$15,000 a Truck Protection Payments to the Taliban

As we wait with bated breath to find out whether Obama or Stanley McChrystal wins this little war of big ego, some of the discussion has been focused on whether Obama can succeed in Afghanistan without McChrystal’s leadership (particularly given the way he has gamed alliances with Karzai and the British).

But let’s look at the other piece of Afghanistan news today which may have as much bearing on whether or not Obama can succeed in Afghanistan: the report that Afghan trucking contractors are paying big money payoffs to warlords–including Taliban leaders we’re supposed to be fighting–for protection for their trucks.

Security for the U.S. Supply Chain Is Principally Provided by Warlords. The principal private security subcontractors on the HNT contract are warlords, strongmen, commanders, and militia leaders who compete with the Afghan central government for power and authority. Providing “protection” services for the U.S. supply chain empowers these warlords with money, legitimacy, and a raison d’etre for their private armies. Although many of these warlords nominally operate under private security companies licensed by the Afghan Ministry of Interior, they thrive in a vacuum of government authority and their interests are in fundamental conflict with U.S. aims to build a strong Afghan government.

The Highway Warlords Run a Protection Racket. The HNT contractors and their trucking subcontractors in Afghanistan pay tens of millions of dollars annually to local warlords across Afghanistan in exchange for “protection” for HNT supply convoys to support U.S. troops. Although the warlords do provide guards and coordinate security, the contractors have little choice but to use them in what amounts to a vast protection racket. The consequences are clear: trucking companies that pay the highway warlords for security are provided protection; trucking companies that do not pay believe they are more likely to find themselves under attack. As a result, almost everyone pays. In interviews and documents, the HNT contractors frequently referred to such payments as “extortion,” “bribes,” “special security,” and/or “protection payments.”

Protection Payments for Safe Passage Are a Significant Potential Source of Funding for the Taliban. Within the HNT contractor community, many believe that the highway warlords who provide security in turn make protection payments to insurgents to coordinate safe passage. This belief is evidenced in numerous documents, incident reports, and e-mails that refer to attempts at Taliban extortion along the road. The Subcommittee staff has not uncovered any direct evidence of such payments and a number of witnesses, including Ahmed Wali Karzai, all adamantly deny that any convoy security commanders pay insurgents. According to experts and public reporting, however, the Taliban regularly extort rents from a variety of licit and illicit industries, and it is plausible that the Taliban would try to extort protection payments from the coalition supply chain that runs through territory in which they freely operate.

Contractors have been faced with using NATO forces for protection. Or paying increasing rates in protection fees to warlords. And those rates are getting downright expensive.

The need to provide heavy weapons and robust security with ex pat leadership was not a requirement on the contract and now seems to be a requirement in some areas unless these missions are turned over to green security [ISAF security]. I also believe that most involved in this contract knew that cash money is often the most effective security, but I do not think it was anticipated how high the market would drive these prices and that cash security and special security forces would so often be the only option… RC South has been the location of nearly all of the attacks on IDIQ carriers, which needless to say presents significant challenges as it relates to controlling the quality of work and production for the [local national] drivers and security staff. The utilization of “Green Security” will eliminate the extortion in the south; however the attacks on convoys will increase due to this fact. Some carriers are paying as much as $15,000 per truck for missions going to Dwyer and other south FOBs. [my emphasis]

Last week, Spencer wrote that DOD has a plan to fix this and other Afghan contracting issues.

It has an uncertain budget, a team of fewer than two dozen military officers and civilians, and barely a year to make its mark on counterinsurgency in Afghanistan before the U.S. begins its transfer of security responsibilities to Afghans. In that time, a new military task force will attempt to get a handle on one of the thorniest aspects of the way the U.S. military fights its wars: its relationship with the small army of contractors it hires for support.


Task Force 2010 is led by Rear Adm. Kathleen Dussault, a longtime Navy logistics officer who served as senior contracting overseer when Petraeus commanded the U.S. war in Iraq. Dussault arrived in Kabul last week after meeting the week before with John Brummet, the head of audits for the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, for a briefing on “forensic audits,” something Brummet described as a “data-mining effort to look at financial transaction data” for “various anomalies” indicating waste, fraud or abuse.

Which doesn’t sound all that promising.

So here’s how I figure it. The Afghan warlords have improved on our Soviet era ploy. Back then, we were paying warlords (and building up their power) to fight our enemy, the Russians.

But now, we’re paying them–up to $15,000 a truck!–to not fight us, just so we can get necessary goods to our troops.

I can’t imagine what could go wrong with that.

23 replies
  1. matutinal says:

    So this little vicious financial circle, with who knows what involvement of CIA/JSOC/Blackwater oiling the $15,000 gentlemen’s agreements will be fixed by an uncertainly funded group headed up by a rear admiral who sounds like a real purchasing wizard, very organized. Sure, what can go wrong. Image control, not damage control. Just another Obama not-quite-up-to-the-task solution.

