Masters of War
‘You can fool all of the people some of the time … and some of the people all of the time … but …
The US occupation forces in Afghanistan have learned a particular lesson from the disaster that is Iraq, and they have learned it big time. In the first, largely contracted out war in history, US and other foreign civilians were brought in to carry out just about every task, from the mundane to those viewed as ‘front-line’. A direct consequence of this strategy was millions of unemployed and very disgruntled Iraqis, a large percentage of whom became active or passive supporters of the forces of insurgency/resistance against the perceived injustices of the occupation. In the corporate boardrooms of US War Machine Inc. the alarm bells were ringing; costs (dead bodies and bodies with bits missing) were eating into public opinion and support for the corporations’ products (perpetual war and war materials/services) was declining and, potentially, could severely impact their bottom lines. A slight shift in strategy was called for.
Afghanistan, in recent times, has never really been a nation state; it is an area of the world that is a patch-work of tribal fiefdoms that shift in and out of local alliances at the whim of chieftains or as balances of power dictate. In order for US and NATO forces to function, in what they like to call the ‘Battlespace’, they have to factor these tribal leaders and their shifting alliances into their planning. The logistics for any invader/occupier of this land are daunting in the extreme. It is a wild, unforgiving place peopled by proud, largely unconquered tribes with very long memories who do not take kindly to uninvited foreigners trying to lord it over them. Ameliorating some of that hostility would enable more focus on the ‘flagged-up’ enemy, al-Qa’ida and their Taliban associates.
As the conflict dragged on and soon to be president of US War Machine Inc. Senator Obama announced that, in his opinion, it was a ‘war of necessity’, the strategic planners came up with an ingenious ploy that would give gainful employment to Afghans, put money into their pockets and just might persuade them to view the occupiers of their lands in a sufficiently different light that they would stop shooting at or blowing up corporate assets and personnel. The name of this new strategy – ‘Host Nation Trucking’, and it works something like this . .
Take a gaggle of well connected, powerful and non-too-scrupulous ‘business men’ and award them six trucking contracts currently worth $2.2 billion. People like the Popal brothers, owners of the huge Watan Group, both convicted whilst in the US of dealing in heroin and cousins of Afghan president Hamid Karzai. Or Hamed Wardek, owner of NCL Holdings and son of current Afghan defence minister, General Abdul Wardek. NCL includes such luminaries as ‘legendary former CIA case officer and clear-headed thinker and writer’ (says Senator John Kerry, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, October 2009) Milton Beardon on its advisory board. Or Asia Security Group, owned by Hashmat Karzai, another relative of the president. (Aram Roston, ‘How the US Funds the Taliban’, The Nation, 30 November) These companies already have a well oiled model for doing business along the ancient trading routes and in the minefield that is present day Afghanistan – each has an armed ‘private security division’ and field agents who buy-off attacks by fractious warlords along any route. In this way US and NATO troops should get everything from ammunition to toilet paper supplied to even the their furthest-flung outposts with fewer inconvenient disruptions.
That was the theory behind the plan and in reality it mostly works pretty well. The US Defense Dept. throws huge quantities of dollars to the contractors, who in turn buy off the warlords who control those routes that pass through their territories. Many of these warlords are associated with the Taliban or are the local Taliban commanders, so extensive funding finds its way into Taliban coffers. Even the Taliban, who are the supreme warlords in control of the south of the country, are not immune from getting in on the action directly. Pay the premiums for their ‘insurance’ and it is sufficient for just two of their escorting ‘technicals’ to ensure the safe passage of any convoy through any stretch of hostile territory, which in reality is everywhere. Fail to pay up and the consequences are guaranteed to be devastating and deadly. Drivers can be picked off by snipers and rocket propelled grenades will blow the vehicles to pieces. One US owned firm, Four Horsemen International, has so far refused to pay and has tried to take on the Taliban with its own security teams; their convoys are attacked on almost every mission and the price in lives has been high. At some stage, no doubt, they will have to follow other security firms and do what they must in order to survive. An indication of premium rates can be gleaned from the following: per truck, per section of territory under a particular warlord = approx. $800, although it depends on what is being carried. Highway 1 from Kabul to Kandahar is about 300 kms, the local warlord, Commander Ruhullah, levies around $1,500 per truck and for military supplies this is the only route to the south, to Helmand and the Taliban heartland. The NCL company alone is billed $500,000 per month for ‘services’ rendered en-route through Ruhullah’s turf, an indication of the scale of business.
