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The Afghan Scam

Posted on Jan 13, 2009
Afghan lookout

Military lookout: Scouts from a U.S. Army airborne regiment keep a watchful eye as an Army platoon searches a village below the Chowkay Valley in Afghanistan’s Kunar province in 2007.

Ann Jones

(Page 2)

As things now stand, Afghans, as well as Afghan-Americans who go back to help their homeland, have to play by American rules. Recently an Afghan-American contractor who competed for reconstruction contracts told me that the American military is getting in on the aid scam. To apply for a contract, Afghan applicants now have to fill out a form (in English!) that may run to 50 pages. My informant, who asked to remain anonymous for obvious reasons, commented that it’s next to impossible to figure out “what they look for.” He won a contract only when he took a hint and hired an American “expert”—a retired military officer—to fill out the form. The expert claimed the “standard fee” for his service: 25% of the value of the contract.

Another Afghan-American informed me that he was proud to have worked with an American construction company building schools with USAID funds. Taken on as a translator, he persuaded the company not only to hire Afghan laborers, but also to raise their pay gradually from $1.00 per day to $10.00 per day. “They could feed their families,” he said, “and it was all cost over-run, so cost didn’t matter. The boss was already billing the government $10.00 to $15.00 an hour for labor, so he could afford to pay $10.00 a day and still make a profit.” My informant didn’t question the corruption in such over-billing.  After all, Afghans often tack on something extra for themselves, and they don’t call it corruption either. But on this scale it adds up to millions going into the assumedly deep pockets of one American privateer.

Yet a third Afghan-American, a businessman who has worked on American projects in his homeland, insisted that when Bush pledged $10.4 billion in aid, President Karzai should have offered him a deal: “Give me $2 billion in cash, I’ll kick back the rest to you, and you can take your army and go home.” 

“If Karzai had put the cash in an Afghan bank,” the businessman added, “and spent it himself on what people really need, both Afghanistan and Karzai would be in much better shape today.” Yes, he was half-joking, but he wasn’t wrong.

Don’t think of such stories, and thousands of others like them, as merely tales of the everyday theft or waste of a few hundred million dollars—a form of well-organized, routine graft that leaves the corruption of Karzai’s government in the shade and will undoubtedly continue unremarked upon in the Obama years. Those multi-millions that will continue to be poured down the Afghan drain really represent promises made to a people whose country and culture we have devastated more than once. They are promises made by our government, paid for by our taxpayers, and repeatedly broken. 

These stories, which you’ll seldom hear about, are every bit as important as the debates about military strength and tactics and strategy in Afghanistan that dominate public discourse today. Those promises, made in our name, were once said to be why we fight; now—broken—they remind us that we’ve already lost.

Ann Jones wrote at length about the failure of American aid in Kabul in Winter (Metropolitan Books), a book about American meddling in Afghanistan as well as her experience as a humanitarian aid worker there from 2002 to 2006. For more information, visit her website. For a concise report on many of the defects in international aid mentioned here, check out Real Aid (pdf file), a report issued in 2005 by the South African NGO Action Aid.

Copyright 2009 Ann Jones


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By Chad, January 16, 2009 at 2:12 pm Link to this comment
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Robert Barnes is living in a very different world than the rest of us.  Israel’s defense in Gaza is supported by Egypt (which is pushing a Hamas surrender document), Fatah and the West Bank (which is at least quiet about the operation if not supportive), and the Arab League (which won’t convene to condemn because they oppose Iran’s control of Hamas).

And Robert, Israel has no reason to submit to tribunals when people like you turn a blind eye to the barbaric butchers in organizations like Hamas.

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By cyrena, January 16, 2009 at 12:05 pm Link to this comment

I ditto Bubba and MeHere.

Excellently well researched and well written piece!!

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By Robert barnes, January 15, 2009 at 7:26 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I would like to thank truth dig for printing an
article about America being a puppet of Israel.
America is the only Country in the World that can
stomach what Israel is doing in Gaza. I can only
hope that that the leaders of Israel have to stand
before a War Crimes Tribunal. It appears America
will give them cover. I am ashamed of my Country.

                  Robert Barnes

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By Jean Gerard, January 15, 2009 at 5:04 pm Link to this comment
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Between domination by the oil barons and our problems in making friends with Russia, it is going to be hard for Obama to let go of Afghanistan as he should.  It will stick to his fingers if he is not careful.

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By Bubba, January 15, 2009 at 5:53 am Link to this comment

Wow! What an excellent piece of research and writing. Very well done, indeed.

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By MeHere, January 14, 2009 at 8:24 pm Link to this comment

Thanks, Ann Jones, for an informative, intelligent, much needed report.

The scenario of the empire:  Pillage and destruction abroad, with fraud, lies, wasteful opulence, and circus at home. Among the circus acts, check out the $50 million inauguration ceremonies.

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By richard roe, January 14, 2009 at 5:23 pm Link to this comment
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Since the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan, opium production has skyrocketed.  When the Taliban were in control it was nearly eliminated.


Makes one wonder if it’s a war FOR drugs instead of ON drugs, since actions speak louder than words.

Since this is as valuable a commodity as oil, it would seem no surprise if controlling it’s production was the real motivation for the invasion.

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By rylly, January 14, 2009 at 1:04 pm Link to this comment

It appears that Herr Bush ran a vast number of RICO scams right from the start.  All of the money that disappeared down his gaping pockets should be traced and recaptured.
What a disgrace our Country would be so cruel and selfish…leaving the Afghans with so much less than before we entered their lives.  I’m appalled!

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By csavage, January 14, 2009 at 11:18 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

two quotes come to mind….
“The business of the US is business”-Calvin Coolidge
“The business of the US is war”-“JFK”/Oliver Stone

We have 2 very persistent malignancies in this country, besides greed. One is a cowboy attitude that the US needs to kick everyone’s ass all the time and the second is the dominionist attitude of the religious far right. It’s too bad that the citizenry of the US would rather send all of its wealth overseas and let Americans live on the streets and starve

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