the art of profiting from weapons

Marta Bernardi
Current Events

It can be regarded as an unexpected insinuation for one simple reason: why complain about a defeat when those who have gained most from Afghanistan are precisely the Americans?

August 15th, 2021. Ferragosto i.e. The feast of Assumption. A date that every year sees thousands of Italians setting tables and preparing barbecues for family and friends, ready to celebrate summer’s climax. A merry and relaxing occasion, with tasty food and good company.

However, further east of Italy, the same date does not evoke such pleasant memories. In fact, the 15th of August this current year marks the day when the Taliban forces succeeded in conquering Kabul. The Taliban military offensive, which began in May, and ended with the non-violent capture of the Afghan capital. From there, a wild uproar began, as much effective as also media driven. Effective, given that the rise to power of the Taliban forces drove thousands of Afghans to flee. Afghans, fearing for their safety as ‘collaborators of foreign powers’ or simply conscious of the consequences of that dark interlude of Taliban power between the 1990s and the early 2000s, flocked to Kabul International Airport in hopes of boarding any aircraft. In fact, the airport was the only possible way out of Afghanistan, as the border crossings had long since fallen under Taliban control. The images of those dramatic moments contributed to generating a global media mayhem that followed the ultimate evacuation of Western troops, their civilian collaborators and foreigners in general, which had begun about a year before the announcement of the withdrawal of American troops ordered by Trump and then confirmed and carried out by Biden’s administration. In just a few hours, the images of hundreds of people crowding the airport runway and desperately clinging onto planes in flight created great consternation and severe reactions on behalf of the general public.

Many criticisms were levelled at the American action, accused of abandoning the country to the Taliban forces. Others have openly blamed the US for ‘losing’ and running away with its tail between its legs. This accusation, unexpectedly often accompanied by the famous Afghan proverb ‘you have the watches, but we have the time’, comes mainly from American sources. It can be regarded as an unexpected insinuation for one simple reason: why complain about a defeat when those who have gained most from Afghanistan are precisely the Americans?

Although prickly, the reality is that the casualties reported (around 2500) and the scandalous costs of maintaining the red, white and blue troops on Afghan soil (a total of 2.26 trillion dollars) remain, but the profits from the ‘war on terrorism’ have ended up in the pockets of the United States. Above all, into those of the common suspects: both the military and the oil industry. After all, the latter provides the fuel for the former to function. We are clearly speaking of colossi with billions of annual revenues, such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Exxon Mobil. Furthermore, one does not only consider the profits from the very expensive maintenance of American regiments or the equally expensive deployment of private troops on foreign soil – the famous security contractors, who outnumbered the American forces on the ground three to one in both Afghanistan and Iraq. The profits from the so-called ‘reconstruction’ of the Afghan armed forces based on the Western, i.e. US, model must also be taken into account. 

The gap between the security model employed by the pre-2001 Afghan government and the post-2001 one is so wide as to be almost ludicrous. Thanks to the pressure of the lobbies to which the above-mentioned companies belong, the Afghan army has passed from a very simple and basic structure to a complex machine in which only one third of the military personnel are fighters; the remaining two thirds carry out equally essential logistic and support tasks. The latter, moreover, require a whole series of means and equipment (radar, secure radios, trivial bullet-proof vests), which are calibrated for the army and unquestionably expensive.  

As if this were not enough, there is also the matter of the replacement of Soviet-made – or at least designed – weapons and vehicles with US-made ones. To use an automotive comparison, the difference between the two is the same as one might find between an old Fiat 500 and a Tesla. The old Chinese- or Pakistani-made Kalashnikovs favoured by the pre-US army in Afghanistan can be repaired with a small furnace and a hammer; if disassembled and buried, they surface still working after years. The same can hardly be said for the American automatic rifles used by Afghan forces today. Something similar can be said about aviation, where helicopters have gone from being pincer and clamp dismantled metal clusters to the infamous blackhawks – complex and highly technological machines that require specific training to be both repaired or even flown – and which are obviously under US monopoly. Quite coincidentally, before leaving Afghan soil, 37 American-made helicopters were sold to the Afghan army for the mere sum of 450 million dollars. Expenses of this kind must be multiplied by the twenty years of military intervention in Afghanistan: the sum total is inconceivable.

All things considered, one wonders whether the theory of John Boyd, a former American pilot, is correct or not. That is, if the Pentagon truly has only one precise strategy in mind with regard to Afghanistan and Iraq: to keep the flow of money going and, if possible, to make it even more prosperous. There is no doubt that the interests of many different sides have played their part in the so-called war of terrorism. As it often occurs, there is no single thread, but several threads, inextricably entangled with each other and difficult to consider apart.

[1] Samuel Stebbins and Evan Comen, Military spending: 20 companies profiting the most from war USA TODAY

[2] Ask not what the war cost the US, but who profited from the war. TRT WORLD

[3] Nico Piro, La favoletta dei soldati codardi.

[4] Ellen Knickmeyer. Costs of the Afghanistan war, in lives and dollars.

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