|The US Senate Armed Services Committee warned that firing local guards could worsen the security situation [GETTY]
A US senate inquiry has blasted the Pentagon's use of private security companies in Afghanistan, concluding that the contractors hire local recruits linked to "warlords and thugs", who in turn, funnel that money back to the Taliban.
The report, presented by the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday, said that there are "systemic failures" in the management of the contracts, including widespread failures "to adequately vet, train and supervise armed security personnel".
The finding follows a separate congressional inquiry in June that concluded haulage contractors pay tens of millions of dollars a year to local warlords for convoy protection.
Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the senate panel, said he is worried the US is unknowingly fostering the growth of Taliban-linked militias at a time when Kabul is struggling to recruit its own soldiers and police officers.
"Almost all are Afghans. Almost all are armed," Levin, a Democrat, said of the fleet of young men working under US contracts.
"We need to shut off the spigot of US dollars flowing into the pockets of warlords and power brokers who act contrary to our interests and contribute to the corruption that weakens the support of the Afghan people for their government," he said.
The US defence department has not expressly disagreed with the findings, but warns that firing the estimated 26,000 private security personnel operating in Afghanistan in the near future is not practical.
In recent months, US forces in Afghanistan pledged to increase their oversight of security contractors and set up two task forces to look into allegations of misconduct and to track the money spent, particularly among lower-level subcontractors.
The Defence Contract Management Agency has increased the number of auditors and support staff in the region by some 300 per cent since 2007.
In September, General David Petraeus, the senior US and Nato commander in Afghanistan, directed his staff to consider the impact that contract spending has on military operations.
Military officials and Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee warn that ending the practice of hiring local guards could worsen the security situation in Afghanistan.
They say providing young Afghan men with employment can prevent them from joining the ranks of Taliban fighters. Bringing in foreign workers to do jobs Afghans can do is likely to foster resentment.
Also, contract security forces fill an immediate need at a time when US forces are focused on operations, commanders say.
"As the security environment in Afghanistan improves, our need for (private security contractors) will diminish," Petraeus told the Senate panel in July. "But in the meantime, we will use legal, licensed and controlled [companies] to accomplish appropriate missions."
Levin said on Thursday that he is not suggesting that the US stop using private security contractors altogether. But, rather, that the US must reduce the number of local security guards and improve the vetting process of new hires if there is to be any hope of reversing a trend that he says damages the US mission in Afghanistan.
His report represents the broadest look at defence department security contracts so far, with a review of 125 of the agreements between 2007 and 2009.
The allegation that contractors rely on warlords for local hiring is not new. Last June, a Democratic House of Representatives investigation led by Massachusetts representative John Tierney concluded that haulage companies had "little choice" but to pay local warlords "in what amounts to a vast protection racket".
Army criminal investigators are examining the allegations, specifically looking at whether companies hired under a $2bn Pentagon contract to transport food, water, fuel and ammunition to troops were paying up to $4m a week to groups sympathetic to the Taliban.
In August, Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, announced that private security contractors would have to cease operations by the end of the year.
The workers, he said, would have to either join the government security forces or stop work because they were undermining Afghanistan's police and army and contributing to corruption.