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US indirectly funds Afghan warlords to ensure safe supply chain

By Lynn Herrmann     Jun 22, 2010 in Politics
A new government report released late Monday night reveals the US military is funding warlords in Afghanistan, indirectly providing tens of millions of dollars to various factions to ensure safe passage of its supply chain.
A new congressional report entitled, Warlord, Inc.: Extortion and Corruption Along the U.S. Supply Chain in Afghanistan, reveals “sobering and shocking” details over a protection racket that risks “undermining the U.S. strategy for achieving its goals in Afghanistan.”
The report, prepared by the Majority staff of the Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and chaired by Rep. John F. Tierney (D-MA), concludes a six-month investigation that exposes various circumstances surrounding a $2.16 billion injection into “a corruptive environment.”
Centered around Host Nation Trucking (HNT) contracts, the report recommends the US government reconsider its “overall strategic approach” to the mission in Afghanistan.
Tierney’s cover letter to the report recommends the Department of Defense (DoD) “take a hard look at this report and initiate prompt remedial action.”
The principal HNT contract supporting the US military supply chain in Afghanistan is split among eight Afghan, American, and Middle Eastern Companies. While there are other supply chain contracts, HNT is principal and provides over 70 percent of total goods and materials distributed to US field troops. This equates into roughly 6,000 to 8,000 truck missions per month. This supply chain provides food, fuel, ammunition, supplies and Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles (MRAPS).
Because of the rugged terrain and “remote and insecure locations,” extraordinary levels of security are required to ensure passage of the truck missions. For example, as noted in the report, a 300-supply truck convoy going from Kabul to Kandahar “will travel with 400-500 guards in dozens of trucks armed with heavy machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs).
This form of travel opens the door to many firefights with “alleged insurgents, rival security providers, and other criminal elements.” Many of these conflicts last for hours, involving significant firepower and numerous civilian casualties. A leading convoy security commander in Afghanistan, in an interview with the Subcommittee staff, said he spent $1.5 million per month on ammunition alone.
Stunning in its revelations, the report shows that “security for the US Supply Chain is Principally Provided by Warlords.”
It finds that “The principal private security subcontractors on the HNT contract are warlords, strongmen, commanders, and militia leaders who compete with the Afghan central government for power and authority. Providing ‘protection’ services for the U.S. supply chain empowers these warlords with money, legitimacy, and a raison d’etre for their private armies. Although many of these warlords nominally operate under private security companies licensed by the Afghan Ministry of Interior, the warlords thrive in a vacuum of government authority and their interests are in fundamental conflict with U.S. aims to build a strong Afghan government.”
It cites Commander Ruhullah, “prototypical” of the new class of the Afghani warlords. Leader of a small army of over 600 armed guards, his men engage insurgents, receiving and inflicting “extraordinary casualty figures.” In a Dubai interview with Subcommittee staff, he claims 450 of his own men were killed last year alone, along with many more Taliban dead.
In the interview, according to the report, he also complained of the high cost of ammunition in Afghanistan, claiming to spend $1.5 million per month on “arsenal that includes AK-47s, heavy machine guns, and RPGs. Villagers along the supply route refer to him as “the Butcher.”
Today he is the single largest security provider for the US military’s supply chain in Afghanistan, yet despite his “critical and sensitive role,” nobody from DoD or the US intelligence community has ever met him, save for a brief detention by US Special Forces on “false drug charges.”
Commander Ruhullah is paid “handsomely” for his services. He guards roughly 3,500 US supply trucks each month. Prime contractors and local Afghan subcontractors use his services. He charges up to $1,500 per truck.
Ruhullah is but one of “dozens of warlords, strongmen, and commanders who have found a niche in providing security services to the U.S. military in Afghanistan,” the report adds. While Ruhullah is a relative newcomer to the US contracting and subcontracting efforts in the Afghan wars, the report notes “some are well-known tribal leaders or former mujahedeen who have been in the business of war for the past thirty years.”
The report notes that “a typical convoy movement operates on Ruhullah’s schedule.” He will assemble between 200-400 trucks loaded with US supplies in Maydan Shahr, just south of Kabul. “His local sub-commanders will wait several days to gather as many trucks as possible before moving, even if some trucks are days or weeks overdue at their destination.”
Ruhullah operates under license of Watan Risk Management (WRM), a registered security company owned by Ahmed Rateb Popal and Rashid Popal, two cousins of Afghan President Harzai. He dominates the critical section of Highway 1 between Kandahar and Kabul, the central supply artery for the US/NATO mission in southern Afghanistan. It is heavily infiltrated by the Taliban.
Most prime HNT contractors use Ruhullah for security. Of the eight contractors, all but one contract directly or indirectly with WRM. Only a small handful of convoy security provides work that section of highway. Those who choose not to employ Ruhullah’s services “claim to experience abnormally high incident rates,” the report states.
The report also profiles Matiullah Khan, principal warlord of Uruzgan, just north of Khandahar. He is also that area’s leading private security provider. The New York Times recently labeled him as “an illiterate former highway patrol commander” and “the most powerful man” in Uruzgan.
Ahmed Wali Karzai, younger half-brother to President Karzai, gives almost all credit to Matiullah for making Uruzgan Province safe. Karzai claims Matiullah is “a very successful police officer” who is “in charge of highway patrol.” Karzai claims “the Taliban have been defeated in Uruzgan,” primarily because of Matiullah.
Every HNT contractor and subcontractor assigned to US supply convoys in Uruzgan uses Matiullah’s securtiy services exclusively. At a cost of between $1,500 and $3,000 per truck, per mission. Dutch and Australian forces based in Uruzgan also use Matiullah’s services. He provides security with more than 200 support trucks per month for NATO forces, and news accounts estimate he earned $4 million to $6 million per year from NATO security alone.
According to the report, the CEO of a private security company in Afghanistan stated: “Matiullah has the road from Kandahar to Tarin Kowt completely under his control No one can travel without Matiullah without facing consequences. There is no other way to get there. You have to either pay him or fight him.”
These are but two of the warlords/private security providers profiled in the report. Among other findings, the report shows “highway warlords run a protection racket.”
It also finds that “Protection payments for safe passage are a significant potential source of funding for the Taliban.”
The 85-page report (with endnotes) maintains the DoD as having a “dismissive attitude” that was prevalent throughout its various components responsible for the HNT contracts. It
offers numerous recommendations to improve contracting integrity while limiting corruptive influences.
The DoD must take direct responsibility for trucking contractors to ensure “robust oversight.”
The report recommends DoD and trucking/security contractors ensure accountability between DoD and relevant subcontractors, including DoD inspections and audits.
It also recommends the DoD oversee contracts to ensure transparency and performance, which include provisions for “force protection resources necessary for mobility of Department of Defense personnel to conduct periodic unannounced inspections and ride-alongs.”
Other recommendations include conducting surveys that show “actual trucking capacity available” to DoD, and considering the role of Afghan national security forces in highway security.
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