The new contract, a deal between the military and 20 separate trucking and supply companies, is worth nearly $1 billion and is “specifically designed to minimize the risk of contract corruption by increasing the number of prime vendors and by providing better transparency at the sub contractor level,” says a US military official in Kabul familiar with the issue. Most importantly, the new contract aims to cut out middlemen and powerbrokers who have long created problems for Afghanistan.
The move marks a significant step for the American military in Afghanistan. It may also help to check the power of a new generation of warlords who have become millionaires from providing security to American convoys and who often undercut the democratic institutions the US is working to establish here.
Among Afghans there is much relief that the US has begun taking steps to change its contracting policies, but many say that they fear the damage has already been done.
“After 10 years the American government finally woke up about this issue. For a decade we’ve been telling them that something is going wrong with their security and logistics,” says Massoud, a professor of economics at Kabul University who, like many Afghans, only goes by one name. “It is not only good because it is decreasing America’s expenses, but it also stops funding for the Taliban.”
Poor monitoring of US funds
In recent months, several reports from various US government agencies have been released that reveal a pattern of spending in Afghanistan with minimal, if any oversight.
Most recently, a report issued late last month by the Special Investigator General for Afghanistan Reconstruction found that a large portion of the $70 billion invested by the US government on development here may have gone to Afghan militants due to weak monitoring practices.
“While US agencies have taken steps to strengthen their oversight over US funds flowing through the Afghan economy, they still have limited visibility over the circulation of these funds, leaving them vulnerable to fraud or diversion to insurgents,” wrote the report.
Throughout the course of the war, the US has relied on private Afghan security companies to secure their supply and logistics convoys. As a result, local strongmen grew rich almost overnight through these contracts, often times allegedly paying off the Taliban not to attack convoys.
With money these local strongmen managed to drastically expand their influence into government and security affairs.
In Uruzgan Province, Matiullah Khan was a taxi driver when the US war began in 2001. In a few short years he became a millionaire running security for NATO convoys in his area. Earlier this month, he was appointed as the chief of police in Uruzgan province, despite numerous allegations of human rights abuses.
“This is the reality of recent years. The Afghan government and also the international community have depended on these new warlords who do not have any support from their people or the tribes,” says the owner of a construction company in southern Afghanistan, who asked to remain anonymous fearing reprisal from local warlords.
New contract takes effect next month
Even if the new contract, which will take effect next month, stems the flow of money to the insurgency, many Afghans say that the warlords created by the previous contract may pose a far greater danger to the country than the Taliban or other insurgent groups.
Many of these new warlords are now said to be involved in a variety of illicit businesses, extortion, and extrajudicial killings, although nearly all of them categorically deny these allegations.
“This group of new warlords is much more cruel than those we’ve had in the past. In the past, our other leaders were just fighting for the power, but now they have experience doing all kinds of bad things – smuggling, kidnapping, taking people’s land,” says Abdul Jameel, a property dealer in Kabul. “As they got more money after 2001, their cruelty began increasing.”