Thursday, June 10, 2010

War's Costly Toll (Booth)

With consummate skill they [the Damascenes] proposed a variety of arguments to some of our princes and they promised and delivered a stupendous sum of money to them so that the princes would strive and labor to lift the siege--William of Tyre on the betrayal by the Christian princes at the Siege of Damascus, 1148.

One of my favorite old Monty Python bits has a couple of cheap crooks extorting the Colonel Blimpish commander of a British military base. “You don’t want anything to happen to your tanks and artillery, do you?”
Too absurd to really occur, right? Wrong!
In the last week the NY Times has devoted two full page stories to a swag bag of real life replays of that Monty Python sketch. The stage is Afghanistan. And the cockney crooks have been replaced a small army of Afghan and American miscreants.
Prominent among these, according to the Times, is an illiterate warlord named Matiullah Khan, who’s been raking in millions from the Pentagon for “protecting” American military convoys and bases. If you think the George Washington Bridge toll is a ripoff, consider that Mr. Matiullah charges the U.S. Treasury $1,800 bucks for every truck he allows to pass. Apparently that’s a bargain because other “security contractors” demand up to $2,500 per rig.
The payoffs flow from a $2.2 billion pot of our tax money dubbed Host Nation Trucking. “American officials award contracts to Afghan and American trucking companies”... “and leave it to the trucking companies to protect themselves.” “The money is so good, in fact, that the families of some of Afghanistan’s most powerful people have set up their own security companies to get in on the action.”
There’s nothing new here. When we first invaded Afghanistan and then Iraq, I advised folks to turn off CNN and delve into books about the Crusades. Not only are they fascinating and action-packed, but they reveal war-fighting techniques useful for us infidels to bone up on.
One is that your enemy doesn’t have to be your enemy all the time. He can casually change roles, from foe to friend to neutral middle man. One minute he’ll be trying to lop your noggin off and the next beseeching you about a good baksheesh on figs or eunuchs.
Pelf plays as prominent a part in warfare east of Suez as do weapons. “For months,” writes Times war correspondent Dexter Filkins, “reports have abounded here that the Afghan mercenaries who escort Americans and other NATO convoys through the badlands have been bribing Taliban insurgents to let them pass.”
“We’re funding both sides of the war,” a NATO official said. “People think that that the insurgency and the government are separate, and that is not always the case,” another NATO official in Kabul said.
Put another way, it looks like Uncle Sam is also bailing out the Talibank.