Rep. Tierney: Pentagon Dollars Rival Opium as Taliban Funds Source, Military Complicit
On June 9, 2010 American citizen Fahad Hashmi was sentenced to 15 years in prison by a U.S. court for "material assistance" to Al Qaeda, allegedly helping to pass a pair of waterproof socks and some ponchos, through an intermediary, to an operative in Pakistan. The intermediary was a "friend of a friend" who stayed for two weeks in Fahad's London flat while Fahad was a graduate student. Fahad didn't know the man, who brought two suitcases which remained unopened in a corner for his whole stay. Fahad says he didn't know what the suitcases contained, never mind what it was for, and certainly not that they contained "material assistance." The government's charges did not allege anything else had been passed, no weapons, no cash. Just socks and ponchos.
On June 28, Rep. Nita Lowey took the unprecedented step of slashing all civilian assistance to Afghanistan, citing concerns over "corruption." Possibly as a warning shot to the Karzai government over a report in the Wall Street Journal that each week millions in cash were being flown out of Kabul Airport, in civilian assistance, Rep. Lowey said she would not "appropriate one more dime for assistance to Afghanistan" until she had confidence that "U.S. taxpayer money" was not lining "the pockets of corrupt Afghan government officials, drug lords and terrorists." Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi concurred, saying: "This is about systemic, huge money."
Now, as U.S. soldier deaths in Afghanistan reach new heights, with eight dead in one grim, recent day, we have a better idea than ever of where the money is coming from that is killing them. Despite the army's announcement of a "criminal investigation," the problem runs deep and is probably unsolvable short of a complete military pull-out. At issue is the capacity of the U.S. to conduct the war without paying the enemy to not attack it, specifically the vast re-supply chain of thousands of truck convoys each month which are subcontracted to local Afghan truckers. It amounts to "material assistance" of "systemic, huge money," to use Pelosi's words.
It is known all the way up the chain of command, including the civilian leadership. The findings are formal and cannot cannot possibly be unknown to every U.S. congressman, as they stem from one of its own investigative committees. Six months before the Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, chaired by Rep. Tierney (D-MA,) was released this last June, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Congress in testimony:
"You offload a ship in Karachi and by the time whatever it is – you know, muffins for our soldiers’ breakfasts or anti-IED equipment – gets to where we’re headed, it goes through a lot of hands. And one of the major sources of funding for the Taliban is the protection money."
A formal investigation by the Tierney Subcommittee has concluded after interviews of 31 witnesses and over 25,000 pages of documents, that nearly as much or more of Taliban funding comes from U.S. military contracts as from opium profits. The interviews with military contracting personnel and others were conducted in Dubai and Washington. The report is Warlord, Inc.
Of a follow-up investigation opened by the Army, the AP's Richard Lardner writes:
"Criminal investigators are examining allegations that Afghan security firms have been extorting as much as $4 million a week from contractors paid with U.S. tax dollars and then funneling the spoils to warlords and the Taliban. If the allegations are true, the U.S. would be unintentionally financing the enemy and undermining international efforts to stabilize the country.
The payments reportedly end up in insurgent hands through a $2.1 billion Pentagon contract to transport food, water, fuel and ammunition to American troops stationed at bases across Afghanistan. To ensure safe passage through dangerous areas, the trucking companies make payments to local security firms with ties to the Taliban or warlords who control the roads. If the payments aren't made, the convoys will be attacked, according to a U.S. military document detailing the allegations being examined by investigators."
Lardner's write-up contains one glaring inaccuracy. The Pentagon may be "reluctantly" financing the enemy, but it has long had full knowledge of where part of that money was going every time it cut a check, and even a pretty good idea of how much. It may be a reluctant practice, but it is certainly not "unintentional," since that implies a lack of deliberation and foreknowledge of consequences. The Tierney report quotes military contracting officers saying time and again that they "may not like it," that complaints to higher command fell upon "deaf ears," but that nevertheless, "it is what it is." Lardner's use of the word "unintentionally" was perhaps the price of the story's admission into the mainstream, compliant media. Used in this context it is wildly incorrect.
