One of the most significant if little-noticed features of the American campaign plan in Afghanistan has just been outed in the Washington Post — namely the effort to reduce corruption which all too often has been fueled by our own spending.
For years the U.S. and our allies funneled billions of dollars to Afghan contractors closely connected with corrupt political networks run by notorious warlords. This led to a growth of corruption that disgusted the people of Afghanistan and drove some of them straight into the hands of the Taliban. Everyone was aware of the problem but no one did much about it until last summer when Gen. David Petraeus created Combined Joint Interagency Task Force Shafafiyat (Dari for “transparency”), headed by one of the best officers in the entire army—Brig. Gen. H.R. McMaster.
For the past year McMaster and his staff have been working to ferret out wrongdoing and try to correct it. This has not been an easy task, needless to say, because politicians run the Afghan justice system complicit in the corruption. But the U.S. doesn’t need to get prosecutions in order to make an impact. It can do simple things like redirecting contracts to supply U.S. forces.
The Post notes that seven of eight current Host Nation Trucking contractors have just been suspended for lack of “integrity and business ethics” and the contracts which they used to hold have been redirected to 20 other firms. This is hardly the end of the story, and no doubt some of the new firms will be as corrupt as the old ones. But by spreading out the business, the coalition is trying to limit the amount of lucre that goes to any powerbroker, and also sending a powerful message that there will be consequences for corrupt acts.
The U.S.-led coalition has a long, long way to go in the fight against the most corrupt practices but this is one small, significant victory.