First the Government Accountability Office found that more than $500 billion in Afghanistan war spending would be squandered without a long-term financial commitment from the United States.Then the United States Agency for International Development announced it was shuttering aid projects that ate up millions of tax dollars with no results.
These instances of waste might have aided the Taliban’s disinformation campaign, but they did not directly provide the group with money. This is no longer the case. According to a Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) report, “Contracting with the Enemy,” released Thursday, millions of American contracting dollars have ended up in the hands of the Taliban.
The Taliban could be using U.S. tax dollars to kill American soldiers. The U.S. military has estimated that up to $360 million ended up in the hands of Taliban and criminal elements in Afghanistan over the past decade, according to a 2012 Associated Press report.
According to SIGAR, the Defense Department does not have “reasonable assurance that U.S. government contracting funds are not being provided to persons and entities supporting the insurgency and opposing U.S. and coalition forces. As a result, millions of contracting dollars could be diverted to forces seeking to harm U.S. military and civilian personnel in Afghanistan and derail the multi-billion dollar reconstruction effort.”
A SIGAR spokesman said $5 million has been paid to contractors affiliated with the Taliban. This might appear to be relatively harmless, but in a country with a per capita GDP of $1,000, this is an enormous amount.
The report reveals a breakdown of the contracting process, stretching from the Head of Contracting Activity (HCA), the offices responsible for U.S. contracting in Afghanistan, to the subcontractors working across Afghanistan.
A BROKEN PROCESS MEANS A BROKEN PROMISE
In the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress included a clause that came to be known as Section 841. According to SIGAR, this clause required HCA to “restrict, terminate, or void a DOD contract, grant, or cooperative agreement that it determines would provide funding directly or indirectly to a person or entity identified as actively supporting an insurgency or otherwise actively opposing U.S. or coalition forces in the CENTCOM theater of operations, including Afghanistan.”
Section 841 was inserted into the authorization bill because of the Host Nation Trucking scandal, which was uncovered in 2010. Under the Host Nation Trucking program, the United States paid Afghans to transport supplies to dangerous parts of the country via truck or big rig. Insurgents found out about the program, and then required many of these drivers to pay bribes to warlords to allow them to use Afghan roads.
Yet SIGAR found implementation of Section 841 to be shoddy and inconsistent. Specifically, it found:
• Some contracting authorities never received Central Command’s list of groups forbidden to receive U.S. money.
• Contracting authorities did not consistently tell contractors about restrictions.
• The Defense Department does not have a blanket policy on how to inform contractors of forbidden subcontractors.
• Central Command only began posting restricted groups on its Web site in early 2013. Contractors have no obligation to view the list.
Implementation errors are just part of the problem. SIGAR identified a number of legal problems that create massive loopholes that fail to address how contracting is done in Afghanistan. For instance:
• Section 841 does not cover State and USAID contracts.
• It does not apply to contracts of less than $100,000, despite 80 percent of all Afghan contracts being less than this amount.
• Many contracts do not include the language necessary to prevent contractors from hiring suspect contractors.
CLOSING THE LOOPHOLES IN SECTION 841
Upon releasing the findings, SIGAR chief John Sopko urged immediate action to fix Section 841.
“The possibility that taxpayer money could be supporting the insurgency is alarming and demands immediate action,” he said. “Every effort should be made to implement stronger controls that protect our troops and ensure the success of our reconstruction efforts.”
Hours later, U.S. Senators Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) introduced a bill meant to close the loopholes opened by Section 841.
“American taxpayer dollars should never benefit our enemies. This common sense legislation will help ensure that all federal contracting officials have the ability to move quickly to terminate contracts that are diverting money to groups that are working against America’s interests,” Ayotte said.