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Old 08-28-2021, 02:42 PM
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Default Re: Rashida Tlaib blasted over claim that US supported Taliban before it existed

How the US army protects its trucks – by paying the Taliban

The lawyers for Hamed Wardak and NCL Holdings, Mishcon de Reya say: NCL and Mr Wardak learned of the contracting opportunities for the provision of trucking services in Afghanistan from the "fedbizopps" website, which is hosted by the US Government, and open to all, with all of the stringencies required in such an exercise. NCL competed for the contract according to the advertised criteria and were awarded it on the merits of its tender in a fair and open exercise. Neither NCL nor Mr Wardak were the recipients of the contract because of Mr Wardak's connections in Afghanistan. The contracts were not awarded unfairly. Although each tendering party has been awarded transit contracts with a value of up to US$360 million for a period of two years, NCL have so far, nearly half way through the first year, performed contacts to the value of US$18.5 million. Mr Wardak and his family have dedicated their political lives to the welfare of Afghanistan, in vocal opposition to the Taliban. He does not directly or indirectly provide funds to the Taliban. There is no evidence that any money from NCL was received by the Taliban.

On 29 October 2001, while the Taliban's rule over Afghanistan was under assault, the regime's ambassador in Islamabad in neighbouring Pakistan gave a chaotic press conference in front of several dozen reporters sitting on the grass. On the Taliban diplomat's right sat his interpreter, Ahmad Rateb Popal, a man with an imposing presence. Like the ambassador, Popal wore a black turban, and he had a huge bushy beard. He had a black patch over his right eye socket, a prosthetic left arm and a deformed right hand, the result of injuries from an explosives mishap during an old operation against the Soviets in Kabul.

But Popal was more than just a former mujahideen. In 1988, a year before the Soviets fled Afghanistan, Popal had been charged in the United States with conspiring to import more than a kilo of heroin. Court records show he was released from prison in 1998.

Flash forward to 2009, and Afghanistan is ruled by Popal's cousin, President Hamid Karzai. Popal has cut his huge beard down to a neatly trimmed one and has become an immensely wealthy businessman, along with his brother Rashid Popal, who pleaded guilty to a heroin charge in 1996 in Brooklyn in a separate case.

The Popal brothers control the huge Watan Group in Afghanistan, a consortium engaged in telecommunications, logistics and, most important, security. Watan Risk Management, the Popals' private military arm, is one of the few dozen private security companies in Afghanistan [its senior personnel are ex-British army, many of them from Special Services]. One of Watan's enterprises, key to the war effort, is protecting convoys of Afghan trucks heading from Kabul to Kandahar, carrying American supplies.

Welcome to the wartime contracting bazaar in Afghanistan. It is a virtual carnival of improbable characters and shady connections, with former CIA * officials and ex–military officers joining hands with former Taliban and mujahideen to collect US government funds in the name of the war effort.

In this grotesque carnival, the US military's contractors are forced to pay suspected insurgents to protect American supply routes. It is an accepted fact of the military logistics operation in Afghanistan that the US government funds the very forces American troops are fighting. And it is a deadly irony, because these funds add up to a huge amount of money for the Taliban.

"It's a big part of their income," one of the top Afghan government security officials admits. In fact, US military officials in Kabul estimate that a minimum of 10% of the Pentagon's logistics contracts – hundreds of millions of dollars – consists of payments to insurgents.

Understanding how this situation came to pass requires untangling two threads. The first is the complex web of connections that determines who wins and who loses in Afghan business, and a good place to pick up this thread is a small firm awarded a US military logistics contract worth hundreds of millions of dollars: NCL Holdings.

Like the Popals' Watan Risk, NCL is a licensed security company in Afghanistan. What NCL Holdings is most notable for in Kabul contracting circles, though, is the identity of its chief principal, Hamed Wardak. He is the young American son of Afghan's current defence minister, General Rahim Wardak, who was a leader of the mujahideen against the Soviets.

Earlier this year, the firm, with no apparent trucking experience, was named as one of the six companies that would handle all the US trucking in Afghanistan, bringing supplies to the web of bases and remote outposts scattered across the country.

Striking contracting gold

At first the contract, for "host nation trucking", was large but not gargantuan. But over the summer, citing the coming "surge" and a new doctrine, "Money as a weapons system", the US military expanded the contract 600% for NCL and the five other companies. The contract documentation warns of dire consequences if more is not spent: "Service members will not get the food, water, equipment and ammunition they require."

Each of the military's six trucking contracts was bumped up to $360m, or a total of nearly $2.2bn. Put it in this perspective: this single two-year effort to hire Afghan trucks and truckers was worth 10% of the annual Afghan gross domestic product. NCL, the firm run by the defence minister's well-connected son, had struck pure contracting gold.

Host nation trucking does, indeed, keep the US military efforts alive in Afghanistan. "We supply everything the army needs to survive here," one American trucking executive told me. "We bring them their toilet paper, their water, their fuel, their guns, their vehicles."

The epicentre is Bagram air base, just an hour north of Kabul, from where virtually everything in Afghanistan is trucked to the outer reaches of what the army calls "the battlespace" – that is, the entire country. Parked near Entry Control Point 3, the trucks line up, shifting gears and sending up clouds of dust as they prepare for their various missions across the country.

The real secret to trucking in Afghanistan is security on the perilous roads, controlled by warlords, tribal militias, insurgents and Taliban commanders. The American executive I talked to was fairly specific about it: "The army is basically paying the Taliban not to shoot at them. It is Department of Defense money."

That is something everyone seems to agree on. Mike Hanna is the project manager for a trucking company called Afghan American Army Services. The company, which still operates in Afghanistan, had been trucking for the United States for years but lost out in the host nation trucking contract that NCL won. Hanna explained the security realities quite simply: "You are paying the people in the local areas – some are warlords, some are politicians in the police force – to move your trucks through."

Hanna explained that the prices charged are different depending on the route. "We're basically being extorted. Where you don't pay, you're going to get attacked. We just have our field guys go down there, and they pay off who they need to."

Sometimes, he says, the fee is high, and sometimes it is low. "Moving 10 trucks, it is probably $800 per truck to move through an area. It's based on a number of trucks and what you're carrying. If you have fuel trucks, they are going to charge you more. If you have dry trucks, they're not going to charge you as much. If you are carrying Mraps [mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles] or Humvees, they are going to charge you more."

Hanna says it is just a necessary evil. "If you tell me not to pay these insurgents in this area, the chances of my trucks getting attacked increase exponentially."
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