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Warlord Inc: Extortion and Corruption Along the U.S. Supply Chain in Afghanistan

Introduction


"We have to do a better job in the international side to coordinate our aid, to get more accountability for what we spend in Afghanistan. But much of the corruption is fuelled by money that has poured into that country over the last eight years. And it is corruption at every step along the way, not just in Kabul. 


You know, when we are so dependent upon long supply lines, as in Afghanistan, where everything has to be imported, it’s much more difficult than it was in Iraq, where we had Kuwait as a staging ground to go into Iraq. You offload a ship in Karachi and by the time whatever it is … gets to where we’re headed, it goes through a lot of hands. And one of the major sources of funding for the Taliban is the protection money." (Warlord Inc Page 1) – Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton Testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee December 3, 2009 Page 48


A report in 2010, by the US congress came out called, Warlord, Inc. : extortion and corruption along the U.S. supply chain in Afghanistan Author: John F Tierney; United States. Congress. House. Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs. Publisher:[Washington, DC] : [U.S. House of Representatives], 2010. This report detailed how the private contractors and subcontractors bringing US supplies to their Forward Operating Base (FOB), along the way had to go through a journey of bribes and protection rackets, to Warlords, Commanders, the Taliban, and Afghan officials. Many of the subcontractors had to pay Warlords of small militias, who controlled certain highway routes, to protect their trucks when passing certain areas, through fear of being attacked another time. The report also details how Department of Defence (DoD) officials, had been sent a series of reports and complaints from the contractors about this and did not seem to care, as long as the supplies made it to the base. The report details how, the DoD had no visibility of these reports and activities because they barely went past “the wire” of their base. This 2.16 billion Dollar Taxpayer contract, given by the DoD to the trucking contractors, was directly paradoxical to stated justifications they were there for. The US aimed to curtail corruption in the country, yet this directly funded Warlordsism, corrupt officials and even created a market for it, due to their presence, as their occupation meant these supplies passed through the country, allowing certain elements to extort from it. Of course, the biggest inversion of reality was, these supplies were going to them, to fight the Taliban and insurgents, all the while funding these same elements to fight them. If the only way to get these supplies to them was to fund all these elements, was the war not futile from the start?


What Was The Contract?


For a brief background on the nature of the contract, the report reads “In order to accomplish this mission, the Department of Defense employs a hitherto unprecedented logistics model: responsibility for the supply chain is almost entirely outsourced to local truckers and Afghan private security providers. The principal contract supporting the U.S. supply chain in Afghanistan is called Host Nation Trucking, a $2.16 billion contract split among eight Afghan, American, and Middle Eastern companies… HNT contract provides trucking for over 70 percent of the total goods and materiel distributed to U.S. 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 (MRAPs)...  Most of the prime contractors and their trucking subcontractors hire local Afghan security providers for armed protection of the trucking convoys. Transporting valuable and sensitive supplies in highly remote and insecure locations requires extraordinary levels of security." (Warlord inc Page 1)


The mass of the information from this report comes from the “25,000” documents from the DoD and contractors, along with Sub-Committee interviews with “31 witnesses in connection with the investigation, including military personnel, HNT contractors, private security providers, and experts on politics and corruption in Afghanistan.” (Page IIII) I aim in this article, to breakdown the key parts of the 66-page report and show just how nonsensical this policy was and in the bigger picture, due to it being the only practical option they had, the futility of the West aims in Afghanistan.


Security for the U.S. Supply Chain Was Principally Provided by Warlords


“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. Providing “protection” services for the U.S. supply chain empowers these warlords with money, legitimacy, and a raison d’etre for their private armies. Although many of these warlords nominally operate under private security companies licensed by the Afghan Ministry of Interior, they thrive in a vacuum of government authority and their interests are in fundamental conflict with U.S. aims to build a strong Afghan government.” (Page 17)


The report, throughout this section, details how warlords with small militias, were hired by the subcontractors, unknown to the prime contractor and the DoD, to provide security to the trucks passing through certain sections of the route, with different warlords controlling different sections of the road. One such Commander, Ruhullah, referred to as the “Butcher” by villagers, was the “single largest security provider for the U.S. supply chain in Afghanistan.” The fact he is known as the “Butcher” and yet was a “mystery” to the prime contractors and especially the DoD, is worrying to say the least, considering the DoD has laws and regulations to have accountability and oversight over these $2.16 billion contracts. (Page 17-18) Commander Ruhullah and Watan Risk Management are said to make “several tens of millions of dollars per year providing convoy security" (Page 22-23), If this was not bad enough, there were a collection of other warlords being hired for security outside of the contracts scope.


