By Anna Massoglia and Julia Forrest, Open Secrets
In the months leading up to the U.S. ending its 20-year war in Afghanistan and the Taliban gaining control of the country, major defense companies were awarded contracts in Afghanistan worth hundreds of millions of dollars and spent tens of millions lobbying the federal government on defense issues.
The Department of Defense issued nearly $1 billion dollars in contracts to 17 companies related to work in Afghanistan that was set to continue past the May 1 withdrawal date.
It’s unclear what will happen with some of those contracts as the U.S. evacuates operations in Afghanistan.
Texas-based defense contractor and construction firm Fluor received contracts of at least $85 million this year for work in Afghanistan. The company recently said it will “continue to do everything we can to repatriate all employees required to leave Afghanistan.” Fluor spent over $1.4 million on lobbying in the first half of 2021, around $115,000 more than the firm spent in the same period in 2020.
In May, defense contractor Leidos was awarded a $34 million government contract to continue providing logistics support services for the Afghan Air Force and the Special Mission Wing. The U.S. Army Contracting Command awarded Leidos an initial $727.89 million contract on Aug. 17 in 2017. Leidos spent $1.18 million on lobbying in the first half of 2021.
On March 11, the Defense Department signed a contract with Salient Federal Services for information technology infrastructure in Afghanistan, a deal worth approximately $24.9 million and set to be completed in March 2022.
It’s not yet known if these contracts will be voided now that the situation has drastically changed in Afghanistan.
The following day, the Defense Department signed a contract with Textron for $9.7 million in force-protection efforts in Afghanistan, an effort that was expected to be completed by March 2022, long after even Biden’s planned withdrawal date. Textronspent $4.47 million lobbying in 2020 and has already spent $2.4 million in 2021.
Maryland-based defense support services conglomerate Amentum Services was awarded more than $305 million in defense contracts mentioning Afghanistan since 2008. The Department of Defense awarded DynCorp International, which was subsumed by Amentum in 2020, more than $4 billion in defense contracts mentioning Afghanistan since 2008.
Amentum Services, which was awarded tens of millions of dollars in government contracts in 2020 alone, spent $980,000 on lobbying the federal government on defense issues in 2020 and another $340,000 in the first half of 2021.
Security contracts worth $68.2 million with Aegis Defense Services, a private security service organization, were also slated to be completed in 2023 and 2026.
Five of the top defense companies, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, General Dynamics, and Northrop Grumman, spent a combined $34.2 million in lobbying in the first half of 2021 compared to about $33 million in the same period of 2020. Raytheon spent the most on lobbying with $8.23 million so far in 2021. The second most was spent by Lockheed Martin at $7.4 million.
The Congressional Research Service found that the Defense Department also obligated more money on federal contracts during the 2020 fiscal year than all other government agencies combined with around 31% of its contracts going to the five companies.
People with ties to the defense industry have also been in positions to influence decision-making about the withdrawal from Afghanistan — including Retired General Joseph F. Dunford and former Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), who are two of three co-chairs on the congressionally-chartered Afghanistan Study Group.
The majority of plenary members on the Afghanistan Study Group, which advised President Joe Biden to extend the originally-negotiated May 1 deadline for withdrawing from Afghanistan, also have ties to the defense industry. A couple of those members include former President Donald Trump’s principal deputy director of national intelligence, Susan M. Gordon, and Stephen J. Hadley, former President George W. Bush’s deputy national security adviser.
While many defense contractors are still collecting major money to do work in Afghanistan, some are pulling out along with the troops.
The latest Defense Department quarterly report indicated the total number of contractors in Afghanistan dropped significantly over the last three months from nearly 17,000 in April to 7,800 in July. When Trump entered the White House in 2017, the total number of contractors in Afghanistan was around 3,400.
Defense contractor CACI International predicted that its losses from the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan would be “more than offset by the U.S. military’s growing investments in forward-leaning technologies” such as software development, and artificial intelligence processing programs. CACI spent $810,000 on lobbying in 2020, a record high for the defense contractor.
Over the last 20 years of war in Afghanistan, the U.S. spent $89 billion in taxpayer dollars to fund the building and training of the Afghan National Army with an estimated $2.26 trillion in total operating costs funded by U.S. taxpayers.
The U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan was muddied when provincial capitals and Kabul quickly fell under Taliban control. On Monday, Biden blamed the Afghan government and military for not waging a larger defense to the Taliban, and said he stood behind his decision to move forward with taking U.S. troops out of the country.
“I stand squarely behind my decision,” Biden said in an address Monday. “After 20 years, I’ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw U.S. forces.”
“The truth is, this did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated,” Biden added.
Biden also said that the quick collapse of the Afghan government proved that another year, or several more years, of U.S. troops in Afghanistan wouldn’t change the country’s ability to work as a democracy.
Spending by defense contractors who have financial stakes in continued conflict dwarfs recent spending by Afghan interests reported in Foreign Agents Registration Act filings.
The Afghanistan-U.S. Democratic Peace and Prosperity Council reported spending around $450,000 on foreign influence efforts in the U.S. and has spent neary $200,000 more in 2021.
The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, the Afghan government’s official name before the Taliban took over, signed a contract enlisting Squire Patton Boggs as its foreign lobbying agent on June 21 to “arrange congressional and other meetings for President Ashraf Ghani’s upcoming trip to Washington, DC.” The contract did not specify a fee arrangement and on July 6 the firm disclosed terminating the contract, effective June 30, with no payments. The firm reported only one contact on behalf of Afghanistan’s government prior to termination: an email to the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on June 21, the day the FARA contract was filed.
Afghanistan’s president and delegation ultimately visited Washington D.C. days later, meeting with Biden at the White House on June 24 and meeting with Pelosi the following day. Diplomatic activities are largely exempt from FARA disclosure. Ghani reportedly fledthrough Kabul to the United Arab Emirates with $169 million in cash. The exiled Afghan president issued a statement calling allegations that he took money “completely baseless.” However, an official at the Russian embassy in Kabul countered that “four cars were filled with money” and “some of the money was left lying on the tarmac” as Ghani’s plane took off.
Domestic influence groups have also weighed in on Afghanistan.
Concerned Veterans for America, a “dark money” group that is part of the conservative Koch network, defended Biden’s withdrawal this week. The group has spent millions on TV and digital ads supporting a full withdrawal from Afghanistan since 2019. More than $350,000 went to Facebook ads pushing for withdrawal from Afghanistan or praising members of Congress for voting to repeal the authorized use of military force over the past three months alone. And the group recently launched an ad campaign worth $1.5 million pushing for the U.S. to remove troops from Iraq as well.
VoteVets, a liberal dark money group, also praised Biden’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan this week. The group has spent around $280,000 on Facebook ads over the last three months, many of which pushed for withdrawal from the war.