Army won’t suspend contracts with Al Qaeda-tied companies, citing ‘due process rights’

The U.S. Army is refusing to suspend contracts with dozens of companies and individuals tied to Al Qaeda and other extremist groups out of concern for their “due process rights,” despite repeated pleas from the chief watchdog for Afghanistan reconstruction.

In a scathing passage of his latest report to Congress, Special Inspector General John Sopko said his office has urged the Army to suspend or debar 43 contractors over concerns about ties to the Afghanistan insurgency, “including supporters of the Taliban, the Haqqani network and al Qaeda.”

Sopko wrote that the Army “rejected” every single case.

“The Army Suspension and Debarment Office appears to believe that suspension or debarment of these individuals and companies would be a violation of their due process rights if based on classified information or if based on findings by the Department of Commerce,” Sopko said, summing up the Army’s position.

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The Army claims that Sopko’s office did not provide enough evidence to support its claims.

“The Army Procurement Fraud Branch did receive and review the 43 recommendations late last year, but the report did not include enough supporting evidence to initiate suspension and debarment proceedings under Federal Acquisition Regulations,” an Army spokesman said in a written statement.

‘They may be enemies of the United States, but that is not enough to keep them from getting government contracts.’- Inspector general report

The IG report was released last week, shortly before the U.S. government issued a global travel alert to Americans and shuttered nearly two-dozen embassies over the weekend out of concern over a possible Al Qaeda-driven plot.

The inspector general report covered everything from contractors to security to economic development. But it reserved some of its most pointed language for the Army’s refusal to cut ties with companies tied to the insurgency — calling the position “legally wrong” and “contrary” to good policy and national security goals.

Sopko pointed out the apparent disconnect between one part of the Army that is killing insurgents and the other part that allegedly is doing business with them.

“I am deeply troubled that the U.S. military can pursue, attack, and even kill terrorists and their supporters, but that some in the U.S. government believe we cannot prevent these same people from receiving a government contract,” he wrote in a letter attached to the report.

In the wake of the report, a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced a bill aimed at restricting U.S. agencies from awarding contracts to supporters of extremist groups in Afghanistan. The bill would give the inspector general’s office the authority to suspend Afghanistan contractors when agencies fail to review companies the office has flagged.

“The fact that U.S. taxpayer money has ended up in the hands of terrorists and insurgents in Afghanistan is totally inexcusable. It’s sickening to think that we’ve been giving money to the very people who are killing our brave service men and women,” Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, one of the co-sponsors, said in a statement.

In the report, Sopko’s office noted that the U.S. has suspended 59 contractors and debarred 68 contractors following allegations that they were engaged in fraud and other misconduct.

But the report said the refusal to send the same message to companies allegedly supporting terror and militant organizations is a “continuing problem.”

The report challenges the Army’s claim that there was not enough evidence. The report said in each of the 43 recommendations, the office provided “detailed supporting information demonstrating that these individuals and entities are providing material support to the insurgency in Afghanistan.” All were turned down.

“In other words, they may be enemies of the United States, but that is not enough to keep them from getting government contracts.”

The report said in many cases, there is no possibility of criminal prosecution, and suspension or debarment is the only option.


US Troops Attack Afghan Civilian Bus, Killing One

Another Civilian Also Wounded in Herat Shooting

Details are still scarce, but officials are confirming that US troops attacked a civilian bus in the Herat Province, in the Adraskan District. The attack killed one civilian and wounded another.

AfghanistanSo far there have been no comments from US officials as to why the bus was attacked, but it was traveling on the same Kabul-Herat highway as the US convoy was, and it is not unusual for US troops to perceive anything else on the road as a “threat” and start attacking it.

This is the second report incident of civilians killed this year in Herat. In February, four civilians were killed in the cross-fire between a NATO and Taliban gunbattle in the province.

It is also the second incident of US troops killing civilians this week, with 11 children killed in a US air strike in Kunar Province, on the other side of the country, earlier this week.

by Jason Ditz

US Airstrikes Kills 11 Children in Afghan Border Village

Destroyed Several Houses, Killing Women and Children Within

US warplanes pounded the village of Shigal in the Kunar Province of Afghanistan today, destroying several houses in the course of a “support” operation that NATO officials bragged led to the deaths of two “senior Taliban leaders.” The village was just miles from the Pakistan border.

Kunar-provinceProvincial officials checked the houses, however, and found a grim consequence of the bombing campaign: a large number of women and children within were killed and injured beneath the rubble of their homes. 11 children in all were reported killed, and one woman. Several other women were badly wounded.

The official narrative surrounding the story is still nebulous, because while NATO insists that no NATO ground troops were involved in the raids, they also claimed it was NATO troops that had called in the strikes after “coming under attack.” A Kunar MP suggested there were no ground troops at all in the area, and that it was considered a “Taliban stronghold” which is why the attacks occurred.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly banned NATO air strikes against populated areas, and has also banned Afghan forces from requesting air support if they are attacked in an area where civilians might be impacted. The bans appear to be having little to no impact, however.

The US has yet to respond to the killings, while NATO says only that they are “aware” on the incident and will conduct some sort of assessment. Such assessments have rarely amounted to anything, however, with after the fact statements, if they come at all, insisting the Taliban are to blame for whoever the US bombs in the course of trying to kill Taliban fighters.

Afghan Teen Stabbed US Soldier to Death, Escaped

Taliban Says Attacker Acted Alone

Details are emerging about the killing of US Sgt. Michael Cable last week, with officials confirming that he was stabbed to death by an Afghan civilian, believed to be a teenager. Nangarhar_in_AfghanistanThe attacker stabbed Cable in the neck during a meeting in Nangarhar Province. Cable was outside and reportedly playing with children who had come to the site when the attack occurred, and the assailant escaped. Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid identified the attacker as a 16-year-old named Khalid, saying he was acting on his own in the killing but had since joined the Taliban after fleeing the scene. Today’s revelations are a stark change from the Pentagon’s initial statement on the matter, which claimed he was killed in combat with “enemy forces.” Officials say that since the attacker was not in uniform it is not believed to be an “insider attack,” and there is no indication he was working for the Afghan security forces at the time.

By Jason Ditz

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