Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

Afghanistan’s $2 bln gravy train

- File picture of fuel tanker that exploded following an attack in Jalalabad)

File picture of fuel tanker that exploded following an attack in Jalalabad)

The United States cannot win a fight for hearts and minds if it outsources critical missions to unaccountable contractors, U.S. President Barack Obama said during a speech he made as a senator back in 2007.  It hasn’t changed much in Afghanistan since then as a U.S. Congressional investigation into a $2.16 billion supply chain that provides  soldiers everything from muffins to mine-resistant vehicles shows.

Security for the supply chain running through remote and hostile terrain has been outsourced to contractors, “an arrangement that has fuelled a vast protection racket run by a shadowy network of  warlords, strongmen, commanders, corrupt Afghan officials, and perhaps others,” according to John F.Tierney, chairman of the
subcommittee on National Security And Foreign Affairs.

Here’s a PDFof the report.  It makes for sobering reading.  The scale of the operation is indeed immense, and you can get a glimpse of it if you drove from Kabul to the military base in Bagram.   Container  depots stretch into the arid fields while a long line of brightly decorated trucks jam the entrance to the sprawling military base.

The principal contract supporting the U.S. supply chain in Afghanistan is called Host Nation Trucking, a $2.16 billion contract split among eight Afghan, American, and Middle Eastern companies. Although there are other supply chain contracts, the HNT contract provides trucking for over 70 percent of the total goods and material distributed to U.S. troops in the field, roughly 6,000 to 8,000 truck missions per month. Most of the prime contractors and their trucking subcontractors hire local Afghan security providers for armed protection of the trucking convoys. A typical convoy of 300 supply trucks going from Kabul to Kandahar, for example, will travel with 400 to 500 guards in dozens of trucks armed with heavy machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs).