The Looming Afghanistan Crash

by Joshua Foust on 5/18/2011 · 3 comments

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.


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– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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{ 3 comments }

Diagrammatics May 18, 2011 at 12:38 pm

Josh-

I am sorry re Twitter earlier when I said this piece is amplifying the drums for the forever war. I’m sorry because it’s not what I meant. Because I/wereaders read your writing much more than you read mine/ours, its hard to remember sometimes that we readers can sort of gauge smaller shifts in a more public figure’s writings more than yall can in ours. Thus my statement was more of a huff through the nose before my first cup of coffee than a deep passiveagro caffeinated sigh. But because ourreader comments publicize one outta every 100 we formulate (for us more reader than orators), the tweets/comments don’t have the sort of context/background that yalls do. Knowing what I know about your thoughts re Afghan citizens, it seems to me my tweet should have read “GAH! go back2 solidarity 1st w most disenfranchised AFG nt DC uppermiddleclass’

This is more what I was thinking:
How will the drawdown be good for the US polity? The piece cites the economic problems- that there are more jobs and companies with financial stakes in afghanistan than merely the troops and DoD. So the drawdown will be a financial hurt for them of course. Is the govt credit rating and saved spending the most important success of a drawback? Isnt it also possible that the time is ripe for actually a real realignment of the capital expenditures of DoD aligned business? Or is that impossible/still to entrenched? how do we want it to change? what do we want with these 100K?

Droves of highly skilled workers and companies who have been employed in some way in the US on the afghan effort will be laid off/financially hurt. There are some economists who would probably cite other classes of unemployed workers in the US as more worrisome to overall US econ health.

What about the Afghan side? What sort of state and non state actions does a massive change/reduction to revenue/rent streams mean for Afghan polity? You say that its largely unknown- of course. This line seems the most important “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. ” It would probably help to know more about these networks- recruitment networks, soldiers, bosses etc, when thinking about future afghan security dilemmae.

The ‘invade Libya’ joke by the Defense executive is funny because of course its ‘easiest’ to transition into another task whose capital outlays are similiar to what a company has already stockpiled. Whats the AF correlate? Of course everyone is going to drum up re opium and road mafias. So we might now know the magnitude of the pullout, but where and with whom would be the place to look.

M Shannon May 18, 2011 at 2:13 pm

“local Afghan mercenary companies” – is a legal contradiction. You can’t be a mercenary supporting the Afghan government’s policies and an Afghan at the same time. Ditto for ISAF/ NATO citizens.

HiPhone 4 May 19, 2011 at 2:47 am

You can’t be a mercenary supporting the Afghan government’s policies and an Afghan at the same time.usbonline

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