Lawmakers say officials knew of protection payments to Afghan warlords but didn't take action

WASHINGTON (AP) — Lawmakers on Tuesday criticized U.S. military officials for failing to heed warnings about the role they say a Pentagon transportation contract plays in fueling extortion and corruption in Afghanistan.

Rep. John Tierney, D-Mass., said at a hearing that the trucking companies hired to move food, water, fuel and ammunition to American troops stationed at bases across Afghanistan are forced to pay warlords millions of dollars to ensure safe passage through dangerous areas.

The spoils may then be funneled to the Taliban and insurgent forces with ties to the warlords, potentially making the U.S. an unwitting financier of the enemy.

"U.S. taxpayer dollars are feeding a protection racket in Afghanistan that would make Tony Soprano proud," Tierney said, referring to the fictional mob leader in the TV series "The Sopranos."

Military authorities in Afghanistan have only been concerned that the supplies reach their destination and the warnings they received from the trucking companies about extortion payments "fell on deaf ears," said Tierney, who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform national security subcommittee.

Army Lt. Gen. William Phillips, a senior Pentagon acquisition official, said he was unaware of the allegations that U.S. tax dollars may be indirectly bankrolling the insurgency and promoting instability in Afghanistan.

"We need to research them and determine what the facts and the evidence are," Phillips said, "and then take hard actions whether it's contractually or legally."

Members of the subcommittee weren't impressed. "Warlord Inc.," a report released Monday by the panel's Democratic staff, noted that a military task force has been examining allegations since last year of extortion and corruption stemming from the contract. But the report paints the inquiry as slow moving and unfocused.

"There seems to be very little indication the Department of Defense is doing anything," said Rep. Jeff Flake of Arizona, the subcommittee's top Republican.

The contract, called Host Nation Trucking, is a critical component of the effort to keep more than 200 U.S. military combat outposts throughout the country stocked. Supplies are typically shipped through Pakistan to Bagram Airfield, the U.S. military's main hub in Afghanistan, and then on to the outlying bases by eight different trucking companies.

Nearly $700,000 per day is spent on average moving supplies throughout Afghanistan, Phillips said. The contract has a ceiling of $2.1 billion, but Phillips said he doesn't expect that much to be spent before the arrangement expires in 2011.



House national security subcommittee report: