"It is an accepted fact of the military logistics operation in Afghanistan that the US government funds the very forces American troops are fighting." - Aram Roston, The Nation
Why has president Obama chosen to reject all options, on Afghanistan, presented by his national security team ? Perhaps he's come to believe that the American military enterprise in Afghanistan may be untenable.
A new article in the November 30, 2009 issue of The Nation, by Aram Roston, should be a game changer. As Roston reveals, "US military officials in Kabul estimate that a minimum of 10 percent of the Pentagon's logistics contracts -- hundreds of millions of dollars -- consists of payments to insurgents."
Afghan government security officials told The Nation, "It's a big part of their income."
In short, the United States is funding Taliban and Afghan insurgents who are killing and wounding US troops. But why ? An evil plot ? Not exactly.
Washington decision makers have tasked the US military with what may be an impossible job in Afghanistan, and a good deal of the reason it may be impossible lies in the very, very long trucking routes, winding through some of the most mountainous and rugged terrain on Earth, that supply US troops.
The Pentagon doesn't have enough forces to defend the supply convoys that bring food, water, bullets, equipment of all sorts to American troops stationed at remote command posts in hostile Afghan territory. So, it contracts with a welter of private Afghan contracting firms that have sprung up to take the lucrative supply business. As The Nation article lays it out:
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 security firms don't really protect convoys of American military goods here, because they simply can't; they need the Taliban's cooperation.
When Blackwater massacred civilians in Iraq it certainly hindered our counterinsurgency efforts. It wasn't, however, as if they were directly funding the insurgency we were fighting.
No, the private security contractors saved that tactic for Afghanistan.
Writing for The Nation, Aram Roston has uncovered a tangled web of former military and CIA officials, relatives of the Afghanistan President and Defense Minister and various other shady characters who act as a pipeline from the U.S. treasury to the Taliban...
Here's how the chain works: The U.S. government pays trucking firms to move supplies around Afghanistan to its rural and far flung outposts. These trucking companies then pay private security contracting firms, operated by druglords, warlords, the Taliban and relatives of senior Afghan Administration officials, or consortiums of any or all of them, for safe passage to American installations. As one American trucking executive said, ""The Army is basically paying the Taliban not to shoot at them. It is Department of Defense money.""
This is simply an updated version of the madness Joseph Heller described in his savage parody of a WW2 US bomber unit, Catch-22. There's always a perfectly logical reason at each stage in the progression from point to point :
"A" ("we must supply our troops") to "B(1)" ("But we don't have the manpower to protect the supply convoys!") and from "B(2)" ("Well, we can't hire Blackwater because they'll wind up committing a massacre and that will fuel the insurgency") to "C(1)" ("OK, we'll hire Afghan contracting firms but they can't carry heavy weaponry to defend against insurgents and bandits or they'll also wind up accidentally killing lots of civilians, just Blackwater would") and then on to "C(2)" -- ("Alright, money will fix everything. We'll pay the contractors lots and lots of money and they'll figure out how to make it work.") And so the contractors take the money and pay off whatever local powers they need to pay off in order to get the truck supply convoys through.
It works out differently from company to company. In some cases, as Roston describes, Afghan contracting firms simply pay the Taliban directly, and Taliban vehicles escort the supply convoys. One Afghan private security official tells Roston that most of the escorting is being done by Taliban. The Afghan government intelligence service suggested to the Americans that they should take the money they're paying to the Afghan trucking supply contractors and instead spend it to set up a single, heavily armed, professional service. As Roston drily puts it, "the suggestion went nowhere."
In essence, the US is doling out cash to Taliban and saying, "don't attack us there, attack us over here":
The Taliban take that money, buy their own weapons and supplies, and attack the Americans at the newly resupplied forward command posts. Lots of bullets and RPG rounds fly about, Americans die, Taliban die, maybe a helicopter gunship gets called in, maybe it gets shot down, maybe it kills some Taliban, maybe they run away first and go back to extorting some more money from the supply convoy that will come to resupply the munitions-depleted American forward command post.
And so on.
Soltz and Smith bring up the necessary recourse and talking point:
"The Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committees must investigate the allegations contained therein. We simply cannot continue to put brave men and women in harms way while are tax dollars are funding that harm.
It's a point that will fly in red-state and blue-state America alike.
We're paying to send American troops to Afghanistan and we're also paying Afghans insurgents who will see to it that those troops come back in caskets: a crazed, pointless machinery of death.