KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, June 22, 2010 -- The United States military is helping fund both sides of the war in Afghanistan, knowingly financing a mafia-like collection of warlords and some of the very insurgents American troops are battling, according to Afghan and American officials and a new Congressional study released today.
The military has turned to private trucking companies to transport the vast majority of materiel it needs to fight the war -- everything from bullets to Gatorade, gas to sandbags -- and in turn, the companies are using American money to pay, among others, the Taliban to try to guarantee the trucks' safe passage, the reports charge.
Trucking executives and investigators from the House Subcommittee on National Security say the United States military knew it was helping fund the people it was fighting but did nothing about it, choosing to satisfy short-term delivery requirements and ignore fears that payments to the enemy help perpetuate Afghanistan's long-term security problems.
The study's findings are reinforced by half a dozen interviews conducted in the last few months by ABC News with executives from trucking and security companies, both Afghan and American. Two American trucking executives, speaking on the condition of anonymity, say the payment structure goes beyond that depicted by the House report, detailing an intricate system whereby the American military is handing over billions of dollars to companies that bribe insurgents, warlords, road bandits and even corrupt Afghan police and soldiers to hold their fire as the trucks roll past dangerous stretches of highway.
In one case, a security company is paying a local commander who funnels American money directly to the Quetta Shura, the Taliban leadership council based in Pakistan, according to officials in Pakistan. The commander denied the allegation. On a recent day when the commander was told he had lost the security contract, a half dozen trucks were burned on the road between Kabul and Kandahar. The violence stopped a few days later when the contract was given back to him.
"These guys have the power to turn on the violence and turn it off," said one of the American trucking executives. "Our firm knowingly pays thieves to ensure the safety of our cargo."
"Basically it's a protection extortion racket," Rep. John Tierney (D-MA), who chairs the House subcommittee, said in an interview with ABC News. "Tony Soprano would be proud of it."
The House's 85-page report, titled "Warlord, Inc." was released as doubts about the war crescendo in Washington. Today Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the head of all foreign troops in Afghanistan, was called to the White House over a Rolling Stone article in which his aides get drunk and make fun of a handful of top Obama administration officials, and where he is quoted personally criticizing his civilian bosses.
And this week, the House will debate a supplemental to fund the war for another year, a bill that has revealed deep fissures in the Democratic Party over support for the war.
The report, along with a recent increase in violence, are so serious, the U.S. will have to determine whether to reconsider "the overall strategic approach to our mission in Afghanistan," reads the report's introduction.