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US Paying Taliban Not To Disrupt Military Supply Lines

In his dissent on escalation in Afghanistan, US Ambassador Karl Eikenberry has highlighted the corruption of the Afghan government. But that’s not the only corruption in the country. What else would you call paying the enemy to keep the war machine rolling?

Writing for The Nation, Aram Roston has uncovered a tangled web of former military and CIA officials, relatives of the Afghanistan President and Defense Minister and various other shady characters who act as a pipeline from the U.S. treasury to the Taliban:

In this grotesque carnival, the US military’s contractors are forced to pay suspected insurgents to protect American supply routes. It is an accepted fact of the military logistics operation in Afghanistan that the US government funds the very forces American troops are fighting. And it is a deadly irony, because these funds add up to a huge amount of money for the Taliban. “It’s a big part of their income,” one of the top Afghan government security officials told The Nation in an interview. In fact, US military officials in Kabul estimate that a minimum of 10 percent of the Pentagon’s logistics contracts–hundreds of millions of dollars–consists of payments to insurgents.

Here’s how the chain works: The U.S. government pays trucking firms to move supplies around Afghanistan to its rural and far flung outposts. These trucking companies then pay private security contracting firms, operated by druglords, warlords, the Taliban and relatives of senior Afghan Administration officials, or consortiums of any or all of them, for safe passage to American installations. As one American trucking executive said, “”The Army is basically paying the Taliban not to shoot at them. It is Department of Defense money.””

There is a big difference between paying soldiers not to fight, as was achieved in the Sunni areas of Iraq, and paying soldiers so you can keep fighting with intact weaponry. Especially when that money is going directly into the Taliban coffers and actually strengthening their hand around the country, even changing the power dynamic between them and Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda rose to prominence after receiving US payments for years during the Soviet war with Afghanistan. Now the Taliban insurgency are getting the same kind of profit windfall – and killing US soldiers with the proceeds.

The Senate Armed Services Committee could not be reached for comment.

UPDATE: A source confirms that this is “an open secret among the troops.” The money is used in the cities where the Taliban is strongest, like areas of Helmand province, and the money may come from something like the Commander Emergency Response Program, which at first blush sounds like a slush fund for commanders to use in Iraq and Afghanistan, although the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction actually called it well-managed. Of course, he was only talking about Iraq.

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David Dayen

David Dayen