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At a heavy cost

Real winners in the decades-long Afghanistan conflict are the US defence industries

At a heavy cost
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After 19 years of the USA's determined aim to punish the Afghan terrorists to avenge the ignominious and helpless surrender to the 9/11 invasion, the ground truth that Washington has learnt bitterly is that it "never could have won the war in Afghanistan", candidly admitted Scott Ritter, a former US Marine Corps Intelligence Officer. And indeed, there cannot be a greater truth than the ground truth. The experience of the 5th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, states Ritter serves as a case in point as back in 2009, some 5,000 American soldiers of the brigade were engaged in a life-or-death struggle with the Taliban in and around the southern Afghan city of Kandahar.

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, Washington (SIGAR), John F Sopko, in the report The Human Cost of Reconstruction in Afghanistan, submitted in February 2020 to the Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Mark T Esper, reported that "at least 5,135 casualties in Afghanistan were associated with reconstruction or stabilisation missions ever since President George William Bush had announced the beginning of our reconstruction mission in Afghanistan on April 17, 2002, to December 31, 2018." He announced the US commitment to rebuild Afghanistan at a speech at the Virginia Military Institute with military operations on combat and counterterrorism.

Among the victims are 2,214 killed and 2,921 wounded and another 1,182 individuals who are missing in action. For years together, SIGAR has lent considerable endeavour to "track the financial costs of reconstruction and stabilisation activities in Afghanistan. However, little effort has been made up to now to track the human costs – the number of people killed, wounded, or kidnapped – to accomplish these activities. This has left policymakers with an incomplete picture of the true cost of our efforts in Afghanistan. This report is, as far as we know, the first official government effort by an independent Inspector General to do so."

However, the data-base is partial and incomplete. Casualties have been counted as 'reconstruction or stabilisation-related if the casualty's primary mission at the time was specifically related to conducting reconstruction or stabilisation activities or a bystander at the site of these activities.' Which is why the figures are understated. "We conservatively identified at least 284 Americans were killed in Afghanistan while performing reconstruction or stabilisation missions. This includes 216 US service members and 68 US civilians (government employees, contractors, and those with unknown statuses). An additional 245 service members and 76 civilians were wounded; 100 other coalition service members were killed and 105 wounded; an additional 124 third-country nationals (TCNs) were killed; another 87 wounded and 59 kidnapped; and, 1,578 Afghans (local nationals) were killed, 2,246 were wounded, and 1,004 kidnapped". These casualty figures do not include those that occurred during combat and counter-terrorism missions, such as patrols, raids, and ambushes, the ones that occurred during combat support missions unrelated to reconstruction. These apart, casualties occurred from accidents, suicides or homicides, deaths from natural causes, enemy casualties, etc.

The continuity of war in Afghanistan is controversial among decision-makers in the USA which in 2018 alone incurred approximately $45 billion – "$5 billion for Afghan forces and $13 billion for US forces inside Afghanistan. Much of the rest is for logistical support. Some $780 million goes toward economic aid". Whether to gradually end the war or find an alternative to retain the offensive is the essence of controversies.

However, the voice against militaristic adventures abroad is louder than ever inside the US, in the name of chastising terrorism. As far as the war in the rugged terrain, the objective remains elusive since the huge spending does not safeguard the people. The beneficiaries of weaponry, be it a missile, a bomb, a rifle or a tank that is fired or dropped in Afghanistan are defence industries in the US private sector. The Pentagon largesse keeps enriching the coffers of major defence contractors like Lockheed Martin, which alone bagged defence-related contracts of over $36 billion in fiscal 2015 (the most recent statistics available about it ). The top 100 defence contractors received $175 billion from the Pentagon in the fiscal year 2015, nearly one-third of the Department of Defense's entire budget. With upped federal contracts in the defence budgets of 22 of the 50 states, the orders are only piling up, especially as President Donald Trump is all set to build more ships, planes, tanks, and nuclear weapons. Which is why the likelihood of backpedalling on the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan is mired in uncertainty. The ground truth for the aggressive overlord at the White House is different.

Views expressed are strictly personal

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