Not The Onion: Pentagon Wanted US Taxpayers To Reimburse Taliban

The Pentagon wanted to reimburse the Taliban for expenses the group incurred attending recent peace talks, according to the BBC, citing a US Congressional aide. 

The request to cover the militants' costs such as transportation, lodging and food was ultimately denied by a Congressional committee, despite the Pentagon's request "to use funds to facilitate [the] meetings." 

The funding requested by the Pentagon was intended to reimburse the group for costs incurred while participating in the talks, including supplies, food, accommodation and transportation, according to Kevin Spicer, spokesman for Representative Peter Visclosky of Indiana [D]. -BBC

"The Defense Department requested fiscal year 2020 funding to support certain reconciliation activities, including logistic support for members of the Taliban and, in March 2019, they sent a notification letter to the Committee on using fiscal year 2019 funds for similar activities," said the spokesman. 

Visclosky chairs the House Appropriations defence subcommittee, which approved a $390.2 billion spending bill that specifically denies the Pentagon from reimbursing the expenses of the militants, as none of the funds may be used "to pay for the expenses of any member of the Taliban to participate in any meeting that does not include the participation of members of the Government of Afghanistan or that restricts the participation of women," reads the legislation. 

According to the report, the language was included to avoid breaking laws concerning material support for terrorist groups, said Kevin Spicer, citing "the Taliban's ongoing offensive operations against US service members, and their continuing lack of acknowledgement of the government of Afghanistan or the rights of women in Afghan society." 

The Pentagon says the funds were needed in order to negotiate ceasefires.

"Following the June 2018 ceasefire in Afghanistan, the Commander of U.S. Forces, Afghanistan requested the authority to use funds to facilitate meetings between the Afghan government and insurgent groups looking to implement local ceasefires in order to be poised to take advantage of further opportunities to reduce levels of violence in the country should such opportunities present themselves," said Pentagon spokeswoman Cdr. Rebecca Rebarich. 

Life imitates "The Onion" 

As Roll Call points out, the Taliban is rich - netting by some estimates at least $800 million per year from opium trafficking and related activities, while having battled US troops for over 18 years. 

Afghanistan’s opium trade in 2017 was estimated to be valued at between $4.1 billion and $6.6 billion, according to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime. The Taliban is believed to be netting about 20 percent of that, the U.S. military command in Afghanistan has reported. If those figures are accurate, the Taliban earns more than $800 million a year on drugs, and U.S. officials have said this drug money funds most of the Taliban’s activities. -Roll Call

Moreover, "Afghanistan’s opium trade has, in turn, contributed to a surge in opioid-related deaths in the United States that hit nearly 48,000 in 2017, according to federal statistics," according to the report. 

Steve Ellis, executive vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense says that the Taliban expense report story is like "life imitating The Onion." 

"Even if you leave aside that they are still conducting operations against our interests and allies, having to pay for someone to be at the table undercuts our bargaining position and demonstrates their lack of enthusiasm for a deal," