Staying in Afghanistan Means More Money for Contractors, Less Oversight

Monday, November 02, 2015
A DynCorp contractor oversees Afghans working in poppy fields (photo: Getty Image)

There’s some question about whether it’s a bug in the policy or a feature, but Defense Department contractors appear to be the major beneficiaries of President Obama’s policy to keep troops in Afghanistan.


As the American presence in that country continues, so does the reliance on contractors for everything from base security to doing soldiers’ laundry. Corporations such as Fluor and DynCorp have made billions of dollars courtesy of American taxpayers, according to Foreign Policy, and more profits are in the offing.


But as the troop drawdown continues, so does the reduction in the U.S. government’s ability to monitor what the contractors are up to. DynCorp, which has made more than $6 billion since it picked up its first contract for base support in 2009, has previously been found to have overbilled the government. In addition, both DynCorp and Fluor are being investigated for human trafficking because of the way that third-country workers are brought to Afghanistan. There are reports of kickbacks and “recruiting fees” prospective workers must pay to obtain jobs with contractors. Of the 30,000 contractors currently in the country doing work on behalf of the United States, about 20,000 are locals or third-country nationals.


For some projects, there’s no way to tell if taxpayers are getting their money’s worth or if contractors are playing by the rules. Many of the reconstruction projects are in areas of the country where U.S. government personnel aren’t allowed because they’re more than one hour from an advanced medical facility. Currently only about 10% of the country is accessible to U.S. personnel tasked with contractor oversight.


“With the drawdown of [coalition] forces in Afghanistan, the ability of U.S. government personnel to go out and kick the tires in order to provide proper oversight is limited,” John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction told Foreign Policy. “With less of the country accessible, it means the American taxpayer is footing the bill for billions of dollars in projects that a U.S. government employee may never see.” The projects that are now out of view of Sopko’s office are valued at more than $725 million.


That, of course, is just a fraction of what it will cost to maintain a U.S. military presence in Afghanistan. Todd Harrison, a defense budget expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, estimates that the 5,500 troops set to be there in 2017 will cost about $20 billion, with much of that going to contractors.

-Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

Cashing In on the Decision to Keep U.S. Troops in Afghanistan (by Kate Brannen, Foreign Policy)

Get the Hell Out of Afghanistan Already! (by Ron Jacobs, CounterPunch)

Wasted Spending in Afghanistan Keeps Skyrocketing as U.S. Military Blows Millions on another Unneeded Operations Center (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

More than Two-Thirds of Afghanistan Reconstruction Money has Gone to One Company: DynCorp International (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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