The Empire Rots from Within

Your tax dollars in Afghanistan

On August 18 I wrote about how the CIA covertly funded the mujaheddin in Afghanistan in order to provoke an invasion by the Soviets. Once the Soviets did invade, we continued funding them throughout the next ten years (1979-1989). Total cost to the taxpayers was around $2.4 billion. Our so-called representatives never asked for our consent or even informed us about this expenditure. When the Soviets finally pulled out, the mujaheddin—which by then had morphed into the Taliban—took over the country.

We invaded in 2001. Our 20-year war in Afghanistan cost us an estimated $2.3 trillion, nearly 1,000 times more than what we provided the mujaheddin. Just as we did in Vietnam and so many other countries, we set up a corrupt puppet government. What I didn’t know at the time I posted, or perhaps had forgotten, was that in addition to financing Afghan officials and military who professed to be our allies, we continued funding the Taliban—our supposed enemy. I was reminded of this by Prof. David Vine in his recent article in The Guardian. He linked to other reports showing where the money went. I quote from them below.

Once the U.S. invaded, we paid the Taliban to refrain from attacking our supply trucks. We hired contractors to deliver food and equipment to troops based in the countryside, sometimes only a few miles from Kabul, and the contractors a portion of their pay as protection money. According to a 2009 report in The Nation, “US military officials in Kabul estimate that a minimum of 10 percent of the Pentagon’s logistics contracts–hundreds of millions of dollars–consists of payments to insurgents.”

While rural Afghans were living on as little as $2 per day, the C.I.A. delivered wads of cash to the office of Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai. The New York Times reported in 2013 that our agents dropped off tens of millions of dollars there, in suitcases, backpacks, and even plastic bags. I’m sure Karzai’s successor, Ashraf Ghani, was treated equally well, although he claims to have fled the country carrying nothing but the clothes on his back. (I guess he already deposited his share of the loot in a Swiss bank.) We also paid off warlords and other government officials, including known opium dealers.

The Washington Post printed a lengthy story on how we funded corruption during the war. Just one item: Gert Berthold, a forensic accountant, analyzed 3,000 Defense Department contracts worth $106 billion, and concluded that at least 40 percent of the money ended up in the pockets of insurgents (the Taliban), criminal syndicates or corrupt Afghan officials.

But most of the $2.3 trillion didn’t end up in Afghan hands. About 80%-90% was a massive wealth transfer from the taxpayer to the military industrial complex. As Prof. Vine writes, “Contractors have paid Washington DC lobbyists millions and made millions more in campaign contributions to Congress members who have inflated military budgets beyond cold war highs. The military industrial complex has become a system of largely legalized corruption revolving around entrenched incentives to wage endless war for financial and political gain.”

In essence our legislators are for sale to the highest bidder. Those who blame the loss of the war on a culture of corruption in Afghanistan are, at the very least, misguided. Our system puts theirs to shame.

5 Responses to The Empire Rots from Within

  1. Connie O Byrne August 22, 2021 at 8:18 pm #

    As always, you lay it out plain as day for us to see reality…if we’re willing to listen. No blinders to the truth, now or before. I, for one, thank you. Too many other voices are trying to spread the blame when it was our arrogance and ignorance of the way Afghan systems work that got us here. As my son, a retired linguist for the Marines, used to tell me…the entire region had functioned as a gathering of tribal leaders for centuries. Anyone who thinks they can just March in and change that…
    Keep speaking Truth to Power. Your voice is needed

    • Martha Shelley August 23, 2021 at 10:34 am #

      It’s not just how Afghan systems work. It’s that our military-industrial complex is just as corrupt, on a much larger scale. And all the trillions it sucks up in order to kill people around the world could have been used here on infrastructure, health care, research, and education. Meanwhile I see more and more homeless in my neighborhood, more and more people going bankrupt on account of medical bills, etc.

  2. M. Frank August 23, 2021 at 8:35 am #

    Thank you for this thorough & focused narration of the fresh hell we have now taken on.

  3. Dennis Siple August 30, 2021 at 1:46 pm #


    Nailed it. Even Eisenhower pointed out that the military/industrial complex was too big for its breeches in the 1950s. You could take Rachel Madow’s desk any time.

  4. Martha Shelley August 30, 2021 at 1:53 pm #

    Thank you, Dennis. In my old age I’ve become somewhat introverted, so I don’t think I’d like Rachel Maddow’s job, but I wouldn’t mind the salary…

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