Throwing money at a problem to make it go away has been elevated to the level of a doctrine within the US military, which goes under the title of ‘Money as a Weapons System’. To give some perspective, the $2.2 billion, two-year effort to hire Afghani trucks and truckers represents around 10 percent of that country’s GDP and although firm figures are hard to come by it is estimated that between 10-20 percent is finding its way to the Taliban. The regime in Kabul has recently increased the wages of its police and army by $45 to around $125 per month, far less than the Taliban pays its fighters, so why work for that lot when the ‘firm’ down the road is offering a better deal? No surprise then that the effective strength of these two organisations is around half of the claimed 90,000 for the police and 95,000 for the army, or that the power and influence of the Taliban continues to grow. They have their very own milch cow with a seeming never-ending stream of greenbacks. US spin would have us believe that it is drugs money that funds the Taliban in direct opposition to their actions when in power. Under Taliban rule poppy/opium production was almost eliminated; by contrast, since the US invasion and the re-establishment of the warlords, production is at an historic high. None the less, this is the lie fed to the US public rather than revealing the truth which could well swing public opinion so strongly as to imperil the very profitable merry-go-round that is the conflict in Afghanistan. Better to keep the mushrooms in the dark than let them see the light of truth!
Step back for a moment and look at it this way; the US military, possibly the world’s ultimate ‘service provider’, is a gigantic consumer of goods and services. Its top people are highly paid executives who are guaranteed lucrative positions in supplying corporations when the time comes to move on. Working with their associates in government they benefit from continuing conflicts/wars that use up existing stockpiles/services which then need re-stocking from their appreciative suppliers. Prolonging the production run of any particular product or model is a well-proven policy for squeezing the last drop of profit from any venture. So it follows that in the context of modern, contracted-out warfare any strategy that strings out a conflict will mean more profits in the pockets of those corporations, organisations and their stock-holders who agree to play it by the rules of the capitalist system, and that includes Messrs. Taliban Associates Inc. In this lethal capitalist game, it is mostly the workers, the cannon-fodder on each side of any conflict who pay the supreme price; the elite, whether they wear the pin-stripped suits of corporate boardrooms or the black turbans of a Taliban leader, largely escape the extreme consequences of these policies.
The average US citizen thinks that it is ‘their’ money that’s paying for ‘their’ military to fight a war in Afghanistan that will protect ‘their’ homeland from another 9/11 or some crazed mullah with a suicide atomic bomb under his jacket. Fight them over there so we don’t have to fight them over here. The media has convinced them that it is a price worth paying, and anyway, aren’t there tens of thousands of good US households that, directly or indirectly, depend on defence company salaries to pay the mortgage? If they ever wake up to the fact that it is also ‘their’ money that is paying for the munitions that kill their sons and daughters and is providing the Taliban with much of what it needs to carry on its campaign indefinitely, to the benefit and enrichment of all the stakeholders in the business of war and conflict, might they not get very angry? Might they not rise up against the Masters of War and their corrupt system? Don’t hold your breath!
‘You can fool some of the people . . .’ Was this saying concocted by some US president or other to convince his people that they are really too smart to have the wool pulled over their eyes by a system devised to enrich the few whilst keeping the majority in bondage? How else to explain the predatory economic ways of the world and the widespread apathy towards them in the so-called ‘world’s only superpower’ and its war-mongering allies?
… you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.’