A soldier, part of the coalition forces, holds his weapon during a gun battle with Taliban militants in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sep. 14, 2011. The 20-hour attack ended after Afghan police killed the last few insurgents who had fired upon the U.S. Embassy.
"How the US funds the Taliban"
Op-Ed, Boston Globe
September 19, 2011
Author: Juliette Kayyem, Lecturer in Public Policy
Belfer Center Programs or Projects: International Security
'MY LOGISTICIANS are a humorless lot," Alexander the Great is reported to have told his soldiers. "[T]hey know if my campaign fails, they are the first ones I will slay." Logistics makes or breaks military success, from preparing the battlefield to fighting the enemy. People, goods, food, and weapons must move fast and reliably; logistics cannot easily be delegated.
Handling logistics for the war in Afghanistan is no easy feat, given the distance, weather, terrain, and constant threat of violence. But recent evidence shows that by linking our military logistics planning to a separate counterinsurgency strategy to build up the Afghans, we have created an extortion racket that helps fund the very people we are fighting.
It begins with the trucks. If war is business, it's a supply-chain business. Unlike in Iraq, where the military utilized American contractors, the Pentagon has hired local businesses to sustain our military presence in Afghanistan. We signed nearly a thousand new contracts with non-US vendors in Afghanistan last year alone. This made sense for our counterinsurgency strategy; it would promote Afghan businesses and help them develop the capabilities necessary to control their own destiny. But whether it was good for our military is another question.
In our desire to put Afghans first, we have now lost track of nearly $400 million of $2 billion distributed under the Army's Afghanistan Host Nation Trucking contract. This isn't the typical accounting error or failure to verify an expense. The evidence strongly suggests that the military's primary logistics contract has fueled a scheme of kickbacks and laundering to fund insurgents, warlords, and criminal networks. Their primary target: us.
It's a devastating mistake.
Last year, Massachusetts Representative John Tierney began a congressional investigation, Warlord, Inc., of the Host Nation program. It is, after all, one thing to provide monetary support to Afghan companies to build bridges or schools, but quite another to pay Afghans to support transport for our troops. That investigation showed that the trucking funds were, through racketeering and bribery, ending up in the hands of the Taliban and insurgents. Contracting to the Afghans freed our limited troops there to fight, and certainly was cheaper than transporting American companies there.
The Pentagon eventually agreed. As the Washington Post reported this summer, in an investigation of one of the eight Afghan companies that had contracts with the US, nearly half of a $7 million payment went to a commander in the Afghan National Police. That commander then, in 27 separate transactions, transferred payments to insurgents in the form of weapons and cash.
Much of the diversion of money is simple fraud. Some of it probably goes to pay off insurgents in order to provide safe passage for goods that must reach our soldiers who are there to ensure, well, that insurgents do not control the safe passage of transportation in Afghanistan. It is a strange "cycle of dependence," said Tierney, who held a hearing last week on the program.
At the hearing, the Defense Department insisted it has now placed tighter controls on Afghan companies who work to support our troops. Nonetheless, the original eight companies remain on contract. One, the Watan Group, legally challenged Pentagon attempts to debar it from contracts with the United States. The Pentagon reversed course after Watan agreed to improve its oversight of any future contracts.
Money, our money, is ripe for the taking for the Afghans who profit from instability in a nation we keep vowing is ready for peace. The nearly 20-hour insurgent assault against the American Embassy in Kabul earlier this month was brazen and unprecedented. It seems there is no end to the insurgents’ capacity to fund and arm themselves.
Failures by the Pentagon to sufficiently fix this program are not necessarily a sign of haplessness. It would cost a lot to bring US contractors over to Asia at this late date. And the simple fact is we're not in a strong enough position to police all the corruption in the supply chain. We can fix oversight of a trucking contract, or continue to bring home the troops the contract is intended to support. The second option is surely more desirable, however "humorless" it would appear to Alexander the Great.
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