U.S government aid intended to help rebuild Afghanistan has inadvertently supported the Taliban insurgency for years, according to a new report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR).
According to SIGAR, corruption in Afghanistan has been a primary source "fueling" the Taliban insurgency since the U.S invasion in 2001, and a significant amount of that corruption involved U.S aid.
SIGAR found that the U.S government contributed to the problem by "injecting tens of billions of dollars" into Afghanistan's economy through flawed contracting and partnerships with "malign powerbrokers."
"Stemming from a growing body of evidence that corrupt networks were channeling support to the Taliban, a consensus began to emerge among DOD (Department of Defense), State, and USAID that corruption was undermining core U.S. goals by materially fueling the insurgency and turning the population against the Afghan government," said the report. "In short, corruption posed a strategic threat to the mission."
The Afghan Threat Finance Cell (ATFC) found that U.S aid was funding the Taliban insurgency after tracing the group's funding sources.
Assembled in 2008, the ATFC is tasked with identifying and disrupting any funding streams aiding the Taliban and other terrorist groups in Afghanistan.
Given the unit was under DEA leadership, its original focus was not on corruption. It did not take long for the unit's chief to realize it was nearly impossible to distinguish Afghan government corruption and drug trafficking.
"Everybody was in the money game to some degree. You had corrupt Afghan officials; you had bad actors in the Afghan business and financial sector, the Taliban and drug traffickers, all of whom were frequently acting in tandem," Kirk Meyer, the DEA special agent in charge of the ATFC from 2008 to 2011, told SIGAR.
"The connections would spider out and connect to other illicit areas .... We started collecting this information and getting a very holistic view of what was going on."
One example of the rampant corruption involved so-called "highway warlords" who would force U.S defense contractors to pay protection payments to use public roads, many of which were constructed by the U.S. SIGAR's report noted these extortion payments "were a significant potential source of funding for the Taliban."
Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the former head of U.S forces in Afghanistan, corroborated Meyer's assessment in August 2009.
"There are no clear lines separating insurgent groups, criminal networks (including the narcotics networks), and corrupt GIROA (Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan) officials," said McChrystal in his initial assessment of the Afghan insurgency.
John Sopko, the head of SIGAR, has alleged that "nothing is a greater threat to the United States' efforts to rebuild Afghanistan" than corruption.
Meyer's team took up the corruption investigations because no one else was doing it. ATFC quickly drew the attention of the highest officials of government, who consistently asked for reports, suggesting no one in Washington realized how bad the corruption problem had become.
SIGAR noted that there may be no way of judging just how bad the problem was before ATFC began its investigations, leaving seven years of undocumented corruption unaccounted for.