Aram Roston's November Nation exposé, "How the U.S. Funds the Taliban," has been fast picking up steam on Capitol Hill. In the article, supported by the Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute, Roston detailed how hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. taxpayer funds are being funneled to Afghan insurgents, including the Taliban. The funds, he found, are used as bribes to secure safe passage of U.S. and Coalition supplies on Afghanistan trucking routes. U.S. and Afghanistan officials as well as private contractors all confirmed that such payola is rampant.
On December 2, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledged Roston's findings in a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee. "There's a lot of evidence," she said, "that, in addition to funding from the Gulf and the illegal narcotics trade, that siphoning off contractual money from the international community...is a major source of funding for the Taliban." Days later, the spokesman for NATO's forces in Afghanistan acknowledged that contracting dollars might be making it into Taliban hands.
Then yesterday, the House Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs announced a "comprehensive" investigation into the Department of Defense's multibillion dollar Host Nation Trucking contract and related logistics contracts in Afghanistan. The inquiry will be led by the subcommittee's chair, Rep. John Tierney of Massachusetts.
Tierney cited the Nation cover story in his press release announcing the investigation and reiterated the grave questions raised by Roston's report:
"Serious allegations have been brought to the Subcommittee's attention that private security providers for U.S. transportation contractors in Afghanistan are regularly paying local warlords and the Taliban for security. After a preliminary inquiry, it has been determined these reports warrant a full-scale Subcommittee investigation. If shown to be true, it would mean that the United States is unintentionally engaged in a vast protection racket and, as such, may be indirectly funding the very insurgents we are trying to fight."
Tierney has begun seeking documents from the Department of Defense and key companies connected to the $2.1 billion U.S. logistics contract in Afghanistan.
The story has taken on increased significance since President Obama announced his "surge" in Afghanistan. It would certainly be more than a little bit "bizarre," in the words of The New Statesman, if more U.S. funds poured into Afghanistan meant, simply, more U.S. funds ending up in Taliban hands.