US funds for private security contractors in Afghanistan have flowed to warlords and Taliban insurgents, undermining the war effort and fuelling corruption, according to a Senate report issued today.
The investigation by the Senate Armed Services Committee found that the Government had failed to vet or manage those hired to provide security under contracts worth billions of dollars, with disastrous results.
“Our reliance on private security contractors in Afghanistan has too often empowered local warlords and powerbrokers who operate outside the Afghan Government’s control and act against coalition interests,” Carl Levin, chairman of the committee.
“This situation threatens the security of our troops and puts the success of our mission at risk.”
Under one US Air Force subcontract for an Afghan air base, ArmorGroup – a subsidiary of the British-based firm G4S – used Afghan warlords to recruit security guards. The warlords included “Taliban supporters,” the report said.
While the contract was in force, one of the warlords was killed in a US-Afghan military raid “on a Taliban meeting being held at his house”, it alleged.
In a review of more than 125 Pentagon security contracts from 2007 to 2009, the committee found “systemic failures, including security contractors’ failures to vet personnel or to ensure that their armed personnel received adequate training,” it said.
The report endorsed efforts by the US and NATO commander in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, who has ordered a reform of security contracting and warned that spending large amounts of money without enough oversight could unintentionally feed corruption and the insurgency.
Defence Secretary Robert Gates has acknowledged the problem and in a letter to Mr Levin, said the Pentagon had dramatically expanded oversight of contracts and had created task forces to overhaul contract work.
The Senate report “is yet another wake-up call for the Pentagon, and I think they will have to address the problem,” said Richard Fontaine, a senior fellow at the Centre for a New American Security.
But he said the military faced a difficult dilemma.
“In some cases, it appears that the choice is stark – allow subcontractors to pay the Taliban protection money – and essentially fund the enemy with taxpayer dollars – or bar protection payments and absorb a higher degree of risk of attack,” he told AFP in an email.
“This choice is made even more difficult given that we rely on contractors and not military personnel to carry out a variety of security tasks, including convoy protection.”
The Afghan Government has condemned the role of private security contractors and this week formally banned eight foreign firms, including the controversial company formerly called Blackwater.
Kabul announced in August that it was giving security firms working in Afghanistan four months to cease operations, which could present a major headache for NATO-led troops and international organisations which rely on the contractors employing tens of thousands.