Contractors in Afghanistan, A Recipe for Failure
December 18, 2009 - 8:19am ET
Similar to Iraq, the use of contractors by the U.S. government in Afghanistan stands at unprecedented levels. In fact, contractors in Afghanistan outnumber American troops –and will continue to do so despite Obama’s troop increase in 2010. This heavy reliance on contractors is not only a cause for alarm, but also cause for failure.
Already over 100,000 contractors are in Afghanistan, largely local hires, with contracts valued at near $8.5 billion the past year. These numbers will rise too, it is predicted that by next year total contractors in Afghanistan will grow, totaling 130,000 to 160,000.
Contractors Harm the U.S. Mission
Contrary to popular belief, outsourcing military and reconstruction operations in many cases costs much more and can be harmful to the overall mission. This was the case for contractors in Iraq, where private security firms such as Blackwater, committed numerous atrocities against civilians and helped fuel the insurgency, while pocketing billions.
For Afghanistan, the use of contractors is not much better. Stunningly, according to a recent article in the Nation, American military contractors are paying suspected insurgents and the Taliban, yes the TALIBAN! to protect military supply routes from harm. As Aram Roston reports,
“In this grotesque carnival...It is an accepted fact of the military logistics operation in Afghanistan that the US government funds the very forces American troops are fighting. And it is a deadly irony, because these funds add up to a huge amount of money for the Taliban. In fact, US military officials in Kabul estimate that a minimum of 10 percent of the Pentagon's logistics contracts--hundreds of millions of dollars--consists of payments to insurgents.”
Meanwhile, American efforts to build an Afghan army are muddled. A Congressional hearing Thursday lead by Senator Claire McCaskill, (D-MO) spotlighted that contractors pay Afghans more to cook for the troops, than the U.S. military pays for Afghans to serve in their national army or local police force. This stands as a big problem since wisely; Afghans choose the former means of employment, rather than the latter. This also poses a huge setback for Obama, as he stated his goal for the U.S. to help build up an Afghan army, to then allow for U.S. withdrawal by 2011.
It is not only security that is harmed by contractors’ work, but also reconstruction efforts. The international aid agency Oxfam found that USAID awards more than half of its Afghan aid to just five U.S. private contractors. While for every $100 of aid dispensed for the region, a mere $10 reaches Afghanistan.
And oversight for contractors is abysmal. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), is responsible for the oversight of some $50 billion (FY 2010) for Afghan development, but the office has done little auditing and oversight to ensure that contractors are completing the job to build the country’s infrastructure. To date, the office has received only $23 million for its work.
With little seen improvements to their country, coupled with American support for a very corrupt government, and ongoing violence, it is hard to believe that Afghans will treat the American presence very kindly. In all, Obama’s strategy for Afghanistan is quite dubious, but the presence of contractors challenges what little chance for success we had to begin with. And considering the failures and billions lost in Iraq on the issue –I have a feeling this will not be my last post.
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