A hasty U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan as the Taliban overpowered the government and took control of the capital left many wondering what happened to the trillions of dollars spent over the last two decades since the 2001 U.S. invasion, and who benefited from the money.
One thing is clear. More than $2.3 trillion — $300 million a day according to a Brown University calculation – that was spent on the “forever war” went to private contractors to power the logistics. Private contractors served largely as hired guns, but also as cleaners, cooks, construction workers, technicians and servers on sprawling U.S. bases.
The employment of private security contractors in Afghanistan soared during former President Donald Trump’s tenure to nearly 6,000.
Almost 17,000 contractors operated in Afghanistan, according to documents prepared for Congress by the Defense Department earlier this year ahead of the withdrawal. This number dropped to 7,800 as of July.
In the months leading to the end of the 20-year war, major defense companies were awarded contracts in Afghanistan worth hundreds of millions of dollars and spent tens of millions lobbying the federal government on defense issues.
In terms of lives lost, contractors paid a higher price than U.S. service members since the beginning of the U.S.’s longest war. About 3,814 contractors had been killed in Afghanistan as of late 2019, compared with approximately 2,300 troops, according to the Washington Post’s Afghanistan Papers.
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Why? Because the Afghan government relied on these foreign military contractors and trainers to function, said John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), in March.
The three largest defense companies in the world are all U.S. companies. Their combined revenue accounts for 1 percent of the $10 trillion U.S. GDP, according to the CIA World Factbook.
The price of shares in several of the world’s largest defense contractors sank in August as the chaotic withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces from Afghanistan led investors to reassess their commitments to beneficiaries of the U.S. military-industrial complex.
Here are the five military contractors that ate up as much as $2 trillion of the money the U.S. Treasury spent in Afghanistan over the last two decades.
Based in Bethesda, Maryland, Lockheed Martin is the world’s largest defense contractor that deals in global security and aerospace products. It employs about 114,000 people worldwide.
Lockheed made $65.4 billion in sales in 2020. If you bought and held $10,000 of this company’s stock in 2001, it’s now valued at $133,559.21.
Lockheed is best known for its Black Hawk helicopters which were widely used in the Afghan war. The big bucks for Lockheed come from contracts for the F-35 stealth fighter ($12 billion in the current budget alone), the combat systems for Aegis cruiser ships, and lots of electronics for command-control, cyberwar, and space communications.
Boeing is best known for its commercial airliners but its big-ticket defense contracts relate to the B-1 bomber, B-52s, C-17 cargo jet, V-22 Osprey vertical take-off aircraft, and F-15 and F-18 fighters. All were in Afghanistan.
“Seeing first-hand how these troops count on Boeing ought to make us redouble our efforts to ensure we give them the best equipment we can,” said Brian Nelson, a spokesman for Integrated Defense Systems at Boeing, after a visit to Afghanistan in 2009.
Raytheon Technologies Corporation, based in Waltham, Massachusetts, is an aerospace and defense company that provides advanced systems and services for commercial, military and government customers worldwide. It has 195,000 employees worldwide who work in avionics, cybersecurity, directed energy, electric propulsion, hypersonic, and quantum physics.
Until 2020, it was known as Raytheon Company before it merged with the United Technologies Corporation aerospace businesses to become the third-largest defense contractor in the world.
Apart from selling weapons to governments across the world it also offered military training in Afghanistan. Its big contracts were for a new nuclear cruise missile, strategic missile defense systems, and a lot of projects dealing with sensors, satellites, electronics, and cyberwar.
General Dynamics Information Technology, a business unit of General Dynamics is a defense and Information technology contractor headquartered in Reston, Virginia. It was awarded a task to provide information technology management services in Afghanistan to support U.S. Army corps of Engineers (USACE) Middle East District reconstruction and infrastructure development programs.
The task order was awarded under the IT enterprise solutions contract and had a potential value of $32 million over five years. It also had multibillion-dollar contracts for nuclear submarines, Burke-class destroyer ships, and on the commercial side, Gulfstream jets.
Founded in 1939, Northrop Grumman is a leading global security company providing innovative systems, products, and solutions in aerospace, electronics, information systems and technical services to government and commercial customers worldwide. Northrop Grumman’s Europe air traffic management systems subsidiary, Northrop Grumman Park Air Systems, was awarded a contract by NATO to provide a second air traffic control receiver site for Kandahar Air Base, Afghanistan.