  2. DWBartoo says:

    As long as we don’t suspend breathing altogether, in anticipation of reason, in the one case, and justice in the other, though reason and justice are the same, in all cases …

    EW, you are, of late, even more than usual, mocking the WI$DOM$ most deliberately; presenting “them” as mendacious clowns and calculating frauds, even as “they” have determined that brute power is their right not merely by virtue of their “vision” but because they intend to enjoy it.

    Those, who tweak “them” what most sincerely deserve it, have my undying gratitude.

    Thank you, Marcy, brave soul that you are, your well-deserved notoriety will be your safety.


  3. manys says:

    so the contractors are just “our scum” who we hire to deal with “their scum.” a buffer, if you will.

  4. Rayne says:

    I am wondering if the monies doled out are the same ones I’d heard attributed to a Liz Cheney program — may have come out of CERP (Commander’s Emergency Response Funds), but with her imprimatur.

  5. timbo says:

    Gee, at least our supply lines in Afganistan are secured with American dollars–now that is a heck of a lot of military security! But, hey, don’t worry about your supply lines being cut by trustworthy warlords cuz we’ll bomb their families and compounds back to the stone age if they screw us. Yeah, that’s how we secure our military (and political, let’s not forget the political) supply lines in Afganistan–good ole American threats to bomb Afganistan into rubble…

  6. Gerald says:

    I don’t know what the real costs are, but the choices seem clear. Let me divide the choices into the two plans that seem to have developed.

    A. (The old way.)
    1. Use US combat troops to escort the trucks which would reduce the number of US troops available for the war effort.
    2. Use American private security forces like Blackwater. Wait, they would pose a PR problem to the President with his party and also legal problems for the Justice Dept. Likewise I guess there would also be a PR problem for the Justice Dept when they lose all the cases they bring against Blackwater and Navy Seals..

    B. (The new way.)
    1. Pay some locals to do the job. If Afghans shoot Afghans, there is no legal problem in the US. It is just a local Afghan problem and actually a local Afghan custom.
    2. If we are paying Warlords to fight the Taliban, then that means
    a) There are less Taliban for the US to fight.
    b) There are less Warlords for the US to fight.
    c) That means (Help me here.) less US forces will be killed!

    I think that plan B. is better. In fact, I think it is way better. We should keep track of the costs though I think personally it is a win win situation for the US.

    • PJEvans says:

      Warlord 1: I’m tired of being the Taliban all the time. This month, you get to be the Taliban.
      Warlord 2: Okay. How many of your guys do you need killed?

      • skdadl says:

        That’s very funny, actually, I guess because it’s so close to the truth.

        EW @ 7, that’s true of our “Listed Entities” as well — al Qaeda is on the list but the Taliban never have been. I’ve heard as an explanation that the Taliban is not a “group” but a government or a former government — I’m not sure I follow that, but there must be some reason that Western governments haven’t listed the Taliban. Mind you, that doesn’t stop them from listing Hamas.

      • phred says:

        Exactly. And that rather begs the question… If we packed up and left, we would stop funding the Taliban, the group that we are trying to prevent from attaining political control of Afghanistan. In other words, the surest way to win the war is to stop fighting it.

        If we stop spending our tax dollars abroad, we would have more to spend here at home where it could actually benefit us citizens. Imagine that.

        • Phoenix Woman says:

          Which is of course why none of our major media outlets are front-paging this or mentioning it on their newscasts, much less having it as the lead story.

  7. ghostof911 says:

    The warlords seem to have all the angles covered. Might it be possible that they are being coached by Moscow? Wouldn’t that be a smart kick in the nuts?

  8. Leen says:

    But what else do you do with the “including Taliban leaders/Warlords. Kill them all? Or deal with the situation as it is?

  9. tomdegan says:

    Regarding the general….

    A good case has been made that the president should fire McChrystal. While I might be inclined to agree, my problem is that so many are making that argument by referencing Harry Truman’s firing of Douglas MacArthur in 1951.

    The two cases aren’t even close.

    In 1951 at the height of the Korean War, MacArthur was advocating to the press – against the wishes of his commander-in-chef – extending the conflict by invading China. Had that happened it may have started World War III. Had the General had his way in 1951, we’d STILL be fighting in Korea.

    Old Harry made a wise and courageous decision and hindsight has shown, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he did the right thing.

    Stanley McChrystal may be many things – Doug MacArthur he ain’t.


    Tom Degan

  10. brendanx says:


    Heck, we’re even paying the Russians for the convenience (!) of using an overland supply route through the Central Asian ex-Soviet republics.

  11. Skellen says:

    The more I hear about what’s going on there the more I am mystified that this plan was greenlit to continue or that anyone thinks it’s going even remotely ‘well’. Honestly, what is Obama’s plan? Wishing really hard for everthingt to come together just right? Or is he living in a misinformation/denial bubble?

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