- The Washington Times - Monday, January 29, 2007

LONDON — Corrupt Afghan police and tribal leaders are stealing vast quantities of reconstruction aid intended to improve the lives of people and turn them away from the Taliban, U.S. and British officials said.

In some cases, all the aid earmarked for an area has ended up in the wrong hands, officials said. NATO forces in the south of the country fear corrupt police will steal aid if handed out through them. A Pentagon official said thousands of cars and trucks intended for use by the Afghan police had been sold instead.

Charles Heyman, a defense analyst and former British army major, said millions of dollars earmarked for reconstruction were being siphoned off.

“It almost comes with the program,” he said. “You have to build in an element of that into any program because you know it will leak into people’s pockets.”

Liam Fox, the defense spokesman for the opposition Conservative Party in Britain, said he heard firsthand of corruption affecting reconstruction programs when he visited Afghanistan last summer.

“There is increasing corruption from top government officials down, which is making efforts to get reconstruction off the ground much more difficult,” he said.

Last week, the United States and European Union announced plans to spend an additional $13.7 billion on assistance to Afghanistan, of which almost $3 billion will be earmarked for reconstruction.

NATO commanders in southern Afghanistan are concerned at the level of corruption but have resolved to press ahead with reconstruction projects in the hope of winning over the local population and improving security.

In one recent example in Kandahar province, aid distribution went ahead despite fears that it would be stolen.

Sgt. Maj. Denis Tondreau, in charge of delivering Canadian army aid to the Pashmul area, said the Afghan police unit in one village was known for corruption and extortion.

“I have been told that if I bring aid to Pasab, the police will steal it,” he said. “They are just a bad, bad unit … [known for] extortion, corruption and use of drugs.”

But people in the area said tribal and mosque elders were also guilty of stealing aid. In the nearby town of Panjwaii, workers said aid distributed by NATO’s provincial reconstruction teams had not reached the ordinary people.

“When the soldiers came here, they gave things to the rich people. The elders took things for themselves, and we received nothing,” said a local resident, Abdul Ghany, 20.

A police intelligence officer in the neighboring Zharey district said tribal leaders had to be convinced that the aid was not intended for them alone.

At a heated meeting he warned them: “The equipment is not to rebuild your own homes; it is for the mosques and the whole village. It is not for individuals; it is for the community. It is not for you to take it to your houses and sell it.”

A joint report by the Pentagon and the State Department, circulated to congressional committees last month, concluded that the Afghan police force was corrupt to the point of ineffectiveness. One Pentagon official said police officers had stolen and sold at least half of the equipment supplied by the United States, including thousands of cars and trucks.

The U.S. Agency for International Development, however, said progress has been made in reconstruction projects.

“We work closely with local people, the governor and representatives of the national government in drawing up projects, to make sure that what we do meets the needs of local people,” a spokesman said.

Among the projects funded by the agency are the purchase of uniforms and winter coats for the Afghan police, a hospital generator and a mortuary. But it confirmed that some of the nearly $4 million allocated to projects intended to help internal refugees had been diverted to build vehicle checkpoints.

A committee of British lawmakers plans to investigate the corruption, which has dogged operations in Afghanistan since the Taliban were driven from power in 2001.

“Corruption is something we will be examining in the future,” said James Arbuthnot, chairman of the House of Commons defense select committee.

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