WASHINGTON — Private security contractors protecting the convoys that supply U.S. military bases in Afghanistan are paying millions of dollars a week in “passage bribes” to the Taliban and other insurgent groups to travel along Afghan roads, a congressional investigation released Monday has found.
The payments, which are reimbursed by the U.S. government, help fund the very enemy the U.S. is trying to defeat and renew questions about the U.S. dependence on private contractors, who outnumber American troops in Afghanistan, 130,000 to 93,000.
The report alleges that neither the contactors nor the military know specifically how the trucks arrive safely at bases when many of the country’s roads are regular targets of Taliban attacks.
The report’s author called the findings of the six-month investigation “sobering and shocking.”
“This arrangement has fueled a vast protection racket run by shadowy network of warlords, strongmen, commanders, corrupt Afghan officials, and perhaps others,” wrote Rep. John Tierney, D-Mass., the chairman of the House subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs. “Not only does the system run afoul of the (Defense) Department’s own rules and regulations mandated by Congress, it also appears to risk undermining the U.S. strategy for achieving its goals in Afghanistan.”
The subcommittee is scheduled to hold a hearing into its investigation today.
Nearly every company listed in the report is associated with senior Afghan officials, including President Hamid Karzai.
Not just insurgents benefit. The truckers pay as much as $1,500 a truck to “nearly every Afghan governor, police chief and local military unit whose territory the company passed,” en route to a U.S. base, according to the 79-page report.
Concerns over whether U.S. contracting is fueling Afghanistan’s rampant corruption have existed for years, but only earlier this month did Michele Flournoy, the undersecretary of defense for policy, and Army Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. Central Command, establish a task force in Afghanistan to investigate the effects.
Maj. John Redfield, a spokesman for the U.S. Central Command, which oversees operations in Afghanistan, said, “We take these accusations seriously.”
U.S. deaths in Afghanistan
@Breakout text first-line indent:A helicopter crash killed a U.S. service member as well as three Australians before dawn Monday in southern Afghanistan; NATO officials said there was no evidence hostile fire was responsible.
Four Americans and five other NATO troops died in separate attacks in the east and south, officials said.
The latest deaths brought the number of Americans killed in Afghanistan in June to 41.