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Militarism and Afghanistan: Costs and Profits

Decades of war, conflict, and occupation in Afghanistan has resulted in the extreme militarisation of the country. We are analysing its consequences and in this blog, we take a look at the various forms of violence that have resulted from the past twenty years of war in Afghanistan.

Legs of Soldiers Marching
Credit: Filip Andrejevic
Written by
Ray Acheson
2 December 2021

The Death, Destruction and Other Deliverables blog explored the various forms of violence that have resulted from the past twenty years of war in Afghanistan, including the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, drone strikes, torture, special operations, and the broader harms caused by the “Global War on Terror”. These brutal costs of war run in parallel to the economic costs.

None of the violence described in the Death, Destruction and Other Deliverables blog has been cheap. The Cost of War Project at Brown University estimates that the war in Afghanistan cost the United States $2.3 trillion to date. The governments of other countries participating in the invasion and occupation have also spent billions: the United Kingdom spent about $28.2 billion, Canada about $13 billion, Germany about $11 billion, Italy about $9 billion, France about $4 billion, Australia about 10 billion AUD, Norway about 11.5 billion NOK.

More broadly, as noted by the National Priorities Project in its report State of Insecurity: The Cost of Militarization Since 9/11, since 2001 the US government has spent more than $21 trillion at home and overseas on militaristic policies that led to the creation of a vast surveillance apparatus, worsened mass incarceration, intensified the war on immigrant communities, and caused incalculable human suffering in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, and elsewhere.

But for all that it has cost taxpayers in the United States and other occupying countries, the profits from the war in Afghanistan have been seemingly limitless.

War Profiteering

he Security Policy Reform Institute found that US Congress gave $2.02 trillion to the top five weapons companies — Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, Boeing and Northrop Grumman — between 2001 and 2021. During the war in Afghanistan, the top five weapons firms spent $1 billion lobbying Congress and received $2 trillion in Pentagon contracts. That’s $1,813 in Pentagon contracts for every dollar spent on lobbying — a 181,214 per cent return on investment.

Private military and security companies (PMSCs) have also profited from the wars. A recent study by Brown University shows that much of the growth in US military budgets since 2001 is due to payments to military contractors. Contractors received about $104 billion for services in Afghanistan since 2002, including nearly $9 billion just in the last five years. Some engage in military and security operations, including “interrogation” (such as the CIA’s torture program); others handle laundry, food services, transportation, and construction, employing foreign nationals and paying them less than US employees. In Afghanistan, contractors outnumbered US soldiers. At its peak in 2011, there were about 90,000 contractors in Afghanistan; by the withdrawal in 2021, about 17,000 contractors were still in the country.

A few examples of disaster capitalism in Afghanistan (there are many, many more):

  • CACI International, which was sued in 2008 for directing torture at Abu Ghraib, was awarded in 2019 a five year contract to provide the US military with intelligence and analytical support. In turn, the contractor is funding the Institute for Study of War, a think tank that opposed the US withdrawal from Afghanistan.
  • Blackwater was one of the PMSCs employed by the US government after the invasion of Afghanistan, reaping millions in contracts over the course of the war. In the final days, founder Erik Prince chartered planes to evacuate people from Afghanistan for $6,500 per person.
  • Halliburton received billions in “reconstruction” contracts from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
  • Creative Associates International received $449 million worth of contracts in Afghanistan, including one to rebuild the country’s education system around a privatised model. These contracts gave a US company control over writing textbooks and designing curriculum.

Corruption and fraud

Fraud and abuse among contractors was rampant. The “Afghanistan Papers” published by The Washington Post in 2019 found that the “scale of the corruption was the unintended result of swamping the war zone with far more aid and defense contracts than impoverished Afghanistan could absorb. There was so much excess, financed by American taxpayers, that opportunities for bribery and fraud became almost limitless, according to the interviews.” Some of this even resulted in Taliban being funded by the United States.

