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Units aim to root out corruption in Afghanistan

Feb. 16, 2012 - 04:51PM   |   Last Updated: Feb. 16, 2012 - 04:51PM  |  
A sustainment brigade commander meets with local leaders in Afghanistan in May to discuss the Afghan Trucking Network that was set to hire Afghan drivers to deliver American supplies. The network was arranged to eliminate corruption and pilferage in supply lines.
A sustainment brigade commander meets with local leaders in Afghanistan in May to discuss the Afghan Trucking Network that was set to hire Afghan drivers to deliver American supplies. The network was arranged to eliminate corruption and pilferage in supply lines. (Army)
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Anti-corruption units in Afghanistan have helped remove more than 30 Afghan public officials including governors and police chiefs and convict about 50 contractors linked to corruption cases in the past year and a half.

Three agencies have worked to eradicate corruption, considered a "fatal threat to the viability of the Afghan state," according to documents submitted to Army Times.

Task Force 2010 reviewed about 1,200 contracts valued at approximately $27 billion, vetted 1,000 contractors and debarred or suspended more than 125 American, Afghan and international workers and companies.

Investigations by International Contract Corruption Task Force led to restitution of $11.1 million, $25.4 million in fines and $3.4 million in seizures, according to official documents provided to Army Times.

Combined Joint Interagency Task Force Shafafiyat (Transparency) works with Afghan leaders to expand the rule of law, fight criminal networks and break "a culture of impunity," Brig. Gen. (P) H.R. McMaster, leader of the unit, said in January.

"We engage with those people who usually would be counted on by criminal networks to provide protection for them, and really try to expose the activity of these particular actors who are, in fact, weakening state institutions," McMaster said at a Jan. 19 press conference.

The U.S. State and Justice departments assist the task forces, support Afghan law enforcement and bring legal action against corruption, McMaster added.

Collusion inside the Afghan government at the local, regional and national levels threatens the projected 2014 transition of control from the International Security Assistance Force to Afghan leaders, task force documents said.

Decades of war created a mix of double-dealing officials, rival groups of insurgents, drug criminals and organized crime gangs that have fractured the Afghan state and society, McMaster said.

Money and drugs have linked the criminal underworld and political upper world since 2001, McMaster said.

The problem has been exacerbated by a fragile war economy sustained by money from international aid and the drug trade.

"There are people who purchase positions in state institutions and security forces … so they can facilitate, protect and profit from illicit activities," McMaster said.

The task force was launched in August 2010 and plans to stay active in Afghanistan past 2014.

The Kabul-based task force is supported by Task Force Nexus, a combination of U.S. troops and civilians in Kabul that supports Drug Enforcement Administration and ISAF counterdrug operations, according to the Government Accountability Office.

Shafafiyat cells are made up of soldiers, other service members, civilians and international troops, and operate within each of the six regional commands.

The task force reports to the ISAF commander and U.S. Forces-Afghanistan.

"What we focus on doing is supporting counternarcotics [operations] by integrating law enforcement, military operations, military intelligence and evidence along with our efforts to work with Afghan leaders on the corruption problem," McMaster said.

Some corruption, however, has been supported by American funds, which have often fallen into the hands of criminals, McMaster said.

Since 2002, Congress has allocated more than $70 billion for security and development projects in Afghanistan, according to a July 2011 report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.

"While U.S. agencies have taken steps to strengthen their oversight over U.S. funds flowing through the Afghan economy, they still have limited visibility over the circulation of these funds, leaving them vulnerable to fraud or diversion to insurgents," SIGAR reported.

Still, McMaster said the task force has made "quantifiable progress."

Progress can be measured by the public perception of corruption at local levels, McMaster said.

According to the Asia Foundation's "Afghanistan in 2011: A Survey of the Afghan People," government corruption has been reduced but remains a grave national concern.

Twenty-one percent of respondents cited corruption as one of Afghanistan's largest problems, down from 27 percent in 2010. Corruption is listed as the third-largest problem in the 2011 survey, behind security and unemployment. Poverty ranked fourth.

Continued progress requires Afghans to confront the problem themselves, McMaster said.

"What Afghan leaders often see is the power of these criminal networks. They often see political risks associated with taking them on," McMaster said. "But I think now, because we've worked on this problem together, we can also see the long-term cost of inaction against these networks."

Drugs, money and guns

From 1980 to 2001, rule of law and law enforcement institutions were systematically destroyed, in large part by the Taliban, McMaster told Army Times.

Conflict and reconstruction cash opened government inroads for criminals.

"As has occurred in many post-conflict states around the world, the criminal networks that thrived during Afghanistan's civil war gained influence within the state as part of the post-war political settlement," task force documents said.

Average Afghans have also been manipulated and abused by corrupt groups.

"You can't take away a poor farmer's livelihood if opium cultivation is … what he relies on for subsistence," said Janan Mosazai, a spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

"Yes, he's being abused by the Taliban, by the criminals in his province; yes, he's being abused by the drug trafficker. But it's something that allows him to put food on the table for his children," Mosazai said.

Insurgent and terrorist cells attempt to pit communities against one other and then act as guardians of aggrieved parties, McMaster said.

"There's this really strange situation where you have people and organizations that are anti-Taliban who engage in narcotics trafficking that in part funds the Taliban and also engage in weapons trafficking where they are selling weapons to the people they are fighting.

"It's illogical to us, anyway," he said.

An earlier version of the story incorrectly attributed the following quote: "You can't take away a poor farmer's livelihood if opium cultivation is … what he relies on for subsistence." Janan Mosazai, a spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, made this comment.

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