US Indirectly Paying Afghan Warlords as Part of Security Contract

Published on
by
The Washington Post

US Indirectly Paying Afghan Warlords as Part of Security Contract

by
Karen DeYoung

An Afghan firefighter hoses a burning oil tanker, part of a NATO convoy, after a planted device exploded. (Photo Credit: Rahmat Gul)

The U.S. military is funding a massive protection racket in Afghanistan, indirectly paying tens of millions of
dollars to warlords, corrupt public officials and the Taliban to ensure
safe passage of its supply convoys throughout the country, according to
congressional investigators.

The security arrangements, part of a $2.16 billion transport contract,
violate laws on the use of private contractors, as well as Defense Department regulations, and "dramatically
undermine" larger U.S. objectives of curtailing corruption and
strengthening effective governance in Afghanistan, a report released late Monday said.

The report describes a Defense Department that is well aware that some
of the money paid to contractors winds up in the hands of warlords and
insurgents. Military logisticians on the ground are focused on getting
supplies where they are needed and have "virtually no understanding of
how security is actually provided" for the local truck convoys that
transport more than 70 percent of all goods and materials used by U.S.
troops. Alarms raised by prime trucking contractors were met by the
military "with indifference and inaction," the report said.

"The findings of this report range from sobering to shocking," Rep.
John Tierney
(D-Mass.) wrote in an introduction to the 79-page
report, titled "Warlord, Inc., Extortion and Corruption Along the U.S.
Supply Chain in Afghanistan."

The report comes as the number of U.S. casualties is rising in the
Afghan war, and public and congressional support is declining. The
administration has been on the defensive in recent weeks, insisting that
the slow progress of anti-Taliban offensives in Helmand province and
the city of Kandahar does not mean that more time is needed to assess
whether President Obama's strategy is working.

"I think it's much too early to draw a negative conclusion," said a
senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity
to discuss internal deliberations. "I think there's more positive than
negative. We're heading toward a year-end assessment, which will be a
big one for us." The review was set when Obama announced in December
that he would send an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan and begin
to withdraw them in July 2011.

Tierney is chairman of the national security subcommittee of the House
Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, whose majority staff spent
six months preparing the report. A proponent of a smaller U.S. military
footprint in Afghanistan and targeted attacks on insurgents, Tierney
said in an interview Monday that he hopes the report will help members
of Congress "analyze whether they think this is the most effective way
to go about dealing with terrorism. Or the most cost-effective way."

The report's conclusions will be introduced at a hearing Tuesday at
which senior military and defense officials are scheduled to testify.
The report says that all evidence and findings were made available to
Republicans on the subcommittee. A spokesman for Rep. Jeff
Flake
(Ariz.), the ranking Republican, said the lawmaker will not
comment until he has seen the entire report.

In testimony shortly after Obama's strategy announcement, Secretary of
State Hillary Rodham Clinton said that "much of the corruption"
in Afghanistan has been fueled by billions of dollars' worth of foreign
money spent there, "and one of the major sources of funding for the
Taliban is the protection money."

Military officials said that they have begun several corruption
investigations in Afghanistan and that a task force has been named,
headed by Navy Rear Adm. Kathleen Dussault, director of logistics and
supply operations for the chief of naval operations and former head of
the Baghdad-based joint contracting command for Iraq and Afghanistan.

Rear Adm. Gregory J. Smith, communications chief for U.S. and NATO
forces in Kabul, said that the entire Tierney report has not been
examined but that Dussault will be "reviewing every aspect of our
contracting process and recommending changes to avoid our contribution
to what is arguably a major source of revenue that feeds the cycle of
corruption."

The U.S. military imports virtually everything it uses in Afghanistan --
including food, water, fuel and ammunition -- by road through Pakistan or Central Asia to distribution hubs at Bagram
air base north of Kabul and a similar base outside Kandahar. From there,
containers are loaded onto trucks provided by Afghan contractors under
the $2.16 billion Host Nation Trucking contract. Unlike in the Iraq war,
the security and vast majority of the trucks are provided by Afghans, a
difference that Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO
commander in Afghanistan, has praised as promoting local
entrepreneurship.

The trucks distribute the material to more than 200 U.S. military
outposts across Afghanistan, most of them in the southern and eastern
parts of the country where roads are largely controlled by warlords and
insurgent groups.

The report found no direct evidence of payoffs to the Taliban, but one
trucking program manager estimated that $1.6 million to $2 million per
week goes to the insurgents.

Most of the eight companies approved for the contract are Afghan-owned,
but they serve largely as brokers for subcontractors that provide the
trucks and security for the convoys, which often contain hundreds of
vehicles. According to the congressional report, the U.S. officers
charged with supervising the deliveries never travel off bases to
determine how the system works or to ensure that U.S. laws and
regulations are followed.

The report describes a system in which subcontractors -- most of them
well-known warlords who maintain their own militias -- charge $1,500 to
$15,000 per truck to supply guards and help secure safe passage through
territory they control. The most powerful of them, known as Commander
Ruhullah, controls passage along Highway One, the principal route
between Kabul and Kandahar, under the auspices of Watan Risk Management,
a company owned by two of Afghan President Hamid Karzai's cousins.

Overall management of who wins the security subcontracts, it said, is
often controlled by local political powerbrokers such as Karzai's half
brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, head of the Kandahar provincial council.

Relatively unknown before U.S. forces arrived in Afghanistan in fall
2001, Ruhullah is "prototypical of a new class of warlord in
Afghanistan," the report said. Unlike more traditional warlords, he has
no political aspirations or tribal standing but "commands a small army
of over 600 guards."

The "single largest security provider for the U.S. supply chain in
Afghanistan," Ruhullah "readily admits to bribing governors, police
chiefs and army generals," the report said. In a meeting with
congressional investigators in Dubai, he complained about "the high cost
of ammunition in Afghanistan -- he says he spends $1.5 million per
month on rounds for an arsenal that includes AK-47s, heavy machine guns
and RPGs," or rocket-propelled grenades. It added: "Villagers along the
road refer to him as 'the Butcher.' "

Despite his "critical role," the report said, "nobody from the
Department of Defense or the U.S. intelligence community has ever met
with him," other than special operations forces who have twice arrested
and released him, and he "is largely a mystery to both the U.S.
government and the contractors that employ his services."

Defense regulations and laws promulgated following difficulties with
private security contractors in Iraq limit the weaponry that contractors
can use and require detailed incident reports every time shots are
fired. But such reports are rarely, if ever, filed, investigators said.

Another trucking contractor described a "symbiotic" relationship between
security providers such as Ruhullah and the Taliban, whose fighters
operate in the same space, and said that the Taliban is paid not to
cause trouble for the convoys. "Many firefights are really negotiations
over the fee," the report said.

Among its recommendations, the report calls on the military to establish
"a direct line of authority and accountability over the private
security companies that guard the supply chain" and to provide "the
personnel and resources required to manage and oversee its trucking and
security contracts in Afghanistan."

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