How U.S. money helped break Afghanistan

A person shows US dollars outside an exchange office, remained close since August 15th, following their reopening after Taliban takeover on September 04, 2021 in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Bilal Guler | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

WASHINGTON — $290 million every day for 7,300 days. That’s how much money America spent on 20 years of war and nation-building in Afghanistan, according to Brown University’s Costs of War project. 

Yet it took just nine days for the Taliban to seize every provincial capital, dissolve the army and overthrow the U.S.-backed government in August.

When Taliban fighters seized Kabul without firing a single shot, President Joe Biden blamed Afghans for failing to defend their country.

U.S. President Joe Biden reacts during a moment of silence for the dead as he delivers remarks about Afghanistan, from the East Room of the White House in Washington, August 26, 2021.

Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

“Afghanistan’s political leaders gave up and fled the country,” he said on Aug.16. “The Afghan military gave up, sometimes without trying to fight.” 

Absent from Biden’s rhetoric was any mention of America’s culpability in a war that began when U.S. soldiers invaded Afghanistan seeking revenge against al-Qaeda for the terrorist attacks that killed 2,977 people on Sept. 11, 2001.

Today, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul is closed and the American soldiers are gone. 

But the hundreds of billions of dollars that the United States spent waging its war on Afghan soil can still be seen across Afghanistan, for better and worse.

Abandoned air bases, half-finished construction projects and tens of thousands of untraceable guns litter the countryside, all purchased with American money.

U.S. dollars also created the “9/11 millionaires,” a tiny class of young, ultra-wealthy Afghans who made their fortunes working as contractors for the foreign armies.

A few of these millionaires became role models for a new generation of Afghan entrepreneurs and philanthropists. 

But many more exploited their family ties to government officials or provincial warlords in order to secure lucrative contracts.

Over time, U.S. government contracts became the fuel for a system of mass corruption that engulfed the country and, eventually, doomed its fragile democracy. 

“The ultimate point of failure for our efforts, you know, wasn’t an insurgency,” said Ryan Crocker, a two-time U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan in 2016. “It was the weight of endemic corruption.”

Money exchangers engage in intense negotiations in the Sarai Shahzadah, Kabul’s currency exchange market, which is reopening for the first time since the Taliban took over, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021.

Marcus Yam | Los Angeles Times | Getty Images

The United States, in Crocker’s view, bears responsibility for much of the corruption in Afghanistan because it flooded the country with billions of dollars more than its economy could absorb.

“You just cannot put those amounts of money into a very fragile state and society, and…

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