Woof Woof: Unexpected Fallout from the Afghanistan Withdrawal

Woof Woof: Unexpected Fallout from the Afghanistan Withdrawal

In the chaos of August 2021, departing contractors were forced to leave several hundred service dogs behind in Afghanistan. These animals, who are now technically under Taliban control, face an uncertain future.

The U.S. military ensured that all its service animals made it home, largely due to a 2015 law on this subject. But contractor animals, who protected locations like hospitals, universities, and embassies, had no such protections. “Someone has to be held accountable for it because these are lives that have played a key role and will continue to, and they deserve a future,” remarked former contract worker and current advocate Sam Daly.

The Taliban has agreed to create a kennel for the animals near the Kabul airport. But a number of logistical issues, such as supplies and food, are unresolved.

Conflict in Afghanistan

The swift and sudden end to Operation Enduring Freedom is in stark contrast to this conflict’s long and complicated roots.

Between 1919, when it finally broke free of Great Britain’s influence, until the early 1970s, a relatively stable monarchy ruled Afghanistan. But the country could not escape the turmoil which swept over much of the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region in the late 1960s and early 1970s. 

In 1973, with the support of the army, Prince Mohammed Daoud Khan overthrew his cousin, King Mohammed Zair Shah, and declared a republic. His vision lasted less than five years, as the Marxist People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan killed Khan and seized power. PDPA implemented a number of social reforms which traditional Afghans opposed. In September 1979, the Red Army invaded Afghanistan to depose a reformist PDPA leader and reinstall a hard-line Marxist government.

The United States immediately condemned the invasion. In 1981, President Ronald Reagan took office. His vice-president George H.W. Bush, who was a former CIA director, took office. Reagan immediately began encouraging Islamic militants from around the region to come to Afghanistan and wage jihad (holy war) against the Soviet infidels.

At first, the Red Army dominated its divided and ill-equipped opponents. In the mid 1980s, the CIA began sending Stinger shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles to the mujahideen (holy warriors). There is some dispute as to the effect these weapons had on the conflict, but they certainly helped even the odds. As for the internal divisions, a few victories are usually more than enough to unite different factions against a common enemy. The Red Army’s position quickly deteriorated. The battlefield setbacks, along with unrest at home, soon prompted the Soviets to withdraw.

Historically, the CIA is a lot better at destabilizing countries than building them up. So, when the Soviets left, Bush, who had succeeded his former boss, declared victory and pulled the plug. One of the warring mujahideen factions later became the Taliban. After this group seized power, it sheltered Osama bin Laden as he built his Al-Qaeda terrorist network. We all know how that ended.

Meanwhile, the fighting continued. By 2001, the Taliban controlled about 90 percent of the country. Its chief rival, the Northern Alliance, was pinned into a few areas in, you guessed it, the north of the country. Ironically, when the Americans pulled out in 2021, the Taliban also controlled roughly 90 percent of the war-torn country.

What Contractors Did in Afghanistan

During the 20-year war, private military contractors made significant contributions in several areas. At several points in the conflict, there were more private military contractors than regular servicemembers in Afghanistan. Their primary contributions involved logistics, training, and security.

Military logistics is an umbrella term which includes a host of functions. Most noncombatants, such as doctors, cooks, morale officers, and so on, were private military contractors. These individuals have a high degree of skill in their given areas. And, if absolutely necessary, they can pick up rifles and defend the camp. Logistics also includes planning, such as finding the safest path for a convoy to take from Point A to Point B.

Maintenance is an important part of logistics as well. Air power is a good example. Generally, the Afghan security forces prefered cheap, utilitarian aircraft, like basic Russian helicopters, because they were easy to operate and maintain. 

That sounds good, but easy to operate does not necessarily mean effective. An Atari 2600 is a lot easier to operate than a PlayStation, but which system would you rather have in your living room?

Private military contractors worked hard to keep these sophisticated birds flying. They also maintained motor vehicles and computer equipment.

As for training, the ultimate goal of any foreign intervention is to leave as quickly as possible. So, it is essential to adequately train security forces. Since private military contractors have considerable anti-insurgency experience, they can give trainees lessons which are unavailable elsewhere. As a bonus, many private military contractors are foreign nationals. So, there is no language or culture barrier. Regardless of citizenship or residence, the Defense Base Act protects injured contractors. More on that below.

Last but certainly not least, we get to security. The security missions private military contractors performed were not glamorous. Instead, security contractors normally checked IDs, escorted convoys, and secured checkpoints. These mundane chores are vital. A lapse in any area leaves a military installation vulnerable to attack.

Injury Compensation Available

As mentioned, residency or citizenship does not affect eligibility for Defense Base Act benefits. These benefits, which are available to private military contractors, replace lost wages and pay medical bills. The only requirements are a deployment-related injury in an overseas war zone. 

The contractor must normally work for an agency of the United States government, such as the Department of Defense or the Department of State. In some cases, contractors who work for sympathetic foreign governments might also be eligible for DBA benefits.

The occupational disease or trauma injury must be at least indirectly related to the deployment. That’s a different standard from workers’ compensation. These benefits normally only apply to on-the-clock and on-the-job injuries. If Ralph is commuting to his job in Florida and he is in a car wreck, workers’ compensation probably doesn’t apply. But if Ralph was traveling to his post in Fallujah, the DBA would most likely apply.

Finally, an overseas war zone is any territory which has at least one U.S. military installation of any size.

For more information about the DBA process, contact Barnett, Lerner, Karsen, Frankel & Castro, P.A.