Another example of the power these warlords had over the supply routes is Matiullah, who was said by a CEO of a private security company in Afghanistan that Matiullah “has the road from Kandahar to Tarin Kowt completely under his control. No one can travel without Matiullah, without facing consequences”, even the Dutch and Australian forces based in Uruzgan also “exclusively use Matiullah for highway security.” This report of course is a US one, but it covers how other NATO and coalition forces, were in a similar situation. Matiullah is the nephew of Jan Mohammad Khan, the deposed governor of Uruzgan, who is known for drug smuggling and human rights abuses and Matiullah was one of his “uncle’s leading enforcers.” The Dutch blocked him from being the police chief due to this, however, were so dependent on him for their supply route, they still inevitably needed him. Although publicly they tried to distance themselves from him, they nevertheless told reporters that the Dutch Ministry of Défense does not pay Matiullah directly, but “it is up to local transporters whether they find it necessary to pay for protection.” The Australians being in a similar boat ““will neither confirm nor deny knowledge of payments to Colonel Khan,” but privately they acknowledged to reporters that they are dependent upon his permission for their supply routes.”“ (Page 25-26)


This is so telling of how tied their hands were, that even though they protested him working in the government, due to how vile of a character he was, they still had to work with him, in an even more shadowy way, with a contractor or two in between, because of the dependency on the supply routes. Again, just underlying the hopelessness of their mission to rid the country of this sort of behaviour and have legitimate services/institutions. Not to go on with too many more examples, but some of the others were described as effectively controlling the “local government”, “extorting passing vehicles and trafficking drugs”, having to work with a warlord previously “imprisoned by the US”, who the British removed through pressure on the government, but in the end was reinstated and propagandised for, by the British, through “decorating the district with posters of Koka tending to a wounded civilian in front of a mountainous backdrop" (Page 26,27, 28)


The report also details how these warlords and militias did not display any loyalty to the coalition and have been accused of working with the enemy, and instigating attacks if they were not hired for the areas they control. Ahmed Wali Karzai, President Hamid Karzai’s brothers stated, “If they were not working for the security companies… they would likely join the Taliban" (Page 20)


The Highway Warlords Ran a Protection Racket

"Everyone… must pay for Matiullah’s security services to travel up the road from Kandahar to Tarin Kowt. There are no exceptions: “[n]o one leaves without paying... Matiullah will kill anyone on his highway, Taliban or not.” A driver interviewed by the New York Times echoed that assessment: “It’s suicide to come up this road without Matiullah’s men.”

Similar claims were made about Commander Ruhulla, with one former country manager of one HNT company saying, ““you had to pay Ruhullah to either provide security or let [us] go through his territory.” Commander Ruhullah held his company “hostage;” if he did not pay, he believed his trucks would be “shot up.”” Another executive from one private security company that travels without paying Ruhullah “said that U.S. supply convoys guarded by his company had come under attack by Commander Ruhullah’s men on multiple occasions. “[He] was trying to scare us into not participating on his route, attacking our resolve to continue to service the route.”” (Page 29,30)


Not only does the report demonstrate, you must pay security services militias, to protect the trucks from insurgents, you must also pay the security services, due to fear of being attacked by them, amounting to a protection racket. A further example of this, from the DoDs own documents through a request for information on security and costs on certain routes, another HNT project manager responded “there is a continuous threat of roadside IED, and ambush. There will also be a threat, not only from enemy forces but from local commanders who have not been paid their tax." There is a stream of similar emails concerning this, claiming the more dangerous the mission was through Taliban controlled areas the “more corruption” there is, like having to pay an “additional fee” and “that the money that is allocated for the vehicles is sometimes utilized to pay the “Special Security” in the south and southwest.” (Page 32,33)


Reports Of Money Going To Insurgents And The Taliban


"Many within the HNT contractor community believe that a large portion of their protection payments to local warlords for convoy security subsequently go to the Taliban or other anti-government elements, the forces that actually control much of Afghanistan and many of the key routes used for transportation of U.S supplies. According to a former HNT project manager, it was widely known that the operational environment in Afghanistan requires payoffs to local warlords and the Taliban for safe passage of trucking convoys”


