Congress probes Afghan payoffs-for-passage

Sept. 16, 2011 at 10:40 AM
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WASHINGTON, Sept. 16 (UPI) -- Trucking firms had to pay the Taliban, warlords and government officials if they wanted safe passage for U.S. military goods in Afghanistan, a general said.

During a congressional hearing in Washington Thursday, Brig. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend acknowledged that some money went to insurgents but couldn't "quantify how much is going on to attacks against us," The Washington Post reported.

"I don't think you can completely stop it, but we've got to minimize it," Townsend told a House oversight subcommittee on national security, homeland defense and foreign operations.

Townsend and Pentagon officials told the subcommittee a new trucking contract, effective Friday, decreases the level of corruption in Afghanistan by expanding competition, enhancing the vetting process, improving military oversight and setting a "code of ethics" for the contractors.

The contract, worth about $1 billion over the next year, replaces a contract that diverted tens of millions of dollars to "malign actors" in the Asian country congressional and military investigators said.

The officials didn't provide assurances that the payoffs or corruption could be eliminated.

"As bad as it is, it would be worse if we had U.S. personnel guarding convoys [instead of private security firms]," Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary Gary Motsek said. "The body count would be unacceptable."

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