duties. They had no business being there or having any involvement whatsoever. There was a war going on…
The Defense Department even bypassed military commanders by hiring U.S. corporations to handle troop movement logistics. Contractors handled laying out routes for military fuel convoys to travel. They handled the strategic placement of outposts, and it was they who trained the Afghan military and made sure they had all of the equipment they needed.
This is the same military that, 20 years and billions of dollars later, laid down their rifles and walked away at the sight of the Taliban. Real great investment, guys.
William Hartung who headed up a recent Brown University Costs of War project said it’s imperative that the U.S. reexamine its use of civilian contractors in warzones. Some of the hired contractors in Afghanistan were spending government money as bribery for protection against local warlords and even the Taliban.
It was civilian contractors who made the decision to equip the Afghan Air Force with state-of-the-art Blackhawk helicopters and other sophisticated aircraft. The contractors later ran into trouble when they realized that very few of them had a clue about how to maintain what they had been freely given them.
By the time American withdrew its forces much of the equipment was inoperable due to neglect.
Hartung, who is also the director of the arms and security program at the Center for International Policy, said, “If it were only the money, that would be outrageous enough,” he said. “But the fact it undermined the mission and put troops at risk is even more outrageous.”
It’s been asked why there were so many civilian Americans trying to get out of Afghanistan when the final troop withdrawal was ordered. The answer is simple. As surrealistic as it seems, by the time the war ended the number of U.S. civilian contractors outnumbered our troop strength.
It isn’t that the contractors didn’t pay dearly for their involvement. It’s a well-stated fact of how America lost roughly 7,000 military troops over 20 years, but it’s not as well known that 8,000 contractors also lost their lives.
David J. Berteau, president of the Professional Services Council that works with government-contracted businesses, said that “For almost two decades, government contractors have provided broad and essential support for U.S. and allied forces, for the Afghan military and other elements of the Afghan government, and for humanitarian and economic development assistance.”
While Berteau may possess an elegant flair with words, but in previous wars, these types of things have always been handled after the fact, once the shootin’ stops. Never has the U.S. invaded a country with more civilians than military and nearly every military analyst in the country agrees it should never be done again. It endangers the contractors and underminds the military’s primary objective.
Former Air Force lieutenant colonel Jodi Vittori said the Afghans didn’t really want the American-built Blackhawks to begin with. They much would have preferred the Russian equivalent because they’re easier to work on and they already knew how to maintain them.
They’re also better suited for Afghanistan’s rough terrain. The contractors would have been able to purchase those, but they chose not to. And you see what happened.
Vittori said the outcome of the war may have been different had we fought it just as we had all of the others in our war-torn past. “Using contractors allowed America to fight a war that a lot of Americans forgot we were fighting.”
What do ya think? Did we blow it this time around?