This is not friendly fire, which means in the fog of war one soldier unintentionally kills another. A deliberate decision has been made, and continues to be made, since the military acknowledges there is no other way to get this volume of supplies around and still have a decent war. The report notes the Russians regularly had three-fourths of its forces tied up in protecting the supply chain, leaving it unable to mount large "offensive clearing operations," to use Pentagon-Speak. These also happen to make good news stories.
An American officer in the Tierney report says:
"the heart of the matter is that insurgents are getting paid for safe passage because there are few other ways to bring goods to the combat outposts and forward operating bases where soldiers need them. By definition, many outposts are situated in hostile terrain, in the southern parts of Afghanistan. The [Afghan security companies run by warlords] don't really protect convoys of American military goods here, because they simply can't; they need the Taliban's cooperation."
A contracting officer in the the 484th Movement Control Battalion, which oversaw military contracting in Afghanistan for a key period of time, told the Tierney Subcommittee that "he believed that the problem had probably been occurring for years and would have already been resolved if a feasible solution existed." A logistics officer called Afghanistan “the harshest logistics environment on earth.” Another said that in Iraq, with decent infrastructure and manageable terrain, the supply chain is virtually on "cruise control." But in Afghanistan, says the report:
"The terrain is unforgiving: deserts that kick up sandstorms in the summer become flooded and muddy in the spring, and treacherous mountain roads leave no room for error. Summer heat regularly reaches 120 degrees. Mountain weather can change in an instant, bringing snow and freezing rain. In the winter, the single tunnel that connects Kabul to northern Afghanistan is frequently cut off by avalanches."
Welcome to the Graveyard of Empires.
The words "Taliban" and "opium" are closely associated in people's minds. Without opium there would be no Taliban in the potent form in which it stands. The word "opium" should now be supplanted by the words "DoD contract" when thinking of the Taliban. The Taliban takes from its opium protection racket an estimated $300 million per year. The $4 million per week in the trucking supply protection racket, the figure given by the Pentagon, adds up to $208 million per year. As the Obama administration's third-highest-ranking official, behind the president and vice president, it is not clear how Secretary of State Clinton came by her information, or whether the president is aware of it. Going by the upper estimate in the Guardian report, 20% of U.S. contract funds go to insurgents, most of it "happening in logistics." Using only the $2.16 billion figure of the largest contract examined in the Tierney report, as much as $400 million in "U.S. taxpayer money" is financing the Taliban, far exceeding opium profits. In Pelosi's words, "systemic, huge money." This is material assistance which amounts to a bit more than socks and ponchos. Yet no one has been sentenced to 15 years.
Afghans in 2001 were particularly war-weary, happy that the weird, brutal government foisted upon them by Pakistan had been driven off, and looking forward to something different. Their wretched near-starvation existence for most of the last 30 years seemed to remain the same no matter who was in power. Looking around later, they saw many of the same warlords who had committed most of the atrocities against them over the years in the new government. These are the same people who now own the private "security" companies which act as middlemen between the U.S. military and the Taliban. An executive of one trucking contractor told Aram Roston of the UK Guardian: "Every warlord has his security company."
In the north, every contractor and subcontractor assigned to take U.S. supplies to Uruzgan exclusively uses Matiullah Khan's security services. The cost to move a truck is between $1,500 and $3,000 per truck, depending on whether it is toilet paper, tents, Oreo Cookies, fuel, Humvees, MRAP armored vehicles, or ammunition. The CEO of a private security company in Afghanistan stated that:
“Matiullah has the road from Kandahar to Tarin Kowt completely under his control. No one can travel without Matiullah without facing consequences. There is no other way to get there. You have to either pay him or fight him.”
One problem with Matiullah is that he is the nephew and chief enforcer of Jan Mohammad Khan, the deposed governor of Uruzgan and the local strongman. According to press reports, Matiullah "led the hit squads that killed stubborn farmers who did not want to surrender their land, daughters, and livestock to the former governor.”
