Afghanistan’s New Millionaires

Mujib Mashal in Bloomberg Businessweek:

AfghanistanIn a few minutes we reach the compound of the 1st Battalion 9th Marines—“The Walking Dead,” as a yellow logo proclaims inside one of its rooms. The U.S. Marines packed up a year ago, and all that’s left is a series of shipping-container offices that once housed U.S. Agency for International Development contractors. The desks and furniture are locked inside; the windows are covered in dust and cobwebs. But when the Marines ruled Nawa—the district governor’s office was within their compound—the Americans started Matie on his road to prosperity. In the U.S., wartime contracting is often associated with such names as Blackwater (now known as Academi), DynCorp International, Triple Canopy, and others, but on the ground in Afghanistan, the Pentagon depended on a small army of locals. And as hundreds of billions of dollars in U.S. taxpayer money poured into the country, it created a new class of wealthy, entrepreneurial Afghans.

The October 2001 U.S.-led invasion and the subsequent allied military campaigns transformed the country. At the end of 2014, however, as the American troop presence draws down to 10,000 from a height of 98,000, it’s becoming clear that the U.S. dollar has reshaped Afghanistan even more than the military did. In private, U.S. officials admit they don’t know how much they’ve spent on the Afghan war. Independent analysts estimate its cost at about $1.6 trillion—factoring in inflation and long-term care for veterans. The money found its way not just into the hands of ruthless oligarchs, as in post-Soviet Russia, but also into those of teachers, translators, restaurant owners, and drivers who tapped into the gusher of cash to become millionaires and multimillionaires.

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