WASHINGTON (AP) - After examining hundreds of combat support and reconstruction contracts in Afghanistan, the U.S military estimates $360 million in U.S. tax dollars has ended up in the hands of people the American-led coalition has spent nearly a decade battling: the Taliban, criminals, and power brokers with ties to both.
The losses underscore the challenges the U.S. and its international partners face in overcoming corruption in Afghanistan. A central part of the Obama administration's strategy has been to award U.S.-financed contracts to Afghan businesses to help improve quality of life and stoke the country's economy.
But until a special task force assembled by Gen. David Petraeus began its investigation last year, the coalition had little visibility into the connections many Afghan companies and their vast network of subcontractors had with insurgents and criminals - groups military officials call "malign actors."
In a murky process known as "reverse money laundering," payments from the U.S. pass through companies hired by the military for transportation, construction, power projects, fuel and other services to businesses and individuals with ties to the insurgency or criminal networks, according to interviews and task force documents obtained by the AP.
"Funds begin as clean monies," according to one document, then "either through direct payments or through the flow of funds in the subcontractor network, the monies become tainted."
The conclusions by Task Force 2010 represent the most definitive assessment of how U.S. military spending and aid to Afghanistan has been diverted to the enemy or stolen. Only a small percentage of the $360 million has been garnered by the Taliban and insurgent groups, said a senior U.S. military official in Kabul. The bulk of the money was lost to profiteering, bribery and extortion by criminals and power brokers, said the official, who declined to provide a specific breakdown.
The official requested anonymity to discuss the task force's ongoing investigation into the movement of U.S. contract money in Afghanistan. The documents obtained by AP were prepared earlier this year and provide an overview of the task force's work.
Overall, the $360 million represents a fraction of the $31 billion in active U.S. contracts that the task force reviewed. But insurgents rely on crude weaponry and require little money to operate. And the illicit gains buttress what the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank, referred to in a June report as a "nexus between criminal enterprises, insurgent networks and corrupt political elites" in Afghanistan.
More than half the losses flowed through a large transportation contract called Host Nation Trucking, the official said. Eight companies served as prime contractors and hired a web of nearly three dozen subcontractors for vehicles and convoy security to ship huge amounts of food, water, fuel and ammunition to American troops stationed at bases across Afghanistan.
The Defense Department announced Monday that it had selected 20 separate contractors for a new transportation contract potentially worth $983.5 million to replace Host Nation Trucking. Officials said the new arrangement will reduce the reliance on subcontractors and diminish the risk of money being lost.