The fall of Kabul, like the fall of Saigon, will be taught in classrooms for decades to come. But the dramatic images coming out of Afghanistan don’t necessarily hail the beginning of a post-American world. If America learns the right lessons, it has the chance to pursue a more sustainable foreign policy. One lesson it could learn is to stop outsourcing its war-making and foreign policy to overpaid private firms. In a less politically correct era, these groups would be called what they really are: mercenaries.
The corruption and graft expended on contracts of dubious value is legendary. In one episode, some £20 million was spent on forest camouflage for the now-collapsed Afghan National Army. The camouflage would have worked brilliantly, except there was almost no use for it. There isn’t much forest in Afghanistan – as little as 2 per cent of the country is covered by the green forests where this kind of camouflage would be useful. Instead, the uniform was based solely on the sartorial preferences of a single Afghan official.
Every American taxpayer contributed to this debacle, which sadly was not an isolated instance. A 2018 report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR, found that some £11 billion had disappeared through waste, fraud, and abuse of government funds related to the war. Much of that money ended up in the pockets of private contractors, either those who provided logistical support to the war or military support to the Afghan government. That report went largely unheeded.
Another report from the same agency, released this year, found that a further £5.7 billion had been spent on buildings and vehicles alone in Afghanistan since 2008. With contractors reaping much of the profits the report found that only £250 million worth of these buildings and vehicles ‘were maintained in good condition,’ which may in hindsight be a blessing in disguise.