A new investigation by the U.S. Senate's Armed Services Committee into private contractors in Afghanistan has concluded that some American funds spent for security have instead been funneled to warlords, Taliban operatives, and even Iranian intelligence.
There are more than 26,000 private security employees in Afghanistan -- a large proportion of them Afghans -- and 90 percent of them work under U.S. government contracts or subcontracts. They are supposed to provide security to U.S. military bases, supply convoys, Western embassies, and aid agencies.
But according to Senator Carl Levin (Democrat, Michigan), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, some security contractors have side jobs.
"The report describes a number of private security contractors funneling U.S. taxpayer dollars to Afghan warlords and strongmen who are linked to murder, kidnapping, bribery, pro-Taliban, and anti-coalition activity," Levin said.
The committee's report says many of the contract employees have not undergone any background checks or received adequate training. The result, according to the report, is that some security staffers are actually assisting the very insurgency that NATO and U.S. forces are trying to combat.
"All too often, our reliance on private security contractors in Afghanistan has empowered warlords and powerbrokers operating outside Afghan government control," Levin said. "There is significant evidence that some security contractors even work against our coalition forces, creating the very threat that they are hired to combat. These contractors threaten the security of our troops and risk the success of our mission.
"[The report] describes the failures by some security contractors to adequately [background check], train, and equip their guards, their employees, and it discusses contractor personnel using drugs, being issued unserviceable weapons, and leaving their guard posts unmanned."
Undermining The Mission
The report concludes that private security companies are undermining the key goal of creating Afghan security forces by attracting their trained cadres away on the promise of better salaries.
The list of violations by private contractors is long and often shocking.
In one case cited by "The New York Times," the Senate report said U.S. military personnel at one air base in Afghanistan did not even know the names of the two leaders of the Afghan group providing security. They jokingly referred to them as "Mr. White and Mr. Pink" -- characters from Quentin Tarantino's gangster movie "Reservoir Dogs."
Mr. Pink turned out to be a Taliban figure.
Washington Wake-Up Call
In another case, the report documents the case of two competing warlords in western Herat Province. They were hired by ArmorGroup North America to provide security at the Shindand air base but were implicated in murders, reprisal attacks, and even hosted a Taliban meeting which was raided by coalition troops.
Analysts says the Senate report is another wake-up call for Washington, which will face additional pressure to tackle corrupt security contracting processes in Afghanistan. A report by the House of Representatives on the topic recently reached conclusions similar to the Senate findings.
In response to this latest report, the Defense Department said it has created a new task force to overhaul contracting practices in Afghanistan.
In August, Afghan President Hamid Karzai issued a decree giving foreign security contractors four months to disband.
On October 3, the Interior Ministry announced it had moved to shut down eight firms, seizing 400 weapons. But U.S. officials have indicated that it will be difficult to get rid of all security contractors because of the essential role they fill.
written by Abubakar Siddique, with agency reports