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Shady Afghan company tied to Taliban gains access to NATO airbase

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An Afghan company with ties to the Taliban gained access to a detention facility located on a NATO airbase because of poor U.S. government communication and inaction by the U.S. Army, according to the U.S. special inspector general in Afghanistan.

The Department of Commerce had flagged the Zurmat Group and its subsidiaries in April 2012 because of their involvement in providing components for roadside bombs against U.S. and coalition forces. In September 2012, U.S. Central Command identified Zurmat and its subsidiaries as actively supporting an insurgency and restricted the company from receiving any Pentagon contracts in the region.

However, that information was not passed on to a contractor tasked with building a courthouse on NATO's Bagram Air Base at the Parwan Justice Center complex. The contractor, CLC Construction, hired Zurmat to perform testing on the courthouse and allowed the company access to the facility in November 2012.

U.S. and coalition officials need to review companies designated as threats and ban those identified as supporters of the insurgency, the inspector general, John Sopko, wrote to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in a Nov. 8 letter released Wednesday.

The incident also highlights the potential consequences of failing to ban companies identified as risks as risks, said the inspector general, who added that he had recommended in September 2012 that the Army disqualify Zurmat from U.S. contracts.

Mr. Sopko is seeking to ban 43 foreign individuals and companies identified as supporting insurgents in Afghanistan, but he said the U.S. Army has rejected all of these requests out of concern that such action would violate their rights under the U.S. Constitution.

"Based on the evidence available in these cases, the Army's position is legally dubious, contrary to good public policy and contrary to our security goals in Afghanistan. I urge you to address this flawed approach to protecting U.S. taxpayer," Mr. Sopko said in his letter.

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