MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
In the push to get supplies into Afghanistan, the Pentagon is inadvertently lining the pockets of warlords and other unsavory characters. That is the thrust of a new report by congressional investigators who called on the Pentagon today to do a better job of oversight.
NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.
MICHELE KELEMEN: The 79-page report called "Warlord, Inc.," tracks more than $2 billion in contracts covering trucking and security for most of the supplies that reach U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Getting cargo to its destinations in Afghanistan is a tricky endeavor, the report acknowledges. Still, the chairman of a House subcommittee on national security, John Tierney, says the findings are sobering and shocking.
Representative JOHN TIERNEY (Democrat, Massachusetts): There was really no oversight, certainly insufficient oversight over about $2.16 billion worth of contracts. And the result of that is that the money may well be fueling a corruption situation where our strategy relies on a government be reliable and corruption be taken out of the equation.
KELEMEN: What happens, Tierney says, is that the U.S. gives contracts to Afghan trucking companies and they then pay for their own protection. The situation has fueled what the report describes as a shadowy network of warlords, strongmen and corrupt Afghan officials. Tierney described it as a protection racket that would make Tony Soprano proud.
Rep. TIERNEY: One estimate was that between a million and two million dollars a week in some instances were going to security contracts by people that weren't vetted and were warlords and other unsavory characters.
KELEMEN: The report raises concerns that some money may go to pay off insurgents not to attack. But Tierney, a Democrat from Massachusetts, says his staff found no smoking gun. He chaired a committee hearing this afternoon, where a top Army logistics officer, Lieutenant General William Phillips, described how important the host nation trucking contract is.
Lieutenant General WILLIAM PHILLIPS (U.S. Army): Through the host nation trucking contract, more than 90 percent of our forces in Afghanistan receive food, water, equipment, ammunition, construction materials and other badly needed supplies.
KELEMEN: He says he takes seriously the allegations that the contracts are fueling corruption and warlord-ism.
Another Pentagon official said a new Defense Department task force is already trying to get a better handle on how U.S. taxpayer dollars are flowing through Afghanistan.
Moshe Schwartz of the Congressional Research Service says the Pentagon has done a better job of overseeing its contracts but still has a ways to go. He says there are about 16,000 armed security contractors, most of them Afghans, and vetting them is key to U.S. strategy.
Mr. MOSCHE SCHWARTZ (Congressional Research Service): That is one of the concerns that has been raised by a number of analysts, which is, who are these people that are being hired by the Department of Defense to provide private security? To the extent that the local population does not look kindly on those individuals, that could hurt our effort to win hearts and minds.
KELEMEN: Another analyst says the problem isn't just a contracting issue, but the strategy the U.S. is pursuing. Frederick Starr, who runs the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at the Johns Hopkins' School of Advanced International Studies says so far the U.S. is only worried about transporting military goods, so the Afghans who want to help are only the ones the U.S. pays off.
Mr. FREDERICK STARR (Chairman, Central Asia-Caucasus Institute): We don't have the local people interested in keeping the roads open. The minute we are the ones opening roads for their use as well as for our use, they become partners in the enterprise. And they will be the first to stand out there with their Kalashnikovs when the Taliban tries to close the road.
KELEMEN: Starr says the U.S. military has shown some interest in a report he recently issued about ways to revive the ancient trade routes through Afghanistan. But today's hearing focused on the more narrow question of getting supplies to the U.S. military without promoting corruption and undermining U.S. strategy.
Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.