When will they ever learn? 115

We have written often and at length about the futility of continuing the US engagement in Afghanistan. (Put “Afghanistan” or “Taliban” into our search slot to find our numerous posts on the subject.)

AP now reports that hundreds of millions of US dollars have found their way into the hands of the Taliban.

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.

A nice clear demonstration of its political naivety.

But until a special task force assembled by Gen. David Petraeus began its investigation last year, the coalition had little insight 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 …

“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. …

Has it learnt its lesson from the discovery and grown wiser? No.

The Defense Department announced Monday that it had selected 20 separate contractors for a new transportation contract potentially worth $983.5 million … Officials said the new arrangement will reduce the reliance on subcontractors and diminish the risk of money being lost. Under the new National Afghan Trucking Services contract, the military will be able to choose from a deeper pool of companies competing against one another to offer the best price to move supplies. The new arrangement also gives the U.S. more flexibility in determining –

To determine something it is not flexibility that is required, just determination –

whether security is needed for supply convoys and who should provide it …

Security? How about American armed guards keeping cold eyes fixed on every one of the bastards?

And the Pentagon’s wondering who – if they decide for it – should provide it?  Does that mean they’re considering getting Afghans to do it? Oh yes!

The Pentagon did not provide the names of the 20 companies picked due to worries that larger contractors who weren’t selected might try to coerce them into a takeover, the senior defense official said.

Ah, canny, canny!

But about those security providers. Among a bunch of them named in the report, here’s one who is so surprisingly discovered to have been cheating:

In 2009 and 2010, [a] subcontractor identified in the document only as “Rohullah” received $1.7 million in payments. A congressional report issued last year said Rohullah is a warlord who controlled the convoy security business along the highway between Kabul and Kandahar, the two largest cities in Afghanistan. …

Rohullah’s hundreds of heavily armed guards operated a protection racket, charging contractors moving U.S. military supplies along the highway as much as $1,500 a vehicle. Failure to pay virtually guaranteed a convoy would be attacked by Rohullah’s forces … Rohullah’s guards regularly fought with the Taliban, but investigators believe Rohullah moved money to the Taliban when it was in his interest to do so. …

U.S. authorities in Afghanistan are screening contractors more carefully to be sure they can handle the work and also are trustworthy, the senior military official said. Authorities also are being more aggressive in barring companies if they violate contract terms or are found to be involved in illicit activities. Since the task force was created last year, the number of debarred Afghan, U.S. and international companies and individuals associated with contracting in Afghanistan has more than doubled – from 31 to 78, the official said.

And those not on the list may be presumed trustworthy?

Just how dumbly trusting and incurably naive the Western directors of the Afghan campaign are, here’s a reminder of how easily they were deceived by the Taliban last year. We quote from our post The Sting of Nov. 23 , 2010, concerning “a perfectly performed con-trick by which an imposter extracted a mountain of moola from craven double-dealing presidents, diplomats, and generals involved in The Endless War of Waste and Futility.”

The conman claimed to be Mullah Akhta Muhammad Mansour, “the second highest official in the Taliban movement” after the founder, Mullah Mohammed Omar.

He and “two other Taliban leaders” were flown to Kabul from Pakistan in a NATO plane, wearing serious beards, and were ceremoniously ushered into the presidential palace, where they proceeded to beard President Karzai in his den, so to speak. Then they were conducted to the city of Kandahar where “Mullah Mansour” and his two merry men hoodwinked government officials, NATO commanders, American diplomats and top-brass.

For months, the secret talks unfolding between Taliban and Afghan leaders to end the war appeared to be showing promise, if only because of the appearance of a certain insurgent leader at one end of the table: Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, one of the most senior commanders in the Taliban movement.

But now, it turns out, Mr. Mansour was apparently not Mr. Mansour at all. In an episode that could have been lifted from a spy novel, United States and Afghan officials now say the Afghan man was an impostor, and high-level discussions conducted with the assistance of NATO appear to have achieved little.

For “little” read “nothing”.

It’s not him,” said a Western diplomat in Kabul intimately involved in the discussions. “And we gave him a lot of money.”

American officials confirmed Monday that they had given up hope that the Afghan was Mr. Mansour, or even a member of the Taliban leadership.

Doubts about the man’s identity arose after the third session of negotiations. Only then –

A man who had known [the real] Mr. Mansour years ago told Afghan officials that the man at the table did not resemble him.

Even so, they wistfully hoped that whoever he was would come again. They’d paid him to keep the fake peace talks going, and any old talks, with anyone at all, are better than none.

So who was the guy they were negotiating with?

The theory we like best is that he was “a humble shopkeeper from the Pakistani city of Quetta”, who simply enlisted the help of two cronies and carried out the sting operation for the most understandable of motives – to get a lot of money. Which they did.

When will they ever learn?