“I think we’ve finally got our arms around this thing,” said a senior military officer who was authorized to discuss the matter only on the condition of anonymity. The new contracts, the official said, were the result of a year’s worth of “intelligence work and asking the right questions. We’re now starting to take action.”
Congressional investigators determined last year that much of the transport and security money went to the Taliban and Afghan warlords as part of a protection racket to ensure the safe arrival of the convoys, conclusions that were confirmed this spring by military and intelligence inquiries.
House and Senate committees have said that the military has long been aware of the problem but has been reluctant to disrupt the system and risk interrupting a supply chain that provides virtually all fuel, food and weapons for U.S. troops across Afghanistan. Some lawmakers have criticized the length of time it has taken the military to act and wonder whether the new system will change much.
“I appreciate that the Department of Defense has taken steps to reform its Afghan trucking contracts, but I am concerned that they still lack sufficient visibility and accountability to ensure that U.S. taxpayer dollars are not getting into the hands of the enemy,” said Rep. John F. Tierney (D-Mass.), whose House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee investigated the contract last year.
The panel has scheduled a hearing for Sept. 15.
While the Obama administration has touted significant progress against insurgents this year, U.S., NATO and Afghan military forces still control only scattered pockets of territory and thousands of trucks travel each week over vast unsecured areas.
U.S. commanders have argued that outsourcing the transport and security frees up the U.S. warfighters to handle more important missions. The only alternative, said a senior congressional staff member speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss information not yet released, is “to reduce the [U.S.] footprint in Afghanistan.”
Policymakers and the public need to understand, he said, that “the cost of doing business is that we have to pay, effectively, our enemy for the right to be there.”
Details of the new system are to be released next week, but military officials said that principle changes include direct contracts with truckers, improvements in convoy monitoring and increased vetting of Afghan private security subcontractors. The initial contract is for one year, with an option for a second.