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US defense contractors pay insurgents millions, report says

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US defense contractors are funding insurgents in Afghanistan, to the tune of tens of millions of dollars, according to a report in The Nation published Thursday.

The report, by veteran investigative correspondent Aram Roston, asserts that US military contractors charged with assisting US forces in Afghanistan are actually funding the groups killing American soldiers. Roston describes a protection racket similar to that of the mafia, in which contractors pay the Taliban “protection money” not to attack them.

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“In this grotesque carnival, the US military’s contractors are forced to pay suspected insurgents to protect American supply routes,” Roston writes. “It is an accepted fact of the military logistics operation in Afghanistan that the US government funds the very forces American troops are fighting. And it is a deadly irony, because these funds add up to a huge amount of money for the Taliban.

“It’s a big part of their income,” a top Afghan government security official purportedly told told The Nation.

Added an American defense executive, “The Army is basically paying the Taliban not to shoot at them. It is Department of Defense money.”

US officials estimate that as much as ten percent of taxpayer money doled out to private contractors ends up in insurgents’ hands. By a quick accounting, this amounts to tens of millions of dollars.

Mike Hanna, a manager for Afghan American Army Services, a trucking firm, told Roston that paying off the Taliban was a necessary evil.

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“We’re basically being extorted,” Hanna is quoted as saying. “Where you don’t pay, you’re going to get attacked. We just have our field guys go down there, and they pay off who they need to.

“Moving ten trucks, it is probably $800 per truck to move through an area,” he added. “It’s based on the number of trucks and what you’re carrying. If you have fuel trucks, they are going to charge you more. If you have dry trucks, they’re not going to charge you as much. If you are carrying MRAPs or Humvees, they are going to charge you more.”

“If you tell me not to pay these insurgents in this area,” he continued, “the chances of my trucks getting attacked increase exponentially.”

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Roston says paying the Taliban for protection is an issue of pragmatism.

“The heart of the matter,” he writes, “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 security firms don’t really protect convoys of American military goods here, because they simply can’t; they need the Taliban’s cooperation.”

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He notes that contractors, by regulation, are banned from carrying any weapons more serious than a rifle. This means they’re far outmatched when contending with insurgents that have rocket-propelled grenades.

The US military shells out huge sums of money to supply troops in remote Afghan areas, even outside the protection racket.

A recent estimate from the Pentagon found that the government spends some $400 a gallon for gasoline in Afghanistan when all transport costs are included.

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Afghanistan is landlocked, meaning that fuel must be transported in ways that stretch the limits of economic reason.

Because the country has no seaports, fuel is shipped to Karachi, in Pakistan, then carried across land by commercial trucks through Afghanistan. For remote bases, gasoline is sometimes transported by air.

Some fuel is even transported in “bladders” attached to the belly of helicopters.

The Nation report was underwritten by the Nation Institute, a nonprofit that funds investigative journalism.

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Small businesses in turmoil as pandemic stimulus talks stalled: report

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On Tuesday, Politico reported that small businesses are in limbo as the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) has stalled, and as the White House and Congress appear to be at a standstill on extending coronavirus stimulus.

"The collapse of pandemic relief negotiations has brought complications for the massive emergency lending program, which shut down on Saturday to new loans after doling out more than $520 billion in funds, leaving banks and borrowers unsure of how to proceed with a key phase of the rescue," reported Zachary Warmbrodt.

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2020 Election

Trump can’t attack Kamala Harris without contradicting his own message: Bakari Sellers

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On Tuesday's edition of CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360," former South Carolina lawmaker Bakari Sellers broke down why Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) poses such a challenge for President Donald Trump.

"What we're seeing with the two parties is the narrow focus is going to be on the fact that Donald Trump and the Trump campaign have no way, and they do not know how to deal, with Kamala Harris," said Sellers. "It very difficult to say 'Kamala is a cop' and be a 'law and order president.' Those two things simply do not mesh. Not only ahistorical and inaccurate, but the messages, they collide."

"But second, it shows that the Republican Party and Democratic Party are going in two vastly different directions," continued Sellers. "The country is becoming more diverse, the country is becoming more brown. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris represent the demographics of what the country will be, and Donald Trump and Steven Miller and Mike Pence represent a day that's passed. So what I would say tonight is while Donald Trump and Mike Pence want to cheer on the Confederacy, we're trying to re-imagine what this country will look like. It goes back to a time where Americans can feel good about being first and about thinking about what our country can be: full of hope and faith."

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2020 Election

WATCH: Tucker Carlson flips out after guest teaches him how to pronounce ‘Kamala Harris’

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Fox News personality Tucker Carlson repeated mispronounced the first name of Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), who is Joe Biden's running mate.

"On Fox, Tucker Carlson keeps calling her KAM-uh-luh, which is not how it's pronounced," Washington Post reporter Dave Weigel noted.

He linked to a tweet with a picture of Harris explaining in her memoir how to pronounce her name.

Harris wrote, "my name is pronounced 'comma-la' like the punctuation mark. It means 'lotus flower,' which is a symbol of significance in Indian culture. A lotus grows underwater, its flower rising above the surface while its roots are planted firmly in the river bottom."

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