The War in Afghanistan had one clear winner: US contractors

Justin Ward
Published in
3 min readAug 17, 2021

A soldier with the 108th Cavalry Regiment secures an old Soviet facility in Afghanistan as they prepare for a “contract rodeo” in 2009. Troops guided more than 100 building contractors on a tour of the facility, which was to be converted into a forward-operating base. (ResoluteSupportMedia / CC-BY)

The chaotic evacuation of Afghanistan has dominated the news cycle over the past day, with every station playing non-stop scenes of abject desparation at the Kabul airport. In the most horrific footage, Afghan civilians can be seen clinging to the wheels of departing US transports and falling to their deaths as the planes gain altitude. This tragic episode marks an abrupt end to two decades of “nation-building” that somehow left the country even less stable and democratic than it was when the United States invaded.

One might point to the hasty retreat, reminiscent of the fall of Saigon, and say that the United States “lost” the War in Afghanistan.

However, the real losers are the Afghan people, who have to live in the hell that US intervention created.

And the winners? The US contractors who spent the past 20 years profitting off the conflict and raking in billions in the process.

Lords of war

To date, the United States has spent an estimated $131 billion on reconstruction in Afghanistan. The overwhelming majority of that was doled out to contractors — $89 billion just from 2007 to 2014.

Afghanistan was a feeding frenzy for US contractors, who at one point outnumbered troops three to one. The Pentagon and State Deparmtent were shelling out a fortune in contracts — often on a no-bid basis — with very little oversight.

The whole thing was ripe for exploitation.

According to the agency charged with overseeing reconstruction, thirty cents out of every dollar paid to contractors in Afghanistan was lost to graft and waste, with the latter accounting for the lion’s share.

Contractors were paid top dollar for major infrastructure projects only to deliver roads that fell apart after a few months and police stations that couldn’t be used to police anything.

Accountability in war contracting is practically non-existent, creating a moral hazard. In some cases, contractors accused of fraud have been rewarded with even bigger contracts.

Justin Ward
Writer for

Journalist and activist. Founder and co-chair of DivestSPD. Bylines at SPLC, The Baffler, GEN, USA Today. Follow on Twitter: @justwardoctrine, @DivestSPD