Afghanistan: A Bleak Report from the Front
By Mark Thompson April 2, 2012
Marine General John Allen, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, was here in Washington two weeks ago saying the U.S. and the Afghan government are making progress in their decade-long battle with the Taliban. “We remain on track to ensure that Afghanistan will no longer be a safe haven for al-Qaida and will no longer be terrorized by the Taliban,” he said. “Our troops know the difference that they’re making every day, and the enemy feels that difference every day.”
Now comes a decidedly contrary point of view. It’s from Douglas A. Wissing, author of the just-published Funding the Enemy: How U.S. Taxpayers Bankroll the Taliban. After spending time with U.S. troops in Afghanistan, he’s come to the conclusion that the U.S.-led effort there is flagging, if not already doomed. Battleland conducted this email chat with Wissing last week:
What share of the Taliban’s money do you estimate comes from illicit drugs? From the U.S. government?
I spent time in Afghanistan and in Washington trying to track that number down. One day at the U.S. embassy in Kabul, an American official serving in the Afghan Threat Finance Cell (ATFC) talked to me. The ATFC is comprised of about 30 specialists on loan from the Department of Drug Enforcement, the Department of Treasury, the Department of Justice, the Department of Defense’s CENTCOM, the CIA, and the FBI, who try to identify and disrupt sources Taliban funding. They are the experts.
The official told me that U.S. government officials estimated the insurgents’ annual budget to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. “Is it $1 billion? $500 million? The total amount is a tail people are going to chase until the end of time,” he told me. “We know they are raising substantial amounts of money; they can finance their operations. If you take away the Gulf money, they can make it up. If you take away the narco money, they can make it up. It’s like punching Jello.”
The official confirmed the U.S. and civilian reports that the insurgents used extortion of U.S. development and logistics contracts for their funding. He cited logistics-convoy security shakedowns, construction-protection rackets, Taliban “taxes” on corrupt officials, payoffs from international NGOs and major Afghan businesses—such as cell phones, utilities, and banks—as well as skims from poorly overseen Afghan government projects of the National Solidarity Program.
Citing the flood of American development and logistics money pouring into Afghanistan, the official said, “The more money that comes in here, the more opportunities, and then there’s a lot more exploitation, more corruption. And there’s a lot more money coming in here.”
Why do you believe the Taliban is getting so much money from U.S. taxpayers? Is this just the way things work – or don’t – in a counter-insurgency?
The Taliban is getting so much money from U.S. taxpayers because there is a toxic, opportunistic system that developed in Afghanistan in the years after the U.S. invasion. The system connects distracted American careerists, private U.S. corporations, corrupt Afghan kleptocrats—and the Taliban. U.S. soldiers compare it to the Mafia: everyone’s in on the take. The soldiers tell me, “We are funding our own enemy.”
Because of the corrupt Afghan government leadership, this particular counterinsurgency is particularly rife with skims and scams of U.S. logistics and development contracts, which ultimately help finance the Taliban—what the military calls “threat funding.”
The U.S. military leaders have to know that counterinsurgency won’t work with a corrupt Afghan government. FM 3-24, the famous counterinsurgency manual authored by General David Petraeus that guides the U.S. military strategy in Afghanistan, states that partnering with a legitimate host government is an indispensable “north star” to a successful war. Instead, the U.S. is allied with an Afghan government that is largely ineffective and systemically corrupt.
Read more: http://battleland.blogs.time.com/2012/0 ... z1r3tdb0tJ