Saturday, August 15, 2009

What you call stupid: funding both sides of the war in Afghanistan

This is probably one of the major reasons the US military should not sign up to fight counter-insurgencies: since the Seminole Wars we have been doing them badly.

Now, according to Reuters, evidence is mounting that--aside from the poppy crop in areas under its control--the Taliban has a major source of funding for its insurrection: us.

Anecdotal evidence is mounting that the Taliban are taking a hefty portion of assistance money coming into Afghanistan from the outside.

This goes beyond mere protection money or extortion of “taxes” at the local level — very high-level negotiations take place between the Taliban and major contractors, according to sources close to the process.

A shadowy office in Kabul houses the Taliban contracts officer, who examines proposals and negotiates with organizational hierarchies for a percentage. He will not speak to, or even meet with, a journalist, but sources who have spoken with him and who have seen documents say that the process is quite professional.

The manager of an Afghan firm with lucrative construction contracts with the U.S. government builds in a minimum of 20 percent for the Taliban in his cost estimates. The manager, who will not speak openly, has told friends privately that he makes in the neighborhood of $1 million per month. Out of this, $200,000 is siphoned off for the insurgents.

If negotiations fall through, the project will come to harm — road workers may be attacked or killed, bridges may be blown up, engineers may be assassinated.

The degree of cooperation and coordination between the Taliban and aid workers is surprising, and would most likely make funders extremely uncomfortable.

One Afghan contractor, speaking privately, told friends of one project he was overseeing in the volatile south. The province cannot be mentioned, nor the particular project.

“I was building a bridge,” he said, one evening over drinks. “The local Taliban commander called and said ‘don’t build a bridge there, we’ll have to blow it up.’ I asked him to let me finish the bridge, collect the money — then they could blow it up whenever they wanted. We agreed, and I completed my project.”

In the south, no contract can be implemented without the Taliban taking a cut, sometimes at various steps along the way.

One contractor in the southern province of Helmand was negotiating with a local supplier for a large shipment of pipes. The pipes had to be brought in from Pakistan, so the supplier tacked on about 30 percent extra for the Taliban, to ensure that the pipes reached Lashkar Gah safely.

Once the pipes were given over to the contractor, he had to negotiate with the Taliban again to get the pipes out to the project site. This was added to the transportation costs.

“We assume that our people are paying off the Taliban,” said the foreign contractor in charge of the project.

You can get even money that Alexander the Great had the same problem.

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