Afghan firms "pay off Taliban with foreign cash"
By Hamid Shalizi
KABUL (Reuters) - Cash from the U.S. military and international donors destined for construction and welfare projects in restive parts of Afghanistan is ending up in the hands of insurgents, a contractor and village elders said.
The alliance of largely Western nations who back President Hamid Karzai and have nearly 150,000 troops on Afghan soil have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on aid and infrastructure since they ousted the Taliban from power in late 2001.
However with violence spreading and the insurgency bloodier than ever, some construction firms and workers on development projects say they are having to hand over some of their earnings to insurgents to protect their personnel, projects or equipment.
Mohammad Ehsan said he was forced to pay insurgents a substantial part of a $1.2 million (755,000 pound) contract he won from the U.S. military two months ago to repair a road in Logar province south of Kabul, after they kidnapped his brother and demanded the cash.
"You know we need this American money to help us fund our Jihad," Ehsan quoted them saying when he eventually spent over $200,000 of the project money to secure his brother's freedom.
Ehsan said the insurgents also demanded the cash be changed out of dollars into Afghan or Pakistani currency, saying greenbacks are "Haram" or forbidden for Muslims.
Paying off militants is common across Afghanistan, where it is hard to work in villages or remote areas without greasing the palms of local insurgent commanders, said Ehsan.
"We are aware of those kind of reports...contracting methods are definitely considered part of the counterinsurgency effort," said Major Joel Harper, spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, when asked about Ehsan's payment. Continued...