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War Workers: How Vulnerable Foreign Laborers Are Exploited on U.S. Military Bases

Foreign laborers on U.S. bases in Afghanistan are deceived and indebted, victims of local recruiters who charge thousands of dollars.

U.S. soldiers stand guard in Afghanistan.
Photo Credit: Lt. Neil Myers (U.S. Armed Forces)/Wikimedia Commons


AMY GOODMAN: This is  Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.  America’s War Workers. That’s the name of a new  investigation by Al Jazeera’s  Fault Lines examining an underreported aspect of America’s longest war: the system that brings foreign laborers to work on U.S. military bases in Afghanistan. Today there are approximately 40,000 foreign contract workers on bases in the U.S. military’s Central Command. These workers leave their homes in countries such as India and Nepal to enter a war zone, serving U.S. troops as cooks, cleaners, doing laundry, working as construction workers. However,  Fault Lines discovered these laborers regularly end up deceived and indebted, victims of local recruiters who charge thousands of dollars and offer false promises of high-paying jobs. They’re easy prey for labor traffickers who profit from military contracts. In this clip from the new  Fault Linesinvestigation, America’s War Workers, Al Jazeera correspondent Anjali Kamat speaks to a worker who goes by the name "Ravi."

ANJALI KAMAT: Ravi told us he was tricked into working in Afghanistan for a salary that was less than half of what he was promised. It started when a friend back home introduced Ravi to a recruiting agent, who told him that for a hefty fee he could get a job in Afghanistan working for DynCorp. He would fly to Dubai, where he would connect with DynCorp and then travel to the base.

RAVI: And he said that he’s going to send me for the DynCorp, and I will get basically $1,200  USD per month.

ANJALI KAMAT: But there was a catch: The job at DynCorp didn’t actually exist. Instead, the agent housed Ravi in a work camp in Dubai. After three weeks, the agent told him that, for an additional fee, he could get Ravi a job with a subcontractor, Ecolog.

RAVI: When I got to Ecolog to get my contract and I saw my contract, there was only $500.

ANJALI KAMAT: So you were promised a job at DynCorp.

RAVI: Yeah, he—

ANJALI KAMAT: Twelve hundred dollars.

RAVI: Yeah.

ANJALI KAMAT: And then you got a job at Ecolog—

RAVI: Yeah.

ANJALI KAMAT: —for $500.

RAVI: Yeah, and I told that agent—I called him, and I said that I want to come back. I don’t want to go for $500, because it’s not enough for me. They said, "I don’t want to give you back." So I did not have another choice. So at least $500 is better than nothing. So that’s why I came.

ANJALI KAMAT: How much money did you pay the agent?

RAVI: I paid totally $4,000, U.S. dollar, and when I came first, I got $500. You can calculate how much I need to work to get that money back. It’s at least eight months, and the interest, so it’s like one year.

ANJALI KAMAT: Ravi had been recruited under fraudulent terms that compelled him to work for a year simply to pay off his debt. According to the U.S. State Department and the United Nations, this is human trafficking.

AMY GOODMAN: That was a clip from the new Al Jazeera  Fault Lines investigation, America’s War Workers, about migrant laborers on U.S. military bases.

For more, we’re joined by the two journalists who did the investigation. Samuel Black is a producer at Al Jazeera, and Anjali Kamat is a correspondent. They also co-wrote an  article that accompanies the film, called "After 12 Years of War, Labor Abuses Still Rampant on U.S. Bases in Afghanistan."

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