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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

U.S. Money in Hands of the Enemy

(CBS) Billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars are fuelling corruption in Afghanistan and funding the insurgency, according to a six-month investigation by the House subcommittee on National Security and Foreign affairs.

The committee's chairman, Rep. John F. Tierney, D-Mass., told CBS News: "the business is war and the war is business and you've got 'Warlord Inc.' going on over there."

Committee investigators found that private contractors in Afghanistan have been paying local warlords, criminals, government officials and a list of others for security on Afghanistan's roads, to get much needed supplies to U.S and NATO bases. But even worse, anecdotal evidence indicates that U.S. tax dollars are also going into the hands of the Taliban, who own many of the roads and areas through which the trucking convoys have to pass, reports CBS News chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan.

That would mean that the U.S. is literally funding the enemy, as violence escalates daily in Afghanistan and more U.S soldiers and Marines are dying than ever before in this war.

"This is the tip of the iceberg," Tierney said in an interview with CBS News. "There are other contracts over there, whether they are cell phone contracts or base security, and if you're paying the wrong people to do that and fuelling corruption, then it's not really going to speak well for the reason we sent our men and women there and the reason they're sacrificing their lives".

It also means that while the U.S. has been publicly pointing fingers at the Afghan government and President Hamid Karzai for not cleaning up corruption in his government, in fact the U.S. is a huge part of the corruption problem - and until now, has done nothing about it or even acknowledged that fact.

"We can't be putting that kind of money into a situation where it's going to be corruptive ... we have to get rules in place, implement them, oversee them, get it done right, and then we can demand with much more authority and credibility that the Afghan government do the same," Tierney said.

The committee investigators focused on one contract - the Host Nation Trucking contract or HNT - that is worth $2.16 billion U.S. dollars and divided between just eight companies - three of them American, three from the Middle East and two from Afghanistan. Over six months, they conducted dozens of formal interviews, dozens more informal interviews and ploughed through more than 20,000 documents.

They discovered damning evidence of the complete lack of oversight from the U.S. military and other agencies at the sub-contractor level of those contracts - and anecdotal evidence from the eight contracting companies that payoffs were being made to the Taliban to keep the convoys on the roads.

"What shocked me is the constant call of the contractors to bring it to the attention of the Department of Defense," Tierney said.

The response from the U.S.: turn a blind eye, as long as the goods get where they need to go.

But the reality of Afghanistan is that the Department of Defense has been following a policy endorsed by the U.S. government from the very beginning of this war: to use various warlords, criminals, corrupt powerbrokers etc where the U.S. deems it necessary.

From 2001, when the CIA carried in suitcases of cash to pay off tribal leaders, the U.S. strategy has included relying on "bad guys - as long as they are 'our' bad guys."

This is part of what made U.S. allegations of corruption in Afghanistan appear so hollow to many Afghan people. It is widely known and accepted amongst Afghans that Western aid money flooding into the country has created an alternative, more lucrative economy where it's rarely the "nice guys" who are coming out on top.

It's also widely known and accepted in many areas, that to carry out any reconstruction projects or U.S. funded counter-insurgency efforts requires large payoffs to the Taliban.

US logistics funds 'aiding Taliban'