Maidan Shahr (Afghanistan), June 7 (ANI): Afghan mercenaries have been bribing Taliban insurgents to let American and other NATO convoys pass through the tribal badlands, which they escort.
According to the New York Times, guards from Watan Risk Management traveled on the highway to Kabul after escorting a convoy to Maidan Shahr last month.
After a pair of bloody confrontations with Afghan civilians, two of the biggest private security companies - Watan Risk Management and Compass Security - were banned from escorting NATO convoys on the highway between Kabul and Kandahar.
The ban took effect on May 14. At 10:30 a.m. that day, a NATO supply convoy rolling through the area came under attack.
An Afghan driver and a soldier were killed, and a truck was overturned and burned.
Within two weeks, with more than 1,000 trucks sitting stalled on the highway, the Afghan government granted Watan and Compass permission to resume.
Watan's president, Rashid Popal, strongly denied any suggestion that his men either colluded with insurgents or orchestrated attacks to emphasize the need for their services.
Executives with Compass Security did not respond to questions.
But the episode, and others like it, has raised the suspicions of investigators here and in Washington, who are trying to track the tens of millions in taxpayer dollars paid to private security companies to move supplies to American and other NATO bases.
Although the investigation is not complete, the officials suspect that at least some of these security companies - many of which have ties to top Afghan officials - are using American money to bribe the Taliban.
The officials suspect that the security companies may also engage in fake fighting to increase the sense of risk on the roads, and that they may sometimes stage attacks against competitors.
The suspicions raise fundamental questions about the conduct of operations here, since the convoys, and the supplies they deliver, are the lifeblood of the war effort.
Records show there are 52 government-registered security companies, with 24,000 gunmen, most of them Afghans. But many, if not most, of the security companies are not registered at all, do not advertise themselves and do not necessarily restrain their gunmen with training or rules of engagement. Some appear to be little more than gangs with guns.
The money is so good, in fact, that the families of some of Afghanistan's most powerful people, many of them government officials, have set up their own security companies to get in on the action.
The security companies' methods are sometimes unorthodox. While at least some of the companies are believed to be bribing Taliban fighters, many have also been known to act with extreme harshness toward villagers or insurgents who have tried to interfere with their convoys. (ANI)