The report goes into the most detail about payoffs to warlords and commanders, however, there are many parts of the report which detail how it was widely believed, much of the money also ends up in the Taliban/insurgents hands. My article of course begins with a quote from Secretary Clinton admitting this, to a previous hearing. Before this report and contract existed, a CEO of a transportation company told the financial times that "Every truck costs about $200 as a bribe I pay on the route – to police or Taliban”, along with Clintons comments, indicating this was known even before the contract was put into place. The report does tend to point towards more indirect payments, rather than the Taliban directly asking for money to the truckers. Commander Ruhullah was pointed out as a commander who was linked to the insurgents/Taliban and pays them off or works with them when necessary. One former HNT program manager who spent time in the military said that he had ““no doubt whatsoever” that Commander Ruhullah collaborated with insurgents. “Another security company executive stated “[W]e believe that Ruhullah serves his own needs at all times… We are of the opinion that, when it suits his need, he will engage with Taliban or similar elements. He will provide supplies and sell weapons to those elements but generally he is operating for his own benefits.” (Page 34-35)


Outside of the interviews done by the subcommittee, even documents provided by the DoD and contractors, back up the claims of money falling into insurgents’ hands and at one meeting of all HNT project managers and military logisticians, they specifically spoke about protection payments “funding the insurgency.” Meeting minutes describe how if they received more authority for heavier-duty weapons, they could “stop funding the insurgency of what is estimated at 1.6 – 2 Million Dollars per week" and in a much more direct fashion, in an incident report filed by a HNT contractor, it detailed how they was contacted “through the carrier by the Taliban commander that we have to pay for safe passage if we want our truck to go through the area… [W]e were informed that this was a statement from the Taliban that if we did not want our assets engaged we had to pay a protection fee.” Yet again magnifying how if the subcommittee could read these documents, so could the DoD. The Report even states many of the military figures that oversaw the contract, believed the “Taliban did receive protection payments." (Page 35)


The report also details how other companies and projects with western funding also fuel the insurgents/Taliban through payoffs. The Afghanistan country director for a major international NGO reported that “the Taliban and local warlords typically take between 10-20% of the value of any project as the price to provide protection. The United States and international community are unintentionally fueling a vast political economy of security corruption in Afghanistan.” (Page 38,39)


Bribes To Official Afghanistan Military, Police and Officials


"According to Commander Ruhullah and Watan Risk Management, bribes paid by drivers and security providers at Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP) checkpoints represent only the tip of a pyramid of government corruption that feeds off of the U.S. supply chain. Rashid Popal [Owner of WRM] quickly volunteered a list of government offices that his company must bribe in order to successfully escort HNT convoys along Highway 1, including governors, provincial police chiefs, district police chiefs, and local commanders for the National Directorate of Security, in addition to the local ANA and ANP units. Many of the bribes are paid monthly and range from $1,000 to $10,000." (Page 41)


Not only was there extortion from warlords, insurgents, the Taliban in the shadow realm, but also the legal realm of the Afghan state. With the apparent corruption so deep in the government, that when Rashid Popal asked a governor why he extorts from him, he explained because he needs “to pay back what he had paid for his position. The same rules apply to police chiefs and other government officials who pay a set price to the provincial government in order to obtain their positions, said Mr. Popal.” (Page 42) Military officials were apparently aware of this widespread corruption in the government.


Lack of DOD Oversight Or Care Of Reports


"According to Lieutenant Colonel David Elwell, the commander of the 484th, no one in the battalion ever personally witnessed trucking operations ‘outside the wire’… According to Major Valen Koger, the officer responsible for technical oversight of the contract, his battalion had “zero visibility” into the subcontractors operating under the contract.” (Page 49-50)


"Under normal circumstances, contractors do not volunteer to the government that they might be breaking the law; in this case, HNT contractors repeatedly did just that. Their reports fell on deaf ears” (Page 55)


"Before the HNT contract began in early 2009, one current HNT contractor had already warned the military of being approached by “Taliban personnel” about safe passage payments.” (Page 55,56)


"Within days of the start of the HNT contract in May 2009, contractors informed military officials that they were being asked to make protection payments for safe passage through critical areas in the south and east.” (Page 56,57)


The information in my article and the report clearly shows, military officials admitted to being aware of this, their own documentation back up the interviews done by the committee, that the contractors spoke of this quite regularly, including in meetings, warned the DoD and that the DoD had absolutely no oversight of the contracts due to not going out further than the “wire.” On top of this, the prime contractors were not even aware what is going on, as the subcontractors “further subcontract out the missions without the knowledge of the primes” and were nothing more than “brokerages for tribal trucking firms or owner-operators.” (Page 50) Since the military could not, or was unwilling to go on the roads to confirm reports themselves, they relied on the prime contractors to pass down information, however, many of prime contractors were unwilling to go out on the road, on top of subcontracting subcontractors. This was a taxpayer funded contract, to the worth of $2.16 billion, which was fuelling the corruption they were there to fight, contributing to bribes to the government they put in place and finally to the insurgents themselves, with absolutely no visibility or concern.


