Do we know how much U.S. money is going to the Taliban in Afghanistan?
The short answer is ‘no.’ But there are worrying signs to be found in
U.S. auditing of its own contracting practices in Afghanistan.
By Dan Murphy
Last week I wrote about the clearly frustrated letter John F. Sopko,
the U.S. government’s Special Inspector General for Afghanistan
Reconstruction, wrote to Congress about the difficulty the U.S. seems
to have with stemming the flow of U.S. taxpayer money to the Taliban
and Al Qaeda.
Mr. Sopko wrote that a failure to monitor an ongoing $20 billion
reconstruction effort in Afghanistan, designed to help the U.S.
achieve its war objectives, is threatening the mission. In his words,
there “appears to be a growing gap between the policy objectives of
Washington and the reality of achieving them in Afghanistan.”
Since then, I’ve done some more reading about the specific allegations
over Pentagon, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and
other branches of the U.S. government giving lucrative contracts to
supporters of the very people that U.S. soldiers are in Afghanistan to
Last October SIGAR sent a letter to the State Department, USAID, and
the U.S. Central Command (Centcom) calling for “immediate action to
prevent individuals and entities actively supporting the insurgency”
from obtaining contracts or grants from the US government, and
identified 20 individuals, companies, and charities as problems.
It turned out that while Centcom head Gen. James N. Mattis barred the
20 entities from doing business with the U.S. military since they
were, in his determination, “actively supporting an insurgency,” other
branches of the sprawling U.S. spending effort in Afghanistan weren’t
being informed of his decisions. This includes, most importantly,
USAID and the State Department. SIGAR thought it best for the rest of
the U.S. Afghanistan effort to be brought into the loop.
October 2012 came more than a decade after the U.S. spending spree in
Afghanistan had begun, and in all that time a coordinated effort to
prevent the funding of the very people who had killed over 2,000 U.S.
troops and far more Afghan soldiers and civilians was not developed.
Has much improved since? It doesn’t seem so. And the Pentagon is part
of the problem, too. At the end of July SIGAR reported that 43
companies or individuals with ties to America’s enemies were
deliberately being allowed the chance to receive U.S. contracts.
A continuing problem is the Army’s refusal to act on SIGAR’s
recommendations to suspend or debar individuals who are supporters of
the insurgency, including the Taliban, the Haqqani Network, and
al-Qaeda. The Army suspension and debarment official has taken the
position that suspension or debarment of such individuals and entities
would be a violation of their due process rights if based on
classified information or if based on findings by the Department of
Commerce which placed them on the Entities List. SIGAR has referred 43
such cases to the Army, and all have been rejected, despite detailed
supporting information demonstrating that these individuals and
entities are providing material support to the insurgency in
In other words, they may be enemies of the United States, but that is
not enough to keep them from getting government contracts.
Concerns about the due process rights of Al Qaeda funders is a bit
odd. But in the bizarro world of U.S. government spending in
Afghanistan, you can see that many things are possible. And it’s worth
remembering that there’s plenty that SIGAR doesn’t know. In
Afghanistan, contracts are often awarded to companies that might
appear clean, but then are subcontracted two, three, sometimes four
How much money are we talking about? SIGAR reports that in the nine
months following July 2012 it recommended that 103 companies and
individuals be barred from continued U.S. government contracting in
Afghanistan over “allegations of theft, fraud, poor performance,
financial support to insurgents, and mismanagement.” The value of the
contracts affected in that period was over $165 million.
SIGAR doesn’t break out how much of that actually went to Taliban and
Al Qaeda affiliates. In a footnote in one of its reports, SIGAR refers
to eight subcontracts being terminated last year because some of the
money was flowing to the Taliban, saying that $5 million had already
been paid out at the time of termination.
How are USAID and State doing? Ok, for now. SIGAR says neither is
currently giving money to known Taliban financiers, but worried they
might be forced to down the road. While the Defense Appropriations Act
of 2012 governs Pentagon spending in Afghanistan and has a section
prohibiting contracting with the enemy, there is no such rule for
those two civilian organizations.
In practice, SIGAR says, this means that the two organizations have
limited ability to legally terminate contracts later if the recipients
are found to be paying the Taliban.
Sometimes efforts to stop paying the Taliban are overruled. In January
of this year CENTCOM designated Kam Air, owned by the
politically-connected Zamari Kamgar, as a supporter of the insurgency.
The U.S. military alleged the company was involved in bulk opium
smuggling out of Afghanistan and that much of the revenue generated
was funding Afghanistan’s insurgency and wanted it disbarred from U.S.
contracts. But the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai
Is Kam Air currently receiving U.S. taxpayer money? Hard to say. It
doesn’t currently have any direct contracts with the U.S. government,
but the pyramid of sub-contracting and payments to suppliers in
Afghanistan is dizzying and with most raw materials for most jobs in
Afghanistan being imported, the chances that business is still flowing
its way from contractors and subcontractors is large. And the Afghan
government, largely financed by the US and other donors, does continue
to do business with the airline.
For instance, President Karzai has often chartered Kam Air flights for