View Photo Gallery — Images from Afghanistan: July 2011: Continued photo coverage of life and war in Afghanistan.
WASHINGTON POST WITH FOREIGN POLICY
A year-long military-led investigation has concluded that U.S. taxpayer money has been indirectly funneled to the Taliban under a $2.16 billion transportation contract that the United States has funded in part to promote Afghan businesses.
The unreleased investigation provides seemingly definitive evidence that corruption puts U.S. transportation money into enemy hands, a finding consistent with previous inquiries carried out by Congress, other federal agencies and the military. Yet U.S. and Afghan efforts to address the problem have been slow and ineffective, and all eight of the trucking firms involved in the work remain on U.S. payroll. In March, the Pentagon extended the contract for six months.
According to a summary of the investigation results, compiled in May and reviewed by The Washington Post, the military found “documented, credible evidence . . . of involvement in a criminal enterprise or support for the enemy” by four of the eight prime contractors. Investigators also cited cases of profiteering, money laundering and kickbacks to Afghan power brokers, government officials and police officers. Six of the companies were found to have been associated with “fraudulent paperwork and behavior.”
“This goes beyond our comprehension,” said Rep. John F. Tierney (D-Mass.), who last summer was chairman of a House oversight subcommittee that charged that the military was, in effect, supporting a vast protection racket that paid insurgents and corrupt middlemen to ensure safe passage of the truck convoys that move U.S. military supplies across Afghanistan.
The military summary included several case studies in which money was traced from the U.S. Treasury through a labyrinth of subcontractors and power brokers. In one, investigators followed a $7.4 million payment to one of the eight companies, which in turn paid a subcontractor, who hired other subcontractors to supply trucks.
The trucking subcontractors then made deposits into an Afghan National Police commander’s account, already swollen with payments from other subcontractors, in exchange for guarantees of safe passage for the convoys. Intelligence officials traced $3.3 million, withdrawn in 27 transactions from the commander’s account, that was transferred to insurgents in the form of weapons, explosives and cash.
A senior U.S. defense official said that a radically revised transport system, replacing the Host Nation Trucking contract when it expires in September, will be announced in a few weeks. Based on the findings of the investigation, the new contract will expand the number of companies from eight to at least 30 and change the security system for the truck convoys. It will require detailed information on all subcontractors and supervision by military units in the field rather than headquarters-based contracting officers.
In the meantime, interim steps have been taken to improve oversight and accountability within the murky web of companies and individuals involved in the shipment of more than 70 percent of all U.S. military food, fuel, weapons and construction material within Afghanistan, said the official, who was authorized to discuss the issue only on the condition of anonymity.