Security for key US military supply routes in Afghanistan is in the hands of a small group of powerful Afghan warlords who run a massive protection racket and may be paying off the Taliban, according to a Congressional report being released Tuesday. The report, an advance copy of which was obtained by The Nation, discloses that the Army has opened a criminal investigation into the payoffs, as an Army Criminal Investigation Command spokesman confirmed this evening to the Associated Press.
The jarring report, called “Warlord, Inc,” is the result of a six-month investigation prompted by a Nation cover story last November, "How the US Funds the Taliban," about the largest US logistics contract in Afghanistan. Under that $2.16 billion contract, called Host Nation Trucking (HNT), the US Army has hired eight civilian trucking firms to transport supplies to the web of combat outposts and bases set up through Afghanistan. The Nation story, which was reported in conjunction with the Investigative Fund of The Nation Institute, described how US taxpayer dollars being funneled into an elaborate system of extortion in Afghanistan as well-connected security firms made payoffs to warlords allied with insurgents for safe passage of US military goods.
In the HNT contract, firms pay for their own private security, with little oversight from the US government. The report by the Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs says the resulting system promotes corruption and strengthens warlords—while the US military looks on. The contract “fuels warlordism, extortion, and corruption,” the report asserts, “and it may be a significant source of funding for insurgents." “When HNT contractors self-reported to the military that they were being extorted by warlords for protection payments for safe passage and that these payments were ‘funding the insurgency,’ they were largely met with indifference and inaction,” the report adds. Among the most significant findings in the report: “security for the US supply chain is principally provided by warlords”; “the highway warlords run a protection racket”; “protection payments for safe passage are a significant source of funding for the Taliban.”
“It’s outrageous that this is going on,” said Congressman John Tierney, chairman of the subcommittee, in an interview with The Nation. “The evidence indicates a protection racket that would make Tony Soprano proud.”
Committee investigators obtained emails and documents in which US contractors repeatedly warned the US military that they were paying bribes and being extorted, and that US taxpayer funds might be going to the Taliban.
In 2009, a contractor wrote frankly to military officers, “It is believed” that certain funds “are being paid as bribes to local Commanders, and therefore inevitably to the enemy.” In another case, a contractor wrote in an internal company memo of a meeting with the military where there was discussion of “funding the insurgency” with “what is estimated at 1.6–2 million Dollars per week.”
In one e-mail the subcommittee obtained, a US contractor shares explicit details with the military logistics headquarters at Bagram, writing that “the current price to the Taliban is $500 per truck from Kandahar to Herat, $50 from Kabul to Ghazni.” The contractor complains that “if we make payment that money will be funneled back into their fight against the Coalition.”