"The findings of this report range from sobering to shocking". Thus Rep. John F Tierney, chair of the subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, speaking of his committee's report on the Department of Defense’s outsourcing of security on the supply chain in Afghanistan - referred to as the $2.16 billion Host Nation Trucking (HNT) Contract - to questionable providers, including warlords.
Warlord, Inc.: Extortion and Corruption Along the U.S. Supply Chain in Afghanistan, the committee's six-month investigation, was prompted by an article by Aram Roston in The Nation about allegations that US trucking contractors were making protection payments for safe passage through insecure areas in order to supply American troops in the field.
The HNT Contract is split between eight Afghan, American and Middle Eastern companies and provides trucking for over 70 per cent of the total goods and materiel for US troops - around 6-8,000 truck movements a month.
The contractors are responsible for their own security, which most of them subcontract to local Afghan companies. The size of these operations is huge: a typical convoy of 300 supply trucks going from Kabul to Kandahar, for example, will travel with 400 to 500 guards in dozens of trucks armed with heavy machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs). One convoy security commander said that he spent $1.5 million per month on ammunition. The logic is that outsourcing allows the US to direct a greater proportion of its troops to other activities instead of logistics.
But Tierney's Majority Committee report says that the HNT contract "fuels warlordism, extortion, and corruption, and it may be a significant source of funding for insurgents. In other words, the logistics contract has an outsized strategic impact on U.S. objectives in Afghanistan."
The report pulls few punches: security for the US supply chain is mainly provided by warlords who compete with the Afghan central government for power and authority; the Highway Warlords run a protection racket; these funds, in turn, are a significant potential source of funding for the Taliban; the unaccountable supply chain security contractors are themselves fuelling corruption, with one company admitting that it pays $1,000 to $10,000 in monthly bribes to Afghan governors, police chiefs and local military units; there is no DoD oversight of the supply chain or the private security contractors; all this despite the fact that DoD has been warned in the past about protection payments.
When Tierney said the report's findings ranged from sobering to shocking, he was not kidding.