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Pay-offs from lucrative contracts with the U.S. military may be giving the Taliban more money than they are getting from drugs, according to sources.
Cracking an internal Afghan system from the outside is no easy task.
“Afghans know how to get things done here,” said Capstick, from Peace Dividend Trust. “They can seal a deal with a handshake.”
But the Afghan way is all too often mired in corruption and nepotism, traits which have made the country the fifth most corrupt nation in the world, according to Transparency International’s most recent annual index. In a country where the rule of law is more a distant dream than a present reality, giving the Taliban a cut of the funding is not seen as treason – it is merely expedient.
“We delivered fuel to all the provinces, and the only way of accomplishing that was by greasing the Taliban,” the contractor from the Afghan firm said.
Between 10 and 20 percent of the proceeds were paid out to ensure security, he added. The overall amounts were staggering.
“I went to Camp Eggers to collect unpaid invoices,” he said, referring to the U.S. military base in the center of Kabul that houses CSTC-A. “For three weeks we were owed $16 million.”
The U.S. military is trying its best to build in checks and balances to keep the process honest.
“All ISAF agencies check potential contractors and organizations to ensure that money is not going directly into the hands of known terrorists,” Shanks said. But none of the procedures in place can hope to catch or counter the built-in payments to the Taliban.
“There is no line item for bribes,” CSTC-A’s Gyokeres said. “That’s not to say it doesn’t happen.”
According to Lt. Col. Mitchell S. Appley, commander of the Kabul Regional Contracting Center, the military keeps a list of close to 4,000 Afghan vendors.
“The policy, basically, is if there is an Afghan vendor available, we should give them preference,” he said. “New rules and regulations allow us to restrict competition to Afghan only.”
The contracting system is long and complex, with multiple layers of bureaucracy designed to ensure transparency.
First a potential vendor is vetted by Peace Dividend Trust, which checks the organization’s registration, does a site visit to make sure that it is a legitimate company, and helps its Afghan officials to negotiate their way through the military procurement system.
The military concede that there is much they cannot control.
“Corruption is a possibility,” Gyokeres said. “But our job is to administer the contracts fairly and objectively.”
For those working inside the system, this desire to remain above the fray amounts to a willful refusal to see what is going on.
“They say ‘just get it done,’” the procurement director said. “They do not seem to want to know too many of the details.”
A former international military officer explained why CSTC-A may be feeling a bit overwhelmed.
“Someone from above is pushing on the soft spot in their forehead and telling them to get the contracts out,” he said, speaking privately. “There is a lot of pressure on the military procurement system.”
The contractor definitely agrees.
“That is the way things happen,” he said. “It is not easy to start with nothing and then create a functioning infrastructure; some latitude is required. But this ‘don't ask don't tell’ policy has evolved to such an extent that Taliban funding is fully baked into the system. It stands to reason that the insurgency can now forecast revenue and accurately budget for combat resources based on lucrative contracts from the U.S. military, which were intended to rebuild their war-torn country.”