BOSTON — Thank God tax day is behind us.
Did you blow deadline, as we say in the news business, and take the extension? Are you getting any returns? Were you up all night filing?
No matter what your status with the IRS, one outrageous fact will keep you up at night and should evoke more fury than a full-blown audit: US taxpayers are bankrolling the Taliban.
We’ll say that again: US taxpayers are bankrolling the Taliban.
GlobalPost first reported this fact back in 2009 when our Kabul correspondent, Jean MacKenzie, broke the story that USAID funding was going to subcontractors who paid the Taliban through what amounted to a protection racket that kept workers on projects from being attacked in Taliban-controlled areas.
As part of that reporting project, GlobalPost also worked with an outstanding journalist named Douglas A. Wissing who traveled to Afghanistan for us and broke new ground for there on how the US had mismanaged billions of dollars in aid and development funds and how the Taliban took full advantage of the chaos.
Wissing has a new book out titled “Funding the Enemy: How US Taxpayers Bankroll the Taliban.” (Prometheus Books) It is an excellent example of ‘ground truth,’ a well reported, behind-the-scenes look at the perverse consequences of American aid in Afghanistan. It will infuriate you particularly if you read it on the heels of tax day. But read it if you want to understand what is happening on the ground in Afghanistan.
Wissing was in touch by email this week and sent this take as a guest post for GroundTruth:
When I was embedded with American troops in insurgency-wracked eastern Afghanistan, soldiers began telling me that the U.S. government wastes tens of billions of taxpayer dollars each year on scandalously mismanaged aid and logistics contracts connected to the war. The soldiers told me there was a toxic system that links distracted American officials, private U.S. corporations, powerful Afghan insiders—and the Taliban. One way or another, everyone was in on the take.
We’d be convoying in Taliban country in giant armored vehicles, dodging IEDs and keeping watch for ambushes, and the soldiers would be cynically telling me, “We’re funding both sides of this war.” Describing this malign nexus of American careerists, Afghan kleptocrats and wily insurgents as akin to the Mafia, the infantry grunts would spit their Skol in empty water bottles and ruefully say, “We’re funding our own enemy.”
At first it seemed preposterous, but as I researched my book, "Funding the Enemy," I realized the soldiers were right. GlobalPost revealed the system is so routine, there are Taliban business offices in Kabul where contractors take their U.S.-funded contracts to negotiate percentages with jihadist engineers. Security firms commonly contract with Afghan insurgents to protect U.S.-funded development projects. The notoriously wasteful 64-mile-long Khost-Gardez road project is expected to cost taxpayers $176 million. Over $43 million went to a security firm, which then hired an insurgent leader who was on the U.S. JPEL “kill or capture” list. They paid the jihadi $160,000 a month to provide security against himself.
The Taliban skims off U.S. taxpayer money are pervasive; ubiquitous. A U.S. contracting officer told me that construction contracts for the wildly expensive Afghan National Army bases in southern Afghanistan only go to contractors with Taliban connections. $100 million of taxpayer money went into rebuilding the massive Kajaki Dam in southern Afghanistan, so hydroelectricity would help secure the region. But instead, researchers discovered the Taliban controlled half of the electricity, methodically sending out bills and shutting off late payers.
The insurgents get their cut on even the smallest, seemingly benign U.S.-funded development projects, such as villager-built check dams. The insurgents shake down the Afghan contractor, and then get another cut when the U.S. development team pays the villagers. U.S. taxpayers even paid for this week’s coordinated attacks by the Haqqani network insurgents, who pay for most of their operations with money skimmed from U.S. road contracts.
As the U.S. stumbles through its eleventh year of war, American soldiers are getting increasingly cynical about our failed counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan. They can see clearly that despite spending $2 billion a week, we aren’t winning Afghan hearts and minds with our contradictory missions and self-defeating execution. The jihadist insurgency has relentlessly grown through the decade of war. Last year, insurgents planted more than 16,000 IEDs in Afghanistan. We have shot ourselves in the foot, reloaded, and shot ourselves again. Wearying of multiple deployments and flawed policies, many American soldiers are ready to come home. More than one soldier told me in Afghanistan, “The juice ain’t worth the squeeze.” American taxpayers surely agree with them.