(CNSNews.com) - Some of the $2 billion in U.S. taxpayer funds spent on a Defense Department contract for the private security of “vital” U.S. military supplies in Afghanistan may be making its way to the Taliban as “protection payments for safe passage,” a House investigative report found.
The State Department confirmed that the Taliban continues to receive “protection money” when asked about the House report, which includes December 2009 testimony from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Clinton told a Senate panel, “one of the major sources for the Taliban is the protection money” for safe passage of U.S. supply convoys.
“Taliban continues to extort protection money as a source of revenue just like via the opium trade,” Darby Holladay, a spokesman for the State Department, the government agency that oversees U.S. civilian forces in Afghanistan, told CNSNews.com.
While testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Dec. 3, 2009, Secretary Clinton said, “Much of the corruption [in Afghanistan] is fueled by money that has poured into that country over the last eight years.”
She also said, “When we are so dependent upon long supply lines, as in Afghanistan, where everything has to be imported, it is much more difficult than it was in Iraq…”
“One of the major sources of funding for the Taliban is the protection money,” she later added.
Holladay told CNSNews.com, “We have seen the House report and are reviewing it.”
The congressional report, which was put together by the House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee on national security and foreign affairs, echoed Secretary Clinton’s comments about the Taliban receiving “protection money” from U.S. funds spent on Afghanistan.
The report focused on the $2.16-billion Host Nation Trucking (HNT) DOD contract that provides "over 70 percent of the total goods and material distributed to U.S. troops in the field, roughly 6,000 to 8,000 truck missions per month."
"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," the House subcommittee report said.
“Protection payments for safe passage are a significant potential source of funding for the Taliban,” the report stated as one of its main findings.
"Within the HNT contractor community, many believe that the highway warlords who provide security in turn make protection payments to insurgents to coordinate safe passage," the report explained.
“The Taliban regularly extort rents from a variety of licit and illicit industries, and it is plausible that the Taliban would try to extort protection payments from the coalition supply chain that runs through territory in which they freely operate,” the report added.
Furthermore, the report said, “Trucking convoys have become favorite targets of the Taliban and other insurgents, who frequently stop convoys to demand money, set the trucks on fire, and kill or kidnap the drivers.”
The House panel that issued the report held a hearing on June 22 entitled “Investigation of Protection Payments for Safe Passage along the Afghan Supply Chain” in which members of Congress questioned DOD officials about the report’s findings.
After testifying at the hearing, Lt. Gen. William Phillips, the principal military deputy to the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics, and technology, told CNSNews.com that the DOD takes the report's “allegations” about taxpayer money possibly funding Taliban insurgents “very seriously,” adding, “We have already taken action.”
He continued, “There is an ongoing investigation, so I think we should let the ongoing investigation also continue, because they’ll gather the facts and the evidence for us to take the appropriate actions.”
The House report noted, “When HNT contractors self-reported to the military that they were being extorted by warlords for protection payments for safe passage and that these payments were ‘funding the insurgency,’ they largely met with indifference and inaction.”
Nevertheless, during the committee, the DOD panel that was testifying emphasized that DOD takes the “allegations” in the House report “very seriously.”
The DOD witness panel besides Lt. Gen. Phillips included Gary Motsek, assistant deputy under secretary of defense for the office of program support, and Brig. Gen. John Nicholson, director of the Pakistan-Afghanistan coordination cell for the DOD Joint Staff.
In regards to the DOD officials’ reaction during the hearing to the report findings about taxpayer money being used as “protection payments” for warlords and even the Taliban, Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), ranking member of the panel holding the hearing, told CNSNews.com that the DOD has not been “sufficiently concerned with this issue.”
Rep. Flake added, “This investigation has been going on for six months now, and they seem only vaguely aware of it, and only last week did we get any response to the investigation at all. I think a lot more can be done.”
Regarding the DOD officials’ testimony, Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.), chairman of the subcommittee that issued the report, told CNSNews.com, “I think I’m satisfied now that the attention has been focused on a very important issue.”
The report highlighted the need to use private contractors to deliver goods and materials to U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
According to the report, “the task of feeding, fueling, and arming American troops at over 200 forward operating bases and combat outposts sprinkled across a difficult and hostile terrain with only minimal road infrastructure is nothing short of Herculean.”
However, the report also recommended that the DOD “assume direct responsibility for supply chain security providers,” and that that the DOD “analyze effect of coalition contracting on Afghan corruption.”
The $2.16 billion trucking contract was “split among eight Afghan, American, and Middle Eastern companies,” according to the report.
“The [trucking] contract allows the United States to dedicate a greater proportion of its troops to other counterinsurgency priorities instead of logistics,” explained the report.