After 20 years in Afghanistan, $2 trillion spent and countless lives destroyed what have the U.S. and the U.K. gained? 

A shit tonne of money actually. 

Photo: Reuters

A couple of weeks ago The Taliban recaptured control of Afghanistan, ushering in harrowing scenes of people desperately fleeing an impending barbaric regime shift. Many are asking how the U.S. and U.K. could have failed so catastrophically in their endeavour to “liberate" Afghanistan and with good reason. The Costs of War Project at Brown University calculates U.S. spending of $2.26 trillion over the course of their 20 year occupation. As of April 2021 the Costs of War project also estimates a death toll of 241’000 (including 71’000 civilians) in the Afghanistan and Pakistan war zone. For those of you who are only passively interested in geopolitics (which for your mental health is probably for the best) your understanding of the invasion of Afghanistan is probably that it was an attempt to find and execute Bin Laden following 9/11. The U.S. were also tasked with arming and training the Afghan government to suppress insurgent Taliban forces, who have now taken over. In fairness this is partially true. Given the events of 9/11 and the proliferation of Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East, I am sure that the U.S. and U.K. genuinely wanted to find and kill Bin Laden. 

Rationally though, if we consider that Bin Laden was found and killed in Pakistan (rather than Afghanistan) a decade later and U.S. and U.K. forces failed to stem the Taliban uprising, the entire two decade escapade can only be read as abject failure. It is the foreign policy equivalent of setting out to bake a cake and burning the entire house down. So are we to believe that consecutive administrations both Republican and Democrat, Labour and Conservative and all their military strategists were just completely inept? 

Personally I don’t think so. As amusing and even comforting as it may be to pretend that politicians are stupid, it takes a forensic level of calculation and cunning to obtain power and navigate running a country in a globalised world. So if this two decade escapade was not born of incompetence, why did it happen? In my opinion it comes down to three things. The military industrial complex, Imperialism and Western Paternalism. All of which co-constitute each other in the least satisfying threesome Western civilisation has ever initiated. In this article I will be looking at the military industrial complex’s role in the disastrous episode. 

The military industrial complex explained

In 1961 outgoing President Dwight Eisenhower warned of the military industry’s growing influence in U.S. politics. War is big business and it creates jobs. For example, Derby where I am from is home to a new Rolls Royce’s aerospace headquarters. They make jet engines for fighter jets among other things. So in essence: without people to bomb, a lot of people in my hometown might be out of a job. PW Defence in Draycott, Derbyshire also produces rubber bullets and tear gas, which were reportedly used against Black Lives Matter protesters in Minneapolis. So again: without heavily militarised policing against civilians, a lot of people in my county might be out of a job. I don’t think anyone who works at either Rolls Royce or PW Defence are directly responsible for the events of Afghanistan or Minneapolis, but it’s useful to illustrate how even a local economy profits from state sanctioned violence. 

Let’s think bigger than Derbyshire now. Former Prime Minister Theresa May’s husband Philip May worked as an investment relationship manager for the Capital Group. Capital Group is the largest shareholder in arms manufacturer BAE Systems. Their share price soared after airstrikes in Syria that Theresa May’s sanctioned as Prime Minister. According to The Express, Capital Group is also the second-largest shareholder in Lockheed Martin, a US military arms firm that supplies weapons systems, aircraft and logistical support. It is perhaps no surprise then, that she answered an unequivocal “yes” when asked if she would be willing to push a nuclear button killing 100’000 men women and children during a parliamentary debate in 2016. The Guardian reports that U.K. weapons exports reached £11 billion in 2019. With this in mind, it becomes clear why politicians would advocate for whatever foreign policy tactic requires the manufacturing of weapons. Regardless of whether they eventually achieve any of the aims outlined to get the public on board in the first place. Which in the case of Afghanistan they clearly didn’t. 

So what now?

By no means do I proclaim to be a military strategist, my proficiency at Call of Duty is as far into that murky realm as I am willing to tread. I do feel however, that as an electorate, we need to understand our nation’s role in global conflict. We can no longer naively accept that foreign invasions are done in “good faith” when it is abundantly clear that there is massive financial gain to be had, whether invading makes the situation better or worse. 

Video: YouTube/BBC News

In 2017 Jeremy Corbyn was heckled by a live studio audience for suggesting that “negotiation and talks” were a better foreign policy strategy than firing Trident missiles. I am not suggesting that whacking the kettle on and having a sit down heart to heart with Al-Qaeda post 9/11 was an option. But going forward, if anything can be gained from the tragedies of Afghanistan, it should be the acknowledgement that we need more intelligent ways of dealing with global conflict because the old way is not working.

Article written by Martyn Ewoma


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