It’s also important to note that the connections between contractors, particularly board members, and the US government — including the CIA, DoD, and even the White House — reflect a revolving door of personnel, meaning that in establishing US policy on the invasion and occupation as well as detention and torture, individuals were also profiting personally from these policies.

Afghanistan and the arms trade

Profits were also made from the production and sale of weapons for use in Afghanistan. According to the SIPRI Arms Transfer Database, 16 states are known to have supplied weapons to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2020.

During these years, the United States supplied 74 per cent of Afghanistan’s weapons. Russia was the second largest supplier during this period, responsible for 14 per cent of imports. Several other states delivered smaller volumes of major arms to Afghanistan directly or supplied major arms through US-run and US-funded programmes. These included Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, China, Canada, Czech Republic, Germany, India, Italy, Norway, Slovakia, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, and United Kingdom. Most of these transfers were for aircraft and armoured vehicles, as well as small arms and light weapons and ammunition.

Much of this equipment has reportedly been left behind by the US military after its withdrawal. It is unclear exactly what the Taliban has acquired, or what of this equipment they can use, but it has certainly inflated their arsenal. In addition to weapons, the Taliban also seized US military biometric devices, which could lead to the identification of Afghans that assisted coalition forces. It has also been alleged that Russia and Iran supplied the Taliban with weapons prior to the withdrawal.

However, Small Arms Survey researchers have pointed out that many of the weapons seem to be from the Soviet occupation – era and that others could have been obtained on the black market. It has been difficult to document specific arms transfers to the Taliban.

Changing course: Disarmament, Demilitarisation, Decolonisation

Addressing the violence and militarism within Afghanistan and within the states that occupied it will require concrete actions. States, international organisations, and others must take responsibility, heal and repair the damage that has been done, and prevent future catastrophes. Disarmament, demilitarisation, and decolonisation are vital aspects of this work.

The following recommendations are not comprehensive but are critical:

  • The withdrawal from Afghanistan should also be used as opportunity for UN and independent mechanisms in the United States to review and interrogate the use of PSCMs and the repercussions for fraud, abuse, corruption, war profiteering, violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law, and perpetuation of violence and harm, with an aim to prohibiting such corporations. 
  • In the meantime, governments should undertake vetting procedures to ensure that current and former employees and board members of weapons manufacturers or PMSCs do not serve in any government roles.
  • Given the risk of sale and transfer of the weapons and other equipment left behind by the US government and other occupying forces, a future government of Afghanistan should comply with Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) provisions regarding export of weapons, ammunition, and military equipment as well as reporting obligations under the Treaty. (The previous government of Afghanistan acceded to the ATT in 2020.)
  • Stockpile safety and security measures should be implemented to ensure weapons left behind by occupying forces are not sold onto the black market or at risk of accidents at stockpile sites.

But the issue of weapons proliferation in Afghanistan is not simply a matter to be dealt with by that country. Arms producers and exporters must end their reliance on war profiteering for economic gain. When weapons manufacturing leads to private profits accruing from war, the incentive for global violence begins to drive the political economy of the state. Convention from weapons production to industries that incentivise peace and cooperation rather than war and violence is imperative.

These are not all of the measures that should be undertaken, but they are all necessary to disrupt the cycle of war, weaponisation, and violence — within Afghanistan, within the US and other occupying forces, and globally. Peace, justice, and equality cannot be achieved through the barrel of a gun or the dropping of bombs. It can only come from demilitarised and decolonised (i.e. not imposed by foreign military might) approaches to economic justice, social equality, and environmental welfare.

Want to know more about the consequences of the militarisation of Afghanistan? Then continue to our blogs “Militarism and Afghanistan: Death, Destruction and Other Deliverables” and Militarism and Afghanistan: Corruption and Social Destruction”.

– – –

In our series of blogs about Afghanistan, we are bringing new perspectives and voices to the mainstream narrative told by the media. Read the blog series or visit our webpage dedicated our work on Afghanistan.

