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Funding Both Sides of the War

July 27th, 2011

Tom Friedman has often—and correctly—observed that America is undermining its own fight against terrorism through its dependence on oil. In case you haven’t heard the argument; here’s how it goes. America imports about 1,100,000 barrels of oil and petroleum from Saudi Arabia every day. With crude oil’s current price of about $100 per barrel, there’s a lot of money flowing out of America’s pockets to the Saudis. And what does Saudi Arabia do with all of this wealth? Well, we know what it does with a part of it. As Friedman has pointed out:

…private Saudi donors today still constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide — not to mention the fundamentalist mosques, charities and schools that spawn the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan. So basically our oil payments are cycled through Saudi Arabia and end up funding the very militants whom our soldiers are fighting.

On the one hand, we fight the war in Afghanistan against extremism and terrorism, hoping to keep these groups at bay.  On the other hand, our purchases of oil (indirectly) fund those same groups we seek to eliminate. Friedman has said: “We are in the first war in American history where American taxpayers are funding both sides of the war.”

This relationship is somewhat indirect and complicated, however. In fact, the link occurs through our purchases of oil and petroleum, which most economists will agree is pretty unresponsive to price increases, let alone some indirect, oversees implications that many Americans are not aware of.  But at least it’s not as though American tax money were going straight into the pockets of the terrorists!

Eh. Not so fast.

As it would turn out, American taxpayer money is going directly to the pockets of the Taliban—the same enemy we claim to seek to defeat in Afghanistan. How? The answer is…trucks.

America’s 100,000 troops in Afghanistan require massive quantities of food, fuel, and war fighting material—much of which the military must truck across desolate stretches of road, which are vulnerable to attack. Much of this trucking work is contracted out to one of eight companies—five of which don’t own any trucks of their own. These companies (and actually all the others too) subcontract all, or part, of their trucking contracts.  And as it would turn out, many of these subcontractors are allied directly with warlords, insurgents, and in some cases, the Taliban itself.

The military uncovered evidence of those misdeeds with a year-long investigation into the contracts. The publicly-released portion of the investigation notes there is “documented, credible evidence . . . of involvement in a criminal enterprise or support for the enemy” by four of the eight prime contractors.

Last December, when evidence of this corruption began to come to light, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton publicly expressed concerns the U.S.is funding both sides of the war it is fighting. Or as Rep. John F. Tierney (D-Mass.), the top minority member of the national security subcommittee of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, put it: “I would hate like hell to think my kid was over there” and the Taliban was “coming after them with something bought with our taxpayers’ money.”

Written by Ann Hollingshead

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