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$360 Million In Military Contracts Went To Taliban, Other Afghan Criminals

In a trickle-down effect, about $360 million spent by the United States on combat support and reconstruction contracts in Afghanistan ended up in enemy hands. As the AP reports, the U.S. military said the money was handed down by contractors to "the Taliban, criminals and local power brokers with ties to both."

The AP adds:

The losses, measured over the past year by a special task force, underscore the challenges the U.S. and its international partners face in overcoming corruption in Afghanistan. A central plank of the U.S. strategy has been to award U.S.-financed contracts to Afghan businesses to stoke the country's economy.

But until the task force began its investigation, there was little visibility into the connections these companies and their vast network of subcontractors had with insurgents and criminals.

Yesterday, the Washington Post ran a story detailing the steps the U.S. military is taking to curb the amount of money that goes to insurgents. The military awarded at least 20 companies about $1 billion worth of contracts and suspended seven contractors it said lacked "integrity and business ethics."

The Post reports:

"I think we've finally got our arms around this thing," said a senior military officer who was authorized to discuss the matter only on the condition of anonymity. The new contracts, the official said, were the result of a year's worth of "intelligence work and asking the right questions. We're now starting to take action."

Congressional investigators determined last year that much of the transport and security money went to the Taliban and Afghan warlords as part of a protection racket to ensure the safe arrival of the convoys, conclusions that were confirmed this spring by military and intelligence inquiries.

Some lawmakers, reports the Post, criticized how long it took the military to respond. But an unnamed senior congressional staff member told the paper things are more complicated than that:

U.S. commanders have argued that outsourcing the transport and security frees up the U.S. warfighters to handle more important missions. The only alternative, said a senior congressional staff member speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss information not yet released, is "to reduce the [U.S.] footprint in Afghanistan."

Policymakers and the public need to understand, he said, that "the cost of doing business is that we have to pay, effectively, our enemy for the right to be there."

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Eyder Peralta
Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.