Petraeus: Cut Afghanistan fraud
Kabul – The commander of international forces in Afghanistan, US General David Petraeus, has ordered troops to limit corruption as they dole out billions of dollars in a drive to end a nine-year war.
Spending vast amounts of money in a bid to develop roads, schools and health centres is critical to the US-led strategy aimed at wooing Afghans to support the Western-backed government and reversing a Taliban insurgency.
But Petraeus told commanders in the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) they must be careful to spend their money wisely to avoid feeding corruption, crime and insurgent networks.
"The scale of our contracting efforts in Afghanistan represents both an opportunity and a danger," said Petraeus in an emailed statement.
"With proper oversight, contracting can spur economic development and support the Afghan government's and Isaf's campaign objectives.
"If... we spend large quantities of international contracting funds quickly and with insufficient oversight, it is likely that some of those funds will unintentionally fuel corruption, finance insurgent organisations, strengthen criminal patronage networks and undermine our efforts in Afghanistan."
Since taking office in early July, the commander of 150 000 foreign soldiers deployed in Afghanistan has issued a series of directives aimed at improving discipline among troops as the insurgency appears to gain ground and intensity.
The contracting guidelines urge commanders to consult local leaders, use intelligence reports, and to understand the importance of "greater inclusion, transparency and adequate oversight at all levels".
Commanders should also focus on hiring Afghans and buying more Afghan products in their commissioning, Petraeus said.
Foreign forces spent $14bn on contracting in 2009, including everything from private security to construction materials, according to US Brigadier General Stephen Lyons, an Isaf logistics officer.
The US has been determined to overcome graft in Afghanistan, but two key anti-corruption bodies it backs in Kabul have been challenged by President Hamid Karzai, who has been increasingly outspoken against Western interference.
Karzai ordered a review of the two US-backed anti-corruption units, following the arrest of a key aide on graft charges, accusing them of not adhering to Afghan rules and human rights.
Mohammed Zia Salehi, head of Afghanistan's National Security Council, was arrested in July in connection with a major fraud inquiry he is alleged to have helped derail, but was quickly released after telephoning Karzai for help.
The Washington Post reported this week that senior officials in President Barack Obama's administration had decided to pull back on efforts to fight corruption in the Afghan government, to smooth relations with Karzai.
Karzai has also attacked the international community for its "corruption contracts" in hiring private security companies to safeguard its work, and has ordered the disbandment of some of the security firms by the year's end.