One former country manager and ex US Special Forces, got so frustrated after raising the issue of protection payments to “every official channel”, including on the ground that “the prospect of funding warlords and potentially insurgents was “repugnant” to him. As a result, he left Afghanistan." (Page 59) Although he said he was met with a lot of sympathy, which I can believe, he was also met with no action, just perfectly illustrating the doomed-ness of the mission. The coalition did not like what is going on, but did not have another option, so chose to continue the way they were, causing the exact problems they were fighting.


The Futility Of The War


If the whole success of the war and mission in Afghanistan, is dependent on this supply route due to "Afghanistan [being] … a landlocked country whose neighbors range from uneasy U.S. allies, such as Pakistan and Uzbekistan, to outright adversaries, such as Iran” and “Thirty years of war” that has “devastated what little infrastructure the country had” (Page 6) was the mission not doomed to fail? You either accept you are going to have to fund the enemy, warlords and corruption, in the hope one day, coalition forces dominate the country enough to kill this market, or have trained the Afghan forces enough, to have stable control over the country after the coalition has left. Clearly, we saw in 2021 without the support of the coalition, the Afghan forces collapsed. So what, should the coalition of stayed another 20 years+ and maybe have a proper handle on the country? The report explains how in the 1980s Afghan-Soviet war “More than three-fourths of Soviet combat forces were regularly involved in convoy security missions, which prevented them from ever sustaining a larger occupation force and controlling key cities such as Kandahar” (Page 44) and that the US was not willing to do this, which is why they used private contractors. I am sure the US was not in support of money going to at least out of favour Warlords and the enemy, but from the looks of it, they did not come up with a practical third option to replace this, meaning their occupation, the reason for that amount of supplies even having to come through, was fuelling the very elements they justified their occupation to fight. You have to and they must have asked, what was the point then? I assume they told themselves, they just needed a bit more time, and this was a short term set back.


Not only the fact they have to pay off corrupt elements continuously on the supply routes, the weather and the roads itself were massive obstacle. The report reads “The terrain is unforgiving: deserts that kick up sandstorms in the summer become flooded and muddy in the spring, and treacherous mountain roads leave no room for error… Mountain weather can change in an instant, bringing snow and freezing rain. In the winter, the single tunnel that connects Kabul to northern Afghanistan is frequently cut off by avalanches. A break-down in the mountains can close a route for days, until the vehicle can be disassembled and airlifted out. The lack of infrastructure – including a dearth of paved roads – leaves drivers to face the elements unassisted.” In addition to these natural threats, they were faced with manmade threats, like insurgents attacking and explosives being planted. General Duncan McNabb, commander of U.S. Transportation Command, told Congress last year, “[i]f you ask me what I worry about at night, it is the fact that our supply chain is always under attack” (Page 6-7), the job sounds unwinnable, with obstacle after obstacle. Because their supply routes were so limited, due to the country being landlocked, surrounded by uneasy countries, means they were completely restricted, which was then exacerbated by the weather conditions of that limited route and easy enemy targeting.


Nevertheless, they either knew this before the war, or did not plan it properly and at the end of the day, no one forced them to invade, or at least occupy the country for decades.


Conclusion


Without nauseating the points I have already made, from the very beginning and even before the contract, there were reports of the activities discussed happening. The military chose to carry on with the contract in its exact fashion and essentially turn a blind eye to, widespread government corruption, fuelling warlordsim and money trickling down to the insurgents. They had absolutely no visibility of what was happening beyond their gates, with Russian doles of subcontracting inside of subcontracting, blocking the view even more. The subcommittee had absolutely no problem doing what the military was not willing to, speak to contractors, subcontractors, local commanders and military officials, to do a through investigation. You have to ask why they did not investigate themselves? Potentially because they knew their hands were tied and they did not plan to end this war anytime soon.


This is only scratching the surface, of one specific aspect of the war, let alone past the basic need of supply routes. If a group of officials who have lost hope in the war, just listed out honestly the obstacles and impossibility of the war, it would make it much harder to ignore. This report was of course in 2010, I have yet to find any information on whether this policy changed.

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