London/Kabul, Dec 12: NATO convoys carrying military supplies for NATO bases in South Afghanistan, are reportedly paying Taliban commanders protection money to ensure safe passage.
According to The Times, contracts to supply British bases and those of other Western forces with fuel, supplies and equipment are held by multinational companies, and the business of moving supplies from Karachi to British, US and other military contingents in Afghanistan is largely subcontracted to local trucking companies.
The Times has learnt that it is in the outsourcing of convoys that payoffs amounting to millions of pounds, including money from British taxpayers, are given to the Taliban. Several fuel importers, trucking and security company owners confirmed the controversial payments. None, however, wanted to be identified because of the risk to their business and their lives.
"We estimate that approximately 25 per cent of the money we pay for security to get the fuel in goes into the pockets of the Taliban," said one fuel importer.
Another boss said that as much as a quarter of the value of a lorry's cargo went in paying Taliban commanders.
The scale of the supplies needed to keep the NATO military operation going is vast.
The main British base at Camp Bastion in Helmand province alone requires over a million liters of diesel and aviation fuel a week.
There are more than 70,000 foreign soldiers in the country for whom food and equipment must be imported, mostly by road. The US is planning to send at least 20,000 more troops into Afghanistan next year.
Other than flying in supplies, the only overland route is through Pakistan and Taliban-controlled areas of Afghanistan.
A security company owner explained that a vast array of security companies competed for the trade along the main route south of Kabul, some of it commercial traffic and some supplying Western bases, usually charging about 1,000 dollars a lorry. Convoys are typically of 40-50 lorries but sometimes up to 100.
Asked whether his company paid money to Taliban commanders not to attack them, he said: "Everyone is hungry, everyone needs to eat. They are attacking the convoys because they have no jobs. They easily take money not to attack."
The Taliban are not the only ones making money from the trade; warlords, thieves, policemen and government officials are also taking a cut.
Lieutenant-Commander James Gater, a spokesman for NATO forces in Afghanistan, said that the transport of NATO supplies was contracted to commercial firms and how they got them into the country was their business.