Dear Commons Community,
CNN, NPR and The Huffington Post are reporting that more than 100 Gold Star families are suing several American defense contractors for allegedly paying protection money to the Taliban while building projects in Afghanistan. The payments, the lawsuit argues, “aided and abetted terrorism” against Americans by enabling the Taliban to continue to fight — and kill U.S. troops.
The lawsuit was filed Friday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by the families of 143 U.S. troops and contract workers killed or wounded in Afghanistan from 2009 to 2017. They were “attacked by a Taliban-led terrorist insurgency that Defendants helped finance,” the suit states.
It’s illegal under the federal Anti-Terrorism Act to provide material support to the Taliban. The U.S. has warned defense contractors that protection payments are against the law, but according to the lawsuit, the practice has proliferated because defense contractors feel it’s a cost of doing business.
“Defendants supported the Taliban for a simple reason: Defendants were all large Western companies with lucrative businesses in post-9/11 Afghanistan, and they all paid the Taliban to refrain from attacking their business interests,” the complaint says. “Those protection payments aided and abetted terrorism by directly funding an al-Qaeda-backed Taliban insurgency that killed and injured thousands of Americans.”
According to the lawsuit, the Taliban in 2005 began systematically approaching international businesses operating in Afghanistan, and offered them a choice: pay up, or else. “Defendants paid the Taliban to leave them alone,” the suit alleges. “The payments saved Defendants money: it was cheaper to buy off the Taliban than it would have been to invest in the security necessary to mitigate the terrorists’ threats.”
NPR reached out to every company named in the lawsuit. Most did not respond. Those who did respond declined to comment. In a statement to CNN, one of the companies — Black & Veatch — said it “followed the directives of the US government agencies that we served.” The company declined to comment specifically on the allegations in the suit.
Barnett Rubin, associate director of NYU’s Center on International Cooperation, tells NPR that paying insurgents is “pretty universal” among defense contractors. It’s “the only way to get the supplies through, so the choice is funding the insurgency or not supplying the troops,” says Rubin, who formerly served as the senior adviser to the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan in the U.S. Department of State.
“This case is about obtaining justice for my husband’s death and the lives of so many others who were killed and injured by the terrorists in Afghanistan,” said August Cabrera in a statement. She’s the widow of Army Lt. Col. David Cabrera, believed to have been the first military social worker killed by enemy fire in the line of duty.
“The central issue here is the Pentagon’s reliance on contractors in war zones,” said Andrew Bacevich, professor emeritus of international relations and history at Boston University. “In the old days, the U.S. military when at war was largely self-sufficient. Today, the U.S. military is heavily dependent on profit-making enterprises, which inevitably privilege the bottom line over other considerations. I don’t know whether the evidence will sustain the plaintiffs in this case, but I sure wouldn’t be surprised.”
This sounds to me that the plaintiffs have a legitimate claim against these contractors!