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Ray Acheson Speaking for Reaching Critical Will at a conference

About the author

Ray Acheson is the Director of WILPF’s Disarmament Programme, which provides analysis, research, and advocacy across a range of disarmament issues from an antimilitarist feminist perspective. Acheson represents WILPF on the steering committees of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, and the International Network on Explosive Weapons.

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Melissa Torres


Prior to being elected Vice-President, Melissa Torres was the WILPF US International Board Member from 2015 to 2018. Melissa joined WILPF in 2011 when she was selected as a Delegate to the Commission on the Status of Women as part of the WILPF US’ Practicum in Advocacy Programme at the United Nations, which she later led. She holds a PhD in Social Work and is a professor and Global Health Scholar at Baylor College of Medicine and research lead at BCM Anti-Human Trafficking Program. Of Mexican descent and a native of the US/Mexico border, Melissa is mostly concerned with the protection of displaced Latinxs in the Americas. Her work includes training, research, and service provision with the American Red Cross, the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Centre, and refugee resettlement programs in the U.S. Some of her goals as Vice-President are to highlight intersectionality and increase diversity by fostering inclusive spaces for mentorship and leadership. She also contributes to WILPF’s emerging work on the topic of displacement and migration.

Jamila Afghani


Jamila Afghani is the President of WILPF Afghanistan which she started in 2015. She is also an active member and founder of several organisations including the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organisation (NECDO). Elected in 2018 as South Asia Regional Representative to WILPF’s International Board, WILPF benefits from Jamila’s work experience in education, migration, gender, including gender-based violence and democratic governance in post-conflict and transitional countries.

Sylvie Jacqueline Ndongmo


Sylvie Jacqueline NDONGMO is a human rights and peace leader with over 27 years experience including ten within WILPF. She has a multi-disciplinary background with a track record of multiple socio-economic development projects implemented to improve policies, practices and peace-oriented actions. Sylvie is the founder of WILPF Cameroon and was the Section’s president until 2022. She co-coordinated the African Working Group before her election as Africa Representative to WILPF’s International Board in 2018. A teacher by profession and an African Union Trainer in peace support operations, Sylvie has extensive experience advocating for the political and social rights of women in Africa and worldwide.

WILPF Afghanistan

In response to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and its targeted attacks on civil society members, WILPF Afghanistan issued several statements calling on the international community to stand in solidarity with Afghan people and ensure that their rights be upheld, including access to aid. The Section also published 100 Untold Stories of War and Peace, a compilation of true stories that highlight the effects of war and militarisation on the region. 

IPB Congress Barcelona

WILPF Germany (+Young WILPF network), WILPF Spain and MENA Regional Representative

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WILPF uses feminist analysis to argue that militarisation is a counter-productive and ill-conceived response to establishing security in the world. The more society becomes militarised, the more violence and injustice are likely to grow locally and worldwide.

Sixteen states are believed to have supplied weapons to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2020 with the US supplying 74 % of weapons, followed by Russia. Much of this equipment was left behind by the US military and is being used to inflate Taliban’s arsenal. WILPF is calling for better oversight on arms movement, for compensating affected Afghan people and for an end to all militarised systems.

Militarised masculinity

Mobilising men and boys around feminist peace has been one way of deconstructing and redefining masculinities. WILPF shares a feminist analysis on the links between militarism, masculinities, peace and security. We explore opportunities for strengthening activists’ action to build equal partnerships among women and men for gender equality.

WILPF has been working on challenging the prevailing notion of masculinity based on men’s physical and social superiority to, and dominance of, women in Afghanistan. It recognizes that these notions are not representative of all Afghan men, contrary to the publicly prevailing notion.

Feminist peace​

In WILPF’s view, any process towards establishing peace that has not been partly designed by women remains deficient. Beyond bringing perspectives that encapsulate the views of half of the society and unlike the men only designed processes, women’s true and meaningful participation allows the situation to improve.

In Afghanistan, WILPF has been demanding that women occupy the front seats at the negotiating tables. The experience of the past 20 has shown that women’s presence produces more sustainable solutions when they are empowered and enabled to play a role.

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