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Miles Mogulescu Headshot

How US Aid Helps the Taliban

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President Obama is preparing to travel to West Pont to announce a revised strategy to "finish the job" in Afghanistan, which is reported to include a substantial military escalation. Meanwhile, disturbing news reports continue to leak out about how American financial aid ends up in the hands of the Taliban and about how American troop presence is the most effective recruiting tool for the Taliban (and Islamic extremists throughout the world).

A headline last week in the English newspaper, The Guardian, read "HOW THE US ARMY PROTECTS ITS TRUCKS -- BY PAYING THE TALIBAN". The accompanying article reported that tens of millions of dollars in American taxpayers' money, allocated to pay Afghani trucking contractors to deliver supplies to American troops, ends up directly in the hands of the Taliban, who are paid off by the contractors not to attack their trucks.

"In this grotesque carnival, the US military's contractors are forced to pay suspected insurgents to protect American supply routes. 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...In fact, US military officials in Kabul estimate that a minimum of 10% of the Pentagon's logistics contracts -- hundreds of millions of dollars, consists of payments to insurgents."

According to The Guardian , US military-funded trucking contracts to supply American troops are funneled through 6 private Afghani trucking companies each of which has a $360 million contract of American taxpayer money for a 2-year total of $2.2 billion or 10% of Afghanistan's gross domestic product. Part of the idea is to build up the Afghan economy by paying local firms. But several of these trucking firms are controlled by relatives of top Afghan government officials, including President Karzai, and their leaders have previously been charged by the US government with drug trafficking. According to a military official in Kabul,

"We understand that across the board, 10%-20% [of these contracts] goes to the insurgents."

In short, of these $2.2 billion in US taxpayer-funded trucking contracts to supply American troops, somewhere between $220 million and $440 million ends up in the hands of the Taliban and other insurgents. According to one trucking executive, "The army is basically paying the Taliban not to shoot at them [the supply trucks]. It is Department of Defense money."

As President Obama prepares to announce the deployment of 30,000-35,000 more troops to Afghanistan (at a cost of a million a year per soldier), the sick ironies only deepen. According to Sunday's Washington Post, the first of these new troops to be dispatched almost immediately, 9,000 Marines, will be deployed to the Southern province of Helmand where they will nearly double the size of U.S. forces there " in a critical test for Afghan President Hamid Karzai's struggling government and Gen. Stanley A. McCrystal's counterinsurgency strategy".

But according to the Guardian article, one of the key routes used by the Taliban-bribing trucking contractors to supply US troops is Highway 1 to Kandahar.

"Think of it as the road to the war -- to the South and the West. If the army wants to get supplies down to Helmand, for example, the trucks must make their way through Kandahar."

And to make their way down Route 1 through Kandahar, they have to pay off the Taliban.

The Alice in Wonderland conclusion -- the 9,000 brave Marines whom President Obama is dispatching to secure Helmand province from the Taliban will result in tens of millions of dollars more in American-funded bribes to the Taliban which will be used to pay guerrilla fighters and buy weapons to shoot at the American Marines. Is this what President Obama means when he says he's planning to "finish the job"?

Meanwhile, there's growing evidence that American troops in Afghanistan are as counter-productive in eliminating the Taliban as civilian contractors are. Mathew Hoh is a decorated former Marine captain who fought in Iraq and then went to work for the State Department in Afghanistan, serving as the senior US civilian officer in the southern province of Zabul, a Taliban hotbed, until he resigned in September in protest over what he saw as American's futile intervention in a 35-year long civil war between Afghans.

In an interview with The Washington Post, the former Marine made it clear that

"I'm not some peacenik, pot-smoking hippie who wants everyone to be in love...There are plenty of dudes who need to be killed," he said of al-Qaeda and the Taliban. "I was never more happy than when our Iraq team whacked a bunch of guys".

But Hoh wrote in his resignation letter that many Afghans are only fighting against the US because our troops are there in its villages and valleys where outsiders, even other Afghans like those from the corrupt Karzai government, are not welcome:

"To put it simply: I fail to see the value or the worth in continued U.S. casualties or expenditures of resources in support of the Afghan government in what is, truly, a 35-year old civil war...I have observed that the bulk of the insurgency fights not for the white banner of the Taliban, but rather against the presence of foreign soldiers and taxes imposed by an unrepresentative government in Kabul. The United States military presence in Afghanistan greatly contributes to the legitimacy and strategic message of the...insurgency."

Nonetheless, it appears that President Obama has committed instead to military escalation in Afghanistan. He will, most likely, give an articulate and nuanced speech at West Point justifying this escalation, with eloquent words about "strategic reorientation," "benchmarks," "off-ramps," and "exit strategies."

But nuanced rhetoric cannot change the reality on the ground, that the more blood and treasure America expends in Afghanistan, the stronger the Taliban gets and the less secure America becomes. As Mathew Hoh states:

"This doesn't pass the sniff test. It's irrational and illogical, and they all know it. 60,000 troops doesn't stop Al Qaeda. It doesn't stabilize Pakistan. Our presence there doesn't make us safer."

In 1960, John F. Kennedy's campaign slogan was "All The Way With JFK." In 1964, as the growing progressive movement watched with increasing apprehension while Lyndon Johnson began the escalation in Vietnam, they coined the semi-ironic campaign slogan "Part of the Way with LBJ" as they helped campaign for LBJ against the truly frightening Republican challenger, Barry ("Better Dead Than Red") Goldwater. But within a few short years, as LBJ sent hundreds of thousands of Americans to fight a futile war in Vietnam, and as American planes carpet-bombed North Vietnam killing tens, or hundreds, of thousands of civilians, the slogan turned into "Hey, Hey, LBJ! How many kids have you killed today?"

The movement which campaigned so hard to elect Obama may now have to actively fight against some of Obama's key policies. If not, I fear that in a few years, as America spends its blood and treasure in an unwinnable counter-insurgency war in Central Asia, protesters may soon be chanting the same slogans at Obama as were once chanted against LBJ.