To protect its supply routes in Afghanistan, the US military is funneling millions of dollars into the hands of a small number of powerful Afghan warlords who run a massive protection racket and may be paying off the Taliban, according to a Congressional report released on June 22.
The scathing report, titled "Warlord, Inc.," was the result of a six-month Congressional investigation prompted by a Nation cover story, "How the US Funds the Taliban" [November 30, 2009], about the largest US logistics contract in Afghanistan. The report by the Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs confirms the findings of the Nation article, which was reported in conjunction with the Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute. The story described how US taxpayer dollars for the "Host Nation Trucking (HNT)" contract were being funneled to warlords and insurgents in an elaborate system of extortion to secure safe passage for military goods. Under that $2.16 billion contract, the US Army has hired eight civilian trucking firms to transport supplies to the web of combat outposts and bases set up throughout Afghanistan.
The Army Criminal Investigative Command (CID) has opened a criminal investigation into the HNT contract. A spokesman for the Army CID said the investigation was ongoing but declined to release details.
In the contract, firms pay for their own private security, with little oversight from the US government. The subcommittee report 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 its most significant findings: "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," says Congressman John Tierney, chair of the subcommittee, in an interview with The Nation. "The evidence indicates a protection racket that would make Tony Soprano proud."
Subcommittee investigators obtained e-mails and documents in which US contractors repeatedly warn the military that they are 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 an e-mail cited by the report, a contractor shares explicit details with the military logistics headquarters at Bagram Air Base, writing that "the current price to the Taliban is $500 per truck from Kandahar to Herat, $50 from Kabul to Ghazni." Driving home how much influence the warlords now have, the report includes a contractor’s printed list of forty-four military supply routes, each apparently controlled by one of ten warlords. The subcommittee report compares it to a "prix fixe menu" for security.