Hikmatullah Shadman was just 16 years old when he joined the US Special Forces as a translator in his native town of Kandahar, Afghanistan. By the time he was in his early twenties, he had made more than $160 million while working as a logistics contractor for the US military. Now, he and a group of soldiers who worked for the Special Forces stand accused of bribery and fraud.
In "The Bidding War," my story in this week's issue of the New Yorker, I tell how Hikmat came to be at the center of a massive corruption scandal involving America's elite forces in Afghanistan.
This article, which took me nearly two years to write and report, offers a window into a war that has been waged as much by for-profit companies as by the military. Since 2007, there have regularly been more contractors than US troops in Afghanistan, and today they outnumber them three to one. Around $800 billion has been appropriated for the war, and yet many have come to see these vast expenditures as self-defeating, as the result has been forms of corruption so extreme that the US has in some cases funded the Taliban. As Scott Lindsay, a Congressional investigator, puts it: "If you have to pay your enemy for the right to be there, something's gone wrong."