US supply chain in Afghanistan may be funding Taliban

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An astonishing report from the US Congress details the way in which tens of millions of dollars of US government cash is being siphoned off into a shadowy network of Afghan warlords and corrupt officials and may be a significant source of funding for the Taliban.

“Warlord, Inc: Extortion and Corruption Along the US Supply Chain in Afghanistan”, was released this week by the Majority staff of the Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

After a six-month investigation, the report exposes the circumstances surrounding the Department of Defense’s outsourcing of security on the supply chain in Afghanistan to questionable providers, including warlords.

In his introduction to the report John Tierney, chair of the House of Representatives sub-committee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, says: “The findings of this report range from sobering to shocking. In short, the Department of Defense designed a contract that put responsibility for the security of vital US supplies on contractors and their unaccountable security providers.

“This arrangement has fuelled a vast protection racket run by a shadowy network of warlords, strongmen, commanders, corrupt Afghan officials, and perhaps others. Not only does the system run afoul of the Department’s own rules and regulations mandated by Congress, it also appears to risk undermining the US strategy for achieving its goals in Afghanistan,” says Tierney.

The report focuses on the principal contract supporting the US supply chain in Afghanistan, which is called Host Nation Trucking – a £1.5billion ($2.16bn) contract split among eight Afghan, American, and Middle Eastern companies.

Although there are other supply chain contracts, the HNT contract provides trucking for over 70 per cent of the total goods and materiel distributed to US troops in the field, roughly 6,000 to 8,000 truck missions per month. The trucks carry food, supplies, fuel, ammunition, and even Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles.

Under the HNT contract, the prime contractors are responsible for the security of the cargo that they carry. Most of the prime contractors and their trucking sub-contractors hire local Afghan security providers for armed protection of the trucking convoys.

The report points out that transporting valuable and sensitive supplies in highly remote and insecure locations requires extraordinary levels of security. “A typical convoy of 300 supply trucks going from Kabul to Kandahar, for example, will travel with 400 to 500 guards in dozens of trucks armed with heavy machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades.”

“The private security companies that protect the convoys are frequently involved in armed conflict with alleged insurgents, rival security providers, and other criminal elements. The security providers report having lost hundreds of men over the course of the last year alone, though the veracity of these reports is difficult to judge. Many of the firefights purportedly last for hours and involve significant firepower and frequent civilian casualties. Indeed, in an interview with the Subcommittee staff, the leading convoy security commander in Afghanistan said that he spent $1.5 million on ammunition per month,” the report says.

The congressional report points out that during the Soviet Union’s occupation of Afghanistan from1979-1989 its army devoted a substantial portion of its total force structure to defending its supply chain and the HNT contract allows the United States to dedicate a greater proportion of its troops to other counterinsurgency priorities instead of logistics.

However, in a key conclusion the report says: “ But outsourcing the supply chain in Afghanistan to contractors has also had significant unintended consequences. The HNT contract fuels warlordism, extortion, and corruption, and it may be a significant source of funding for insurgents. In other words, the logistics contract has an outsized strategic impact on US objectives in Afghanistan.”

And it accuses the Department of Defense of being “largely blind to the potential strategic consequences of its supply chain contingency contracting”.

The report sets out seven main findings:

1. Security for the US supply chain is principally provided by warlords

2. The highway warlords run a protection racket

3. Protection payments for safe passage are a significant potential source of funding for the Taliban

4. Unaccountable supply chain security contractors fuel corruption

5. Unaccountable supply chain security contractors undermine US counterinsurgency strategy

6. The Department of Defense lacks effective oversight of its supply chain and private security contractors in Afghanistan

7. HNT contractors warned the Department Of Defense about protection payments for safe passage to no avail

In response to these issues, the sub-committee on National Security and Foreign Affairs Majority staff has come up with the following recommendations:

1. Assume direct contractual responsibility for supply chain security providers
If the United States is going to use small armies of private security contractors to defend its massive supply chain in a war zone, the Department of Defense must take direct responsibility for those contractors to ensure robust oversight. Trucking companies are wholly incapable of overseeing this scale of security operations. The US government needs to have a direct line of authority and accountability over the private security companies that guard the supply chain.

2. Review counterinsurgency consequences of the HNT contract
The Department of Defense needs to conduct a top-to-bottom evaluation of the secondary effects of the HNT contract that includes an analysis of corruption, Afghan politics and power dynamics, military utility, and economic effects.

3. Consider the role of Afghan national security forces in highway security
In the future, Afghan security forces will have a role to play in road security. Proposals to reform the convoy security scheme ought to take a medium- to long-term view of the role of Afghan security forces, while developing credible security alternatives that address the immediate US military logistics needs.

4. Inventory actual trucking capacity available to the Department of Defense
The Department of Defense should conduct a survey of the available trucking capacity in Afghanistan under the HNT contract to ensure that its needs will be met with the additional forces under orders to deploy to Afghanistan.

5. Draft contracts to ensure transparency of sub-contractors
Contracts between the Department of Defense and its trucking and/or security prime contractors need to include provisions that ensure a line of sight, and accountability, between the Department and the relevant sub-contractors. Where Department of Defense regulations already require such provisions, the Department needs to enforce them.

6. Oversee contracts to ensure contract transparency and performance
The Department of Defense needs to provide the personnel and resources required to manage and oversee its trucking and security contracts in Afghanistan. Contracts of this magnitude and of this consequence require travel ‘outside the wire.’ For convoys, that means having the force protection resources necessary for mobility of military logistics personnel to conduct periodic unannounced inspections and ride-alongs.

7. Analyse effect of coalition contracting on Afghan corruption
The national security components of the US government, including the Department of Defense, the Department of State, the US Agency for International Development, the Department of Justice, and the intelligence community, need to systematically track and analyse the effects of US, NATO, and other international contracting on corruption in Afghanistan.

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