How the defense industry helped prolong the war in Afghanistan

CACI is a well-known company with a $907 million contract in Afghanistan — it also has undisclosed ties to think tanks opposed to withdrawal.

Weapons firms and defense contractors consume over half of the Pentagon’s $740 billion budget and the end of the 20-year war in Afghanistan poses a threat for their share-holders and executives.

That concern was laid bare in a new investigative report by In These Times’ Sarah Lazare on CACI International, a Pentagon contractor currently two years into a five-year $907 million contract to provide “intelligence operations and analytics support” for the U.S. Army in Afghanistan. CACI’s CEO warned investors in an August 12 earnings call, “we have about a 2 percent headwind coming into FY 2022 because of Afghanistan,” referring to a negative impact on profits from the withdrawal.

Lazare points out that CACI is a corporate sponsor of the Institute for Study of War, a hawkish think tank whose experts argued in an August 20 paper that “Russia, China, Iran, and Turkey are weighing how to take advantage of the United States’ hurried withdrawal.” ISW’s board chair, Jack Keane, a former General Dynamics board member and current chairman of Humvee manufacturer AM General, has been making the rounds of Fox News shows, blasting the Biden administration’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan.

ISW has not disclosed the financial conflict of interest between its criticisms of Biden’s withdrawal and its corporate sponsor’s financial ties to the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan. Fox News does not disclose Keane’s role as chairman of a Pentagon contractor or ISW’s funding from defense contractors including CACI and General Dynamics.

CACI enjoys one other important connection to the effort to slow down or oppose Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. CACI board member Susan M. Gordon served on the congressionally established Afghanistan Study Group which recommended extending the withdrawal deadline from Afghanistan. The potential conflicts of interest within the ASG were vast, as two of the three co-chairs and nine of the group’s 12 plenary members have current or recent financial ties to the weapons industry. Like ISW, the Study Group provided no disclosure that its co-chairs and plenary members received nearly $4 million in compensation for their work on the boards of defense contractors.

Taking an even more hawkish turn, Dr. J. Philip (Jack) London, CACI’s executive chairman and board chair from 2007 until his death in January 2021, concurrently served on the board of the anti-Muslim and conspiracy theory promoting Center for Security Policy. CSP’s president Frank Gaffney once claimed the Missile Defense Agency’s logo “appears ominously to reflect a morphing of the Islamic crescent and star with Obama campaign logo,” while its vice president, Clare Lopez, said in 2013 that “when Muslims follow their doctrine they become jihadists.”

CACI donated $20,000 to CSP that same year, the only year for which the group’s donor rolls have been disclosed.

That outlandish, and factually baseless bigotry didn’t deter CACI from cosponsoring the annual “Asymmetric Threat Symposium” with CSP. CSP was listed as a cosponsor of the event in 2011 to 2014 and 2018.

Nor did Frank Gaffney’s response to the 2020 Doha Agreement, that set the terms for the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops from Afghanistan, lead CACI’s board chair to distance himself from CSP. Gaffney, in his typical hyperbolic style, warned that the Taliban retaking Afghanistan would “unleash a renewed outbreak of another virulent pandemic: Sharia-supremacism,” and encourage “jihadists the world over to believe that they too, can defeat the United States.”

As Lazare details, using CACI’s own earnings call transcript, the company had a financial incentive for the U.S. war in Afghanistan to continue. Coincidentally or not, the involvement of CACI principals in the Afghanistan Study Group and the Center for Security Policy appeared to reinforce the company’s financial interests by promoting an ongoing U.S. troop commitment in Afghanistan and producing a steady drumbeat of Islamophobia and clash-of-civilizations narratives justifying U.S. wars in the Middle East. Those wars were producing hundreds of millions in taxpayer funded contracts for CACI and its shareholders.

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