Research support for this article was provided by the Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute.
As President Obama prepares a massive military buildup in Afghanistan, a House subcommittee has launched an investigation into whether Defense Department contractors are paying off the Taliban to protect American supply lines. The investigation was triggered by a Nation cover story [see Roston, “How the US Funds the Taliban,” November 30].
Representative John Tierney, chair of the national security and foreign affairs subcommittee, said a “preliminary inquiry,” including testimony from “a couple of whistleblowers,” produced enough evidence to merit a full-fledged investigation. “If the allegations are taken to their conclusion,” he said, “it would indicate that US taxpayer money is going to insurgents.”
In interviews with The Nation, Afghan government officials, security contractors and trucking company executives outlined a giant protection racket, funded by US taxpayers, which raises millions for the Taliban. With no US military forces protecting their supply lines, contractors had to protect routes by other means: payoffs. As one trucking company official told The Nation, “If you tell me not to pay these insurgents in this area, the chances of my trucks getting attacked increase exponentially.”
At the heart of the scandal is the Defense Department’s $2.2 billion Host Nation Trucking contract, a military logistics operation launched with six major contractors, a number that has since risen to eight. One of the contractors under investigation is NCL Holdings, a US firm headed by Hamed Wardak, the Afghan-American son of Afghanistan’s defense minister, Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak. (NCL denies ever having made payments, directly or indirectly, to the Taliban.)
But it seems Hamed Wardak was more than just a defense contractor with a budding business. Parallel to his business ventures, he’s been running an aggressive foreign policy campaign in Washington to keep the US heavily vested in Afghanistan. A confidential lobbying memo obtained by The Nation shows that Wardak commissioned a blue-chip lobbying firm to push for an extended US presence in Afghanistan–a potentially lucrative outcome for NCL.
Earlier this year Patton Boggs LLP, Washington’s most monied lobbying firm, established a nonprofit front group on Wardak’s behalf to act as the “face” of a campaign for increased US engagement in Afghanistan, according to confidential legal records. Patton Boggs is heavily involved in foreign policy and has registered with the Justice Department as a foreign agent for governments and interests in Angola, Cameroon, China, Cyprus, India, Sri Lanka and Qatar, though not Afghanistan.
The documents obtained by The Nation are an influence-peddling playbook for the Wardak effort.
The website of the Campaign for a U.S.-Afghanistan Partnership offers up nothing controversial on its face. Calling itself “a membership organization for U.S. and Afghan citizens,” CUSAP argues that the United States needs to remain engaged in Afghanistan long-term. “Afghanistan is not Vietnam,” reads an introduction, “and it is not a quagmire.” Since January CUSAP members, often introduced by Patton Boggs, have met with journalists, produced policy papers and lobbied on Capitol Hill.