For PBS this week, I discuss the economic consequences of ending the war:
While one might assume troops do that (and many do), the U.S. hires local Afghan mercenary companies to handle perimeter security in some areas of Afghanistan. Part of the impetus behind Hamid Karzai’s political games with private security firms is his desire to control these groups (in December he dropped a push to disband most of them). Once the U.S. withdraws its troops and leaves its bases empty, many of these armed Afghan contractors will not have employers, leaving the country awash — yet again — with young, armed unemployed men. Very few people, if any, are making plans for demobilizing these contractors and finding them suitable employment elsewhere…
Suffice to say, the economy of Afghanistan is substantially dependent on the U.S. — in the form of military expenditure, but also in aid money. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction tracks both programs and while the numbers are eye-popping (hundreds of millions of dollars are spent each year), SIGAR also notes how the military and USAID have a difficult time tracking the effects of the money they spend. We know this money flows into the economy of Afghanistan but we don’t know what effect it really has. As a result, we just don’t know what effect pulling all this expenditure out of Afghanistan will have, either, beyond guesses and estimation.
There’s more. I do think winding down the war will be good for both Afghanistan and the U.S.—politically, economically, and socially. But it will also be disruptive, and will create pressures elsewhere. We should acknowledge those pressures and start planning for how we will adapt to them. In both countries.