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General News    H2'ed 6/14/14

As Sgt. Bergdahl is attacked, Congress still chief funder of Taliban

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As Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl's squad mates and a media chorus criticize his views and brand him a "traitor," the irony that congressional appropriations to the Pentagon are one of the biggest sources of funding for the Taliban continues.

["Fox News wonders: Should the military execute Bowe Bergdahl?"]

In 2009 a US congressional committee revealed that a large part of the billions of dollars in transportation contracts put out to Afghan trucking companies was going toward "protection payments" to the Taliban for it agreeing to not attack convoys. That report, entitled "Warlord, Inc.," was released by the Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, chaired by Rep. John Tierney of Massachusetts. The Committee gathered over 25,000 pages of documents and interviewed dozens of witnesses in Dubai, including contracting officers of the 484th Joint Movement Control Battalion and Afghan truck contractors.

Citing a November 2013 UN report, the UK Guardian reports that:

"Although the amount of protection money that insurgents receive from security companies employed to guard Nato supply convoys has fallen as foreign forces close bases, the report says 2014 is expected to be a bumper year as the alliance ships huge amounts of equipment out of the country."

The congressional committee determined that for one typical $2.2 billion contract studied in detail, up to 20 percent of US Pentagon funds went toward protection payments for supply convoys, which Afghan trucking contractors were either forced to pay to the Taliban and other insurgent groups, or face attack. The report found that the fundamental nature of the Afghan terrain outside of Kabul, mountainous, hostile expanses over which Taliban control is complete and undisputed, made it impossible to resupply the network of US bases in any other way but paying Taliban units not to attack.

The report raised eyebrows for the sheer magnitude of this source of insurgent financing. With extortion payments potentially in the hundreds of millions of dollars per year, the income rivaled the well-known opium trade as a source of Taliban revenue.

In 2010, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton indicated in congressional testimony that she and the administration were fully cognizant of the irony of taking a hard line on the Taliban while at the same time being one of its biggest sources of income when she said:

"You offload a ship in Karachi [Pakistan] 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."

The "protection money," as Clinton called it, is used to buy weapons, ammunition, explosives, and roadside bomb electronics which are then turned against US soldiers.

So critical to the Taliban's operations is the protection money that a falling out between the US and the Pakistani government in 2012 caused consternation among Taliban commanders. Supply convoys must pass through Pakistan in order to reach their destinations. A Taliban commander told the AP:

"Stopping these supplies caused us real trouble...Earnings dropped down pretty badly. Therefore the rebellion was not as strong as we had planned."

A US officer is quoted in the congressional committee report "Warlord Inc." saying:

"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."

The November 2013 UN report which asserts that the protection payments which sparked "Warlord Inc." have not stopped says:

"In 2014, Afghanistan will experience a significant spike in international spending to finance the large-scale logistical operations necessary for the withdrawal of international forces from Afghanistan. As the Taliban continue to exercise partial control over the eastern and southern routes leading out of Afghanistan, it must be expected that the Taliban will be able to extort a portion of the money resulting from the drawdown from local subcontractors."

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Ralph Lopez majored in Economics and Political Science at Yale University. He writes for Truth Out, Alternet, Consortium News, Op-Ed News, and other Internet media. He reported from Afghanistan in 2009 and produced a short documentary film on (more...)

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