A New York Times report says, “many Afghans say the Americans and their NATO partners are making a grave mistake by tolerating or encouraging warlords like Mr. Matiullah. These Afghans fear the Americans will leave behind an Afghan government too weak to do its work, and strongmen without any popular support."
One of the Tierney report's most elucidating passages explains:
"Commander Ruhullah [who controls the key Highway 1 between Kabul and Kandahar to the south] is just one of dozens of warlords, strongmen, and commanders who have found a niche in providing security services to the U.S. military in Afghanistan. Some are well-known tribal leaders or former mujahedeen who have been in the business of war for the past thirty years. Others, like Commander Ruhullah, are relative newcomers whose power and influence are directly derivative of their contracting and subcontracting work for the U.S. government. Both the old and new warlords’ interests are in fundamental conflict with a properly functioning government...yet these warlords have flourished providing security for the U.S. supply chain there."
It's not as if the threats are bluffs. They are promptly carried out in most business-like fashion. In an incident in the summer of 2008, one convoy which made the mistake of not paying "Commander Ruhullah" reported hostile contact with 15-20 insurgents. According to the report:
"[The convoy security commander] came to the conclusion that this ambush... was well planned by Ruhullah...minutes before the ambush the guards of [the security commander] could see that the guards of Ruhullah were busy on their phones and now know that they were talking with the insurgents."
And what happens if the warlords/Taliban decide they have enough Ame-dee-can money and want their country back, so they can get on with the business of warring with each other? It is axiomatic that if the insurgents can allow the war to continue, they can also shut it down. This is perhaps the cruelest hoax, that we are sending young men and women into a war which everyone knows, by definition, cannot be won. This is much what the Pentagon Papers revealed to the public about Vietnam. Except this is not the Pentagon Papers. It is a report originating from the very body which is now deliberating the war, the U.S. Congress, which it is the duty of every representative and senator to read and understand. There is no plausible "I didn't know" thanks to the hard work of Chairman Tierney and his staff.
As the U.S. Senate next week takes up the issue of funding for the escalation of the war in Afghanistan, it will inevitably vote on whether to continue the flow of funding for the Taliban, at a time when U.S. jobs programs could themselves use some funding. The Obama administration has requested $30 billion to be voted on in the Senate, which only passed in the House after unprecedented procedural hijinks last month, and even Nancy Pelosi saying beforehand that she was not sure she had the votes to pass the war funding.
A "yes" vote in the Senate will place that senator in the company of Fahad Hashmi, with a clear, direct line provable in a court of law of "material assistance" for the enemy, and with far more foreknowledge than poor Fahad had with his lousy visitor. Passed without any component for civilian aid, even those relatively free of corruption like Afghanistan's National Solidarity Program, that vote will deprive not one people, but two, of their hopes for a better future. It will impoverish Americans by guaranteeing further civil war in Afghanistan, making it impossible for the U.S. ever to extricate itself, and turn into another $3 trillion war. It will impoverish Afghans by bringing to power the most violent, mysogynist gangster elements in the country, again. Who will win? As always, the profit-taking side of the war machine.
Such as the Carlyle Group, whose name was made by buying undervalued defense stocks and then connecting them with big-time government contracts, a feat made easier by the presence of such names as George H.W. Bush and James Baker III on its Advisory Board. Chief investment officer Bill Conway told the Financial Times after the first 18 months of the Iraq War, when the company's profits from Iraq came to $6.6 billion, a span of time in which nearly 900 U.S. soldiers had died: "It's the best 18 months we ever had. We made money, and we made it fast."
Last May, 18 senators voted for a Russ Feingold amendment to require the president to submit a timeline for military withdrawal from Afghanistan by December 31, 2010. This is only 23 votes short of the votes required to sustain a filibuster, which could be mounted to prevent the war bill from coming to the floor for a vote. The mystery is gone. The casing has been yanked off the meat-grinder-money-machine for all to see, and it is uglier than anyone ever imagined.