Following intense pressure from the Pentagon and the ex-military officers now wielding unprecedented influence in the White House, Donald Trump announced last month that the United States' war in Afghanistan will go on into its 17th year. The rationales are many, but all are clearly based in wishful thinking. To wit: A continued American military presence will make America safer by rooting out terrorists there, even though there are more anti-U.S. fighters there now than ever before, in part because the American presence itself naturally generates a self-fulfilling loop of resistance. More troops, many argue, will force the Taliban to the negotiating table. But it's hard to imagine that what the previous 100,000-troop surge could not do, 4,000 more will do. The White House knows how many soldiers and civilians fearfully believe that if America withdraws from a foreign battlefield, the thousands of American lives lost so far will suddenly become meaningless. The war is then sold as something that must be won to keep the honor in those deaths.
But there's another logic behind the call for more war—at least, when it comes to certain corporate interests: For many companies that have, for years, been cashing giant checks from the Pentagon's trillion dollar war budget, there are still an extraordinary number of dollars to be made. A significant portion of the almost $5 trillion spent and obligated to be spent on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq has gone to military contractors whose workers currently outnumber soldiers in Afghanistan three to one. Lockheed Martin, DynCorp, Black & Veatch, Academi (formerly Blackwater), and the oil companies that ship the fuel on which the army runs are just some of the most profitable. The contracts often come jumbo-sized: the Harris Corporation last year, for example, was awarded a $1.7 billion contract to supply communications equipment to Afghan security forces.
A significant portion of the almost $5 trillion spent and obligated to be spent on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq has gone to military contractors.
For the Afghan people, another year of war is another year of bloodshed, and dislocation. Over 100,000 Afghans have died directly of the violence, and by conservative estimates another 200,000 have died who would not have absent the war: People felled by malnutrition and disease that kill after families are pushed off land that once fed them, lose breadwinners to the violence, or are unable to travel for medical care in emergencies given unsafe roads. Four million Afghans have been displaced from their homes, pushed by the violence into urban slums or across the border into Pakistan or Iran. There they must try to scrape together a meager living and adjust to being ostracized as outsiders—the very sort of difficulties that can prove perfect recruitment fodder for the Taliban and its ilk.
Sectarianism and its corrosions, never a significant issue in Afghanistan, are now on the rise. Depression and anxiety are at epidemic levels as a quite natural result of all of this pain of family members killed and home and community lost. Drug addiction runs rampant as well, as the opium trade burgeons in the chaos of war. Education of the next generation falters, and Afghans' trust in their own government falls further each year as the corruption that accompanies the war dollars America spends grows more flagrant.
None of it adds up to a recipe for military success, yet once again troops will be deployed. Another year of war simply adds many more Afghan lives and more U.S. dollars to those already lost.