Afghan convoy security undermines Afghan security
Millions are paid to Afghan private security companies to deliver food and ammunition to NATO troops. But the companies are accused of human rights abuses and paying the Taliban.
(Page 2 of 3)
He was a fruit wholesaler before the fall of the Taliban, then he got his start by providing security to CNN and CBS reporters. He recruited men from his home village in Dand, Kandahar, and was soon able to amass a force of hundreds ready to provide protection. He branched out into providing security for NGOs and NATO supply convoys. Today Ruhullah charges $1,000 per a truck and his force accompanies up to 500 trucks a week between Kabul and Kandahar.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
“Nothing would happen without our help,” says Ruhullah in an interview. “We help the foreign forces and therefore help stability.”
While Ruhullah enjoys a near monopoly from Kabul to Kandahar, when trucking companies want to go further west – to supply troops in Helmand, for instance – they pay whichever local warlord or government official happens to be in the area to protect their convoy.
“We sometimes just wait around and when some trucks come we charge them to protect them,” explains a police officer in Helmand’s Lashkar Gah. Truckers themselves often negotiate a price on the spot, sometimes paying thousands of dollars to move from one town to the next. Some companies have cultivated relationships with Afghan Army and police commanders and pay them regularly for protection. In Helmand, for instance, associates of Governor Gulab Mangal are involved in the business.
The business of protection
Some are concerned that the ban will make it even harder to regulate and hold Afghanistan's private army's accountable for their actions. In the days after Karzai’s announcement, Commander Ruhullah resigned from his company, calling the job a “bloody business.” But within a week he and his men had restarted convoy escorts, this time directly charging trucking companies instead of working through the licensed company Watan, according to logistics company executives.
That may have put convoys that used licensed groups in greater danger.,
A US House investigation found earlier this summer that Ruhullah and other commanders paid the Taliban not to attack their convoys. After Ruhullah left Watan, company associates say that the number of attacks against the company skyrocketed. “They are now losing 30 to 50 guys a month,” says a Western security consultant who has worked with convoy protection companies. “If you don’t pay, you are going to get hit. It’s that simple.”
The companies protect a long supply chain, stretching from ports in Pakistan to small military outposts in Afghanistan. NATO forces, for instance, pay two multinational logistics conglomerates – APL and Maersk Line – to arrange delivery of almost all materiel for their troops.
The goods arrive daily in port in Karachi, Pakistan, and are then shipped through the restive tribal areas of Pakistan to the Afghan border town of Torkham. There the transport is subcontracted to four Afghan trucking companies, who are responsible for bringing the materiel safely to military outposts.
“Usually a truck will wait in Torkham until we find someone who is willing to accompany it,” explains Dil, who owns one of the four subcontracted companies. This includes local warlords or police and army officers, who charge $100 per truck for the relatively safe journey to Kabul.