Report faults US reliance on Afghan security contractors
WASHINGTON — Heavy US reliance on private security in Afghanistan has helped to line the pockets of the Taliban because contractors often do not vet local recruits and wind up hiring warlords and thugs, Senate investigators said yesterday.
The finding, in a report by the Senate Armed Services Committee, follows a separate congressional inquiry in June that concluded trucking contractors pay tens of millions of dollars a year to local warlords for convoy protection.
Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate panel, said he is worried the United States is unknowingly fostering the growth of Taliban-linked militias at a time when Kabul is struggling to recruit its own soldiers and police officers.
“Almost all are Afghans. Almost all are armed,’’ Levin, a Michigan Democrat, said of the army of young men working under US contracts.
“We need to shut off the spigot of US dollars flowing into the pockets of warlords and power brokers who act contrary to our interests and contribute to the corruption that weakens the support of the Afghan people for their government,’’ he said.
The Defense Department does not necessarily disagree but warns that firing the estimated 26,000 private security personnel operating in Afghanistan in the near future is not practical.
This summer, US forces in Afghanistan pledged to increase their oversight of security contractors and set up two task forces to look into allegations of misconduct and to track the money spent, particularly among lower-level subcontractors.
The Defense Contract Management Agency has increased the number of auditors and support staff in the region by some 300 percent since 2007.
And in September, General David Petraeus, the top war commander in Afghanistan, directed his staff to consider the impact that contract spending has on military operations.
But military officials and Republicans on the Armed Services Committee warn that ending the practice of hiring local guards could worsen the security situation in Afghanistan.
They say providing young Afghan men with employment can prevent them from joining the ranks of Taliban fighters. And bringing in foreign workers to do jobs Afghans can do could foster resentment, they say.
Also, contract security forces fill an immediate need at a time when US forces are focused on operations, commanders say.
“As the security environment in Afghanistan improves, our need for [private security contractors] will diminish,’’ Petraeus told the Senate panel in July. “But in the meantime, we will use legal, licensed, and controlled [companies] to accomplish appropriate missions.’’
Levin is not suggesting the United States stop using private security contractors altogether.
But, he says, the United States must reduce the number of local security guards and improve the vetting process of new hires if there is any hope of reversing a trend that he says damages the US mission in Afghanistan.
His report represents a review of 125 of these agreements between 2007 and 2009.