What is an Afghan life worth?



In every war, civilians suffer the most. They can barely defend themselves in crossfires but easily fall victim to attacks. The latest tragic "mistake" by a U.S. airstrike killed 10 civilians, including seven children, of a family in Afghanistan. One Afghan family was thus torn apart, so were tens of thousands of others over the past 20 years.

Civilian deaths due to U.S. and allied forces' airstrikes dramatically increased as the number of U.S. troops stationed in Afghanistan declined. According to the latest figure available, in 2019, 700 Afghan civilians died in airstrikes – more than in any other year since the beginning of the war.

A quote from General Butler in 1933 may offer a clue for the U.S. fixation with airstrikes and the broader military intervention. He said, a war "is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many." In the Afghan war where loss is reckoned in lives, the only winner is the U.S. military-industrial complex.

Under government contracts, private defense businesses produce fighter jets and land-based combat vehicles, manufacture operation systems and contribute more soldiers to the war zones than the U.S. military. Outsourcing the frontline tasks is a win-win for both Washington and the commercial companies. The White House has to put a cap over the number of servicemen and women it can deploy abroad because of domestic pressure. But away from public oversight, the politicians turn to defense contractors to sustain U.S. dominance over other countries at concealed financial and human cost.

Every year, around half of discretionary spending of the U.S. is taken by defense spending, over half of which goes to contractors. In 2019, for example, the paycheck of the defense monopolies was $370 billion in total. The "revolving door" connecting the government and the defense industry further feeds the longest war in U.S. history. Under the Department of Defense (DoD) supervision, the defense contractors are inclined to employ ex-senior defense officials and high-ranking veterans, whose connections can translate into coffer. Their sway over the rank and file as well as their lobbying seals deals and creates affluence for their companies in the prolonged wars.


An Afghan border forces soldier stands guard at a U.S. forces base which has been handed over to Afghan border forces in Dih Bala district of Nangarhar province, eastern Afghanistan, July 20, 2020. /Xinhua

Dick Cheney's involvement in defense industries is as well-documented as the mistakes he made in thrusting the U.S. into senseless wars. In between his time as secretary of defense and vice president, Cheney served as CEO of Halliburton, the owner of Kellogg, Brown and Root (KBR). According to USAspending.gov, KBR captured over $50 billion in contracts from the DoD between 2001 and 2019.

Other major defense companies – and their stakeholders – all made a fortune from bloodshed. Since the U.S. invasion in Afghanistan in 2001, stock prices of Boeing soared by nearly 10 times, at an annualized growth rate of over 12 percent. Just imagine how the millions of dollars' worth of stock in such companies have changed the members of Congress in viewing and deciding the wars ravaging the other side of the world. The defense contractors ramp up donations for supportive individuals and committees wielding control over defense spending to gain more say in political debates.

The decisions to start and sustain wars are thus shaped by people with vested interests in extending the war as long as possible. But when politicians and war-mongers are drowned in personal wealth, innocent Afghans are struggling amid smoke and flames and dying in drone strikes maneuvered for nothing but interests. Even when the U.S. wound down forces in the war zones, war equipment was still provided with then Afghan government forces groomed by the U.S. In the second decade of the war, the U.S. provided over $3.2 billion for the Afghan Air Force, including nearly $1 billion for equipment and aircraft. No sensible investor would throw money at any project if it did not generate handsome returns. But astute politicians and businessmen made the wrong bet: they underestimated people's urge for survival in their homeland.

The U.S., driven by political-corporate greed, robbed Afghanistan of stability and tranquility for two decades. Human lives are merely "collateral" instead of "central" to war tactics and strategies. The loss and pain the Afghan people endure are not worthy of reparations and compensation. People wonder, what price tag the U.S. has put on Afghans' lives.