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US hired Afghan contractor with ties to terror groups, inspector general says

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Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel speaks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013. Hagel said the projected defense budget cuts of nearly $1 trillion over 10 years is too much, too fast, and will cause a dangerous erosion of U.S. military power. In a speech about U.S. defense priorities, Hagel said Tuesday that it would be a mistake to let these cuts happen. But he also said officials are not assuming the government's budget crisis will be resolved soon. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta) (AP2013)

The U.S. Department of Defense reportedly hired an Afghan company with terrorist ties to do work on a NATO facility last year, according to the top official overseeing reconstruction efforts in the war-torn nation.

The Army Times reports Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John Sopko cited the contract with Zurmat Material Testing Laboratory in a Nov. 8 letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel as part of a larger pattern resulting in $150 million of Pentagon payments to various concerns with insurgent ties.

“The idea that U.S. taxpayer dollars are flowing into the hands of terrorist groups bent on killing Americans is unthinkable and unacceptable,” Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., a member of the Senate’s Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees, reportedly said in a statement on the matter.

The U.S. Commerce Department noted the relationship between Zurmat and insurgents in early 2012 by citing the company having supplied bomb-making materials to enemy forces, according to Army Times.

“The idea that U.S. taxpayer dollars are flowing into the hands of terrorist groups bent on killing Americans is unthinkable and unacceptable.”

- Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H.

Then – and in September of 2012 – Marine Gen. James Mattis, who was at the time head of U.S. Central Command, reportedly requested the Pentagon ban the Zurmat Group, Zurmat Material Testing Laboratory’s parent company, from doing work in the region under his auspices. The U.S. Central Command, or CENTCOM, is responsible for military operations in much of the Middle East and Asia.

But according to Sopko’s letter to Hagel, Zurmat still obtained a contract in November 2012 to do construction-related work at the Parwan Justice Center Complex, the site of a U.S.-run prison next to Bagram Airfield.  According to Army Times, Sopko discovered the Zurmat contract during an unrelated 2013 investigation into shoddy work at the Afghan facility.

And Sopko has raised this same issue before. FoxNews.com reported in August he lambasted the Army in his most recent quarterly report to Congress for awarding contracts to businesses affiliated in some way with insurgents, "including supporters of the Taliban, the Haqqani network and Al Qaeda." 

At the time, in August, Sopko specifically urged the Army to suspend, or debar, 43 contractors over such concerns. But the Army has proved intransigent, citing concerns for the contractors' "due process rights.”

"The Army Suspension and Debarment Office appears to believe that suspension or debarment of these individuals and companies would be a violation of their due process rights if based on classified information or if based on findings by the Department of Commerce," Sopko said, summing up the Army's position.
The Army claims Sopko's office did not provide enough evidence to support its claims.

"The Army Procurement Fraud Branch did receive and review the 43 recommendations late last year, but the report did not include enough supporting evidence to initiate suspension and debarment proceedings under Federal Acquisition Regulations," an Army spokesman said in a written statement reported on in August by FoxNews.com.

Click for the story from Army Times.

 

 

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