Wednesday, October 27, 2021

What is an Afghan life worth?

The US, driven by political-corporate greed, robbed Afghanistan of stability and tranquillity for two decades

Photo: AP/ file
 Photo: AP/ file 

In every war, civilians suffer the most. They can barely defend themselves in crossfires but easily fall victim to attacks. The latest tragic “mistake” by a US airstrike killed 10 civilians, including seven children, of a family in Afghanistan. One Afghan family was thus torn apart, so were tens of thousands of others over the past 20 years.

Civilian deaths due to US and allied forces’ airstrikes dramatically increased as the number of US troops stationed in Afghanistan declined. According to the latest figure available, in 2019, 700 Afghan civilians died in airstrikes –– more than in any other year since the beginning of the war.

A quote from General Butler in 1933 may offer a clue for the US fixation with airstrikes and the broader military intervention. He said a war “is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many.” In the Afghan war where loss is reckoned in lives, the only winner seems to be the US military-industrial complex.

Under government contracts, the private defence businesses produce fighter jets and land-based combat vehicles, manufacture operation systems and contribute more soldiers to the war zones than the US military. Outsourcing the front-line tasks is a win-win for both Washington and the commercial companies. The White House has to put a cap on the number of servicemen and women it can deploy abroad because of domestic pressure. But away from public oversight, the politicians turn to defence contractors to sustain US dominance over other countries at a concealed financial and human cost.

Every year, around half of the discretionary spending of the US is taken by defence spending, over half of which goes to contractors. In 2019, for example, the paycheck of the defence monopolies was $370 billion in total.

The “revolving door” connecting the government and the defence industry further feeds the longest war in US history. Under the DoD supervision, the defence contractors are inclined to employ ex-senior defence officials and high-ranking veterans, whose connections can translate into the coffer. Their sway over the rank and file as well as their lobbying seals deals and creates affluence for their companies in the prolonged wars.

Dick Cheney’s involvement in defence industries is as well-documented as the mistakes he made in thrusting the US into senseless wars. In between his time as Secretary of Defense and Vice President, Cheney served as CEO of Halliburton, the owner of Kellogg, Brown and Root (KBR). According to USA, the KBR captured over $50 billion in contracts from the DoD between 2001 and 2019.

Other major defence companies –– and their stakeholders –– all made a fortune from war zones. Since the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, the stock prices of Boeing soared by nearly 10 times, at an annualized growth rate of over 12%. Just imagine how the millions of dollars worth of stock in such companies via lobbyists etc have influenced members of Congress in viewing and deciding the wars ravaging the other side of the world. These contractors ramp up donations for supporting individuals and committees wielding control over defence spending to gain more say in political debates.

The decisions to start and sustain wars are thus shaped by people with vested interests in extending the war as long as possible. But when politicians and war-mongers are drowned in personal wealth, innocent Afghans are struggling amid smoke and flames and dying in drone strikes manoeuvred for nothing but interests. Even when the US wound down forces in the war zones, war equipment was still provided with then Afghan government forces groomed by the US. In the second decade of the war, the US provided over $3.2 billion for the Afghan Air Force, including nearly $1 billion for equipment and aircraft. No sensible investor would throw money at any project if it did not generate handsome returns. But astute politicians and businessmen made the wrong bet: they underestimated people’s urge for survival in their homeland.

The US, driven by political-corporate greed, robbed Afghanistan of stability and tranquillity for two decades. Human lives are merely “collateral” instead of “central” to war tactics and strategies. The loss and pain the Afghan people endure are not worthy of reparations and compensation. People wonder, what price tag the US has put on Afghans’ lives.

Xin Ping is a commentator on international affairs, writing regularly for Xinhua News Agency, Global Times, CGTN, China Daily, etc. 

He can be reached at [email protected].