The War Industry: Half of the War on Terror’s $14 Trillion Went to Military Contractors

September 18th, 2021 - by Ellen Mitchell / The Hill

Pentagon Spending on Defense Contractors Hurt US in Post-9/11 Conflicts

Ellen Mitchell / The Hill

(September 13, 2021) — The Pentagon spent more than $14 trillion since the start of the Afghanistan War, with up to half of that going to for-profit military contractors, according to a new study released Monday.

The report, released by Brown University’s Costs of War Project and the Center for International Policy, highlights how the large reliance on private companies to tackle wartime tasks led to mission failures in American’s longest-ever conflict.

“Corporations large and small have been, by far, the largest beneficiaries of the post-9/11 surge in military spending,” the report states.

While some of these corporations earned profits widely considered legitimate, other wins “were the consequence of questionable or corrupt business practices that amount to waste, fraud, abuse, price-gouging or profiteering.”

Privatizing key functions such as shepherding fuel convoys or training and equipping Afghan security forces “can reduce the US military’s control of activities that occur in war zones while increasing risks of waste, fraud and abuse,” the report states.

“Additionally, that the waging of war is a source of profits can contradict the goal of having the US lead with diplomacy in seeking to resolve conflicts. More broadly, the outsized influence of defense contractors has resulted in a growing militarization of American.”

Despite the huge sums of money the United States pumped into Afghanistan over 20 years, Afghan security forces quickly collapsed to the Taliban last month in the final days of the US military withdrawal from the country.

President Biden blamed the Afghans for the quick collapse, asserting they did not have the “will to fight.”

But the new report highlights the role private contractors played in the conflict and its outcome, specifically how the US military’s reliance on contractors likely increased problems for Afghan security forces and made it more difficult for them to hold back the Taliban.

Up to one-third of all Pentagon contracts after 9/11 went to just five weapons suppliers: Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman.

In fiscal 2020, for example, the Pentagon awarded Lockheed Martin $75 billion in contracts, more than one and a half times the entire budgets of the State Department and the US Agency for International Development, according to the study.

One major example of defense contractor’s kneecapping of the Afghan security forces was the Pentagon’s insistence that the Afghan air force uses Blackhawk helicopters and other US-made aircraft, rather than the simpler, Russian-made models that the forces preferred and could maintain themselves. 

Because only a handful of US contractors knew how to maintain the US aircraft, when companies pulled their workers from the country as American troops withdrew, they took with them the ability to keep the helicopters in working order, putting Afghan security forces at a great disadvantage against the Taliban.

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