When I was researching my recent piece on Taliban extortion rackets in Afghanistan, it was easy to find examples of the Taliban extorting private contractors hired by western governments and companies engaged in humanitarian and reconstruction projects. What was tricky was connecting payoffs to the Taliban by contractors who were moving supplies and food to U.S/NATO troops in the field. But the evidence is out there if you look hard enough — it’s just no one wants to talk about the possibility that we are paying off the enemy in order to maintain the occupation. It’s madness.
That’s what the French are saying today, just after the The Times (UK) broke a story charging that the Italian secret service had been systematically paying off the Taliban in exchange for protection in the Italian army’s area of operation — a charge that has since been denied — adamantly — by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. But the French say when they took over that territory in July they were never told about the bribes and therefore made a “catastrophically incorrect threat assessment.” They blame the brutal killing and mutilation of 10 French soldiers in an ambush August 18 in the Uzbin Valley on the Italian secret service. The Italians had left just a month before,and had all but declared the area benign — they had only lost one combat soldier in the previous year. Now we may be getting some insight as to why.
Western officials say that because the French knew nothing of the payments they made a catastrophically incorrect threat assessment…
â€œOne cannot be too doctrinaire about these things,â€ a senior Nato officer in Kabul said. â€œIt might well make sense to buy off local groups and use non-violence to keep violence down. But it is madness to do so and not inform your allies.â€
One wonders how widespread the protection rackets are, and how far up the food chain they operate. Private contractors payingÂ bribes trying to get their convoys through insurgent-riddled communication lines to military installations are bad enough –Â but governments paying the Taliban directly? And not doing it to eventually end the war, but to merely get through the next rotation? Catastrophically incorrect is a good way of putting it.