President Joe Biden has decided to withdraw from Afghanistan and “end America's longest war.” The drawdown of 2,500 American boots on the ground will start on May 1 and is scheduled to be completed by September 11.
His administration is set to reallocate the resources employed in Afghanistan to Indo-Pacific. That there is little justification for the continuation of American soldiers in Afghanistan is acknowledged across the political spectrum. Many analysts see the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 as a “vexing and largely failed chapter in American foreign policy”.
But when did the US military invade to rebuild Afghanistan? It penetrated Kabul only to reassert the American primacy as a part of its strategy to reshape the middle east. So where is the question of failure? Pentagon lost just over 2000 soldiers in its twenty-year occupation of Kabul. Since 2002 America has spent $88.32bn on building the Afghan National Army and police force, mainly to help the occupying army stay safe and safeguard the imperial infrastructure.
It is a strange argument that the US is worried about the spate of violence that may erupt after its withdrawal. The point is that over the past two decades Washington has been the main perpetrator of violence in Afghanistan. The US forces have brazenly employed air raids dropping precision-guided munition and MOAB (Massive Ordnance Air Burst Bomb) with impunity, making Afghanistan the “deadliest places in the world to be a civilian”.
The invasion has been milked by the military-industrial complex (MIC) to push its neoliberal agenda of privatising military operations. Pentagon bought the idea because it helped the government reduce political costs of the wars and wage “forever wars”.
Both, Iraq as well as Afghan wars, are linked to the re-emergence of private military companies (PMCs). The US government is now the world's largest consumer of private military and security services.
The US Congress Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan concluded in 2011 that the two wars led to an “unhealthy over-reliance” on contractors.” Contractors constitute more than half of the military personnel working for the United States in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Using the twin wars, the MIC expanded from being a supplier of military hardware to provider of military logistic and even combat services in the hostile zones.
This expansion is important to understand because besides the US military, Taliban and Afghan government the fourth actor that will determine the future of Kabul is the “invisible army” created by corporates.
The majority of the mainstream analysis is focused on the withdrawal of 2500 official US troops but there is hardly any discussion on the 18000 military contractors that continue to float in Afghanistan.
The removal of US troops will eventually lead to the reductions in requirements for contracted support, however, it would be foolhardy to presume that they will all pack their bags along with the US army.
Afghan war may have been bloody and costly for the US State, but it has been a booming business for private military companies (PMCs) that hire cheap mercenary workforce from poor countries, form a “disposable army” of “Third County Nationals,” to imperial ambitions of the American elite. According to a recent US government report “about 4,700 of the contractors are Afghans hired locally, but nearly three-quarters come from outside the country, including about a third who are U.S. citizens… Many of the rest are from developing countries such as Uganda and Nepal.”
According to Deborah Avant, a scholar with rich body of work on privatisation of security, In the Afghan war more than 3,814 US contractors have died while only 2,300 US military personnel lost their lives.
Post the exit, the PMCs may not be directly contracted by Pentagon, they could continue operations inside Afghanistan through proxies or subsidiary companies based outside the United States. America may formally exit but informally its military influence will continue to linger in Kabul.
The US will not disentangle from a country that is geo-strategically placed to serve its interests against Iran, Russia and more important China. Landlocked Afghanistan provides access routes to Iran, Pakistan, and Russia.
In the age of connectivity, America will not commit the strategic mistake of vacating the vantage spot that enables it to overlook the new coalition building between Iran, Russia and China.
China and Russia see Afghanistan as a part of a larger set of regional connectivity rather than just a terror-infested country. They seek stability in Afghanistan to ensure the security and safety of the alternative trade routes that are coming up in the area. This need is particularly acute for China, which has invested $60 billion in China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to gain an opening into the Arabian Sea. Abandoning Kabul would also mean reduced influence in Pakistan and leaving the entire region for exploitation by Russia and China.
President Trump who initiated a talk with the Taliban to facilitate withdrawal of US troops was also responsible for the increase in the involvement of PMCs in Afghanistan. During his presidency, the use of private security contractors in Afghanistan increased by more than 65 percent .
However, much like his predecessor, Donald Trump, Biden maintains silence on the future role of military contractors (a euphemism for corporate military entities). And the role envisaged for them in the post-exit strategy designed to hold the Taliban accountable.
However, learning from the East India Company’s example and privatisation of US occupation of Afghanistan is being actively considered in the US elite circles.
The Indian Afghan Policy that is largely focussed on the use of Taliban by Pakistan after the so-called US withdrawal will have to take into account the changing imperial infrastructure in Afghanistan. Also of interest will be the attitude of Private military companies towards the Taliban and how they would use it to advance their profits as well as the US strategic objectives.