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.