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Milo Minderbinder in Afghanistan: Part 2

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Here is another excerpt from the recently published book Funding the Enemy: How U.S. Taxpayers Bankroll the Taliban (Prometheus Books, 2012).

The following excerpt is reprinted with permission of the publisher. Any resemblance between the reality described and the realm of surrealism is strictly coincidental.

The military-industrial complex certainly continued getting theirs. By 2010, there were 104,000 private contractors working in Afghanistan -- more civilian workers than soldiers. According to a Congressional Research Service report, contractors made up a full 62 percent of the Department of Defense's work-force in Afghanistan. And with the upsurge of thirty thousand more troops, the Congressional Research Service estimated they needed an additional twenty-six thousand to fifty-six thousand contractors to do laundry, fix meals, haul garbage, clean latrines, provide security, and tend to the vast web of technology that connected the global web of war.

American civilians plucked out of tenuous financial and personal situations jammed Afghanistan. A fat, surly plumber at the Jalalabad Air Base grousing about child support and reduced R&R time in Qatar, the go-to get-away place. An Afghan American interpreter from California returned to Afghanistan to work as a translator because her husband's dire medical conditions had devoured their savings. She hoped her salary of well over a $100,000 would put them back on an even keel. Though a Dari-speaker who had fled Kabul in the1970s, she was assigned to the Pashto-speaking regions of eastern Afghanistan, where she often bent over Pashto-language textbooks for on-the-job learning. A contract manager in southern Afghanistan said he had been downsized out of a corporate executive job. His age and the US economy forced him to war-zone contracting work. A kitchen worker from Texas dreamt of Dallas as she flipped eggs on the Pakistan border. A Xe (formerly Blackwater, now Academi) security guard talked bitterly of onerous alimony and the perfidy of the military for drumming him out of the army. But they were just picking up small change. Experts estimated in 2009 that the United States spent $23 billion on contractors in Afghanistan since the invasion--the experts had to estimate because the United States only started keeping records on contractor spending in 2007. Senator Claire McCaskill contended that $950 million of the $23 billion are "in questioned and unsupported costs."

Eight years into the war there was still no central database of all the development contracts and contractors. The military and civilian electronic databases were incompatible, rendering central coordination beyond the ken of the supposedly cooperating groups -- and beyond the easy scrutiny of investigating bodies. The investigators couldn't follow the money. A GAO audit found none of the "cooperating" agencies would vouch for the accuracy of the information: "The agencies could not verify whether the reported data were accurate or complete."

The shortage of contracting officer representatives (CORs) led to the horrific lack of oversight. Trained to read contracts and assess contractor performance, CORs traditionally served as the frontline watchdogs for the taxpayers' money. But in the draconian post-Cold War cutbacks, the CORs were the first to go. And then Afghanistan and Iraq happened. In 2007, then Senator Barack Obama said, "we cannot win a fight for hearts and minds when we outsource critical missions to unaccountable contractors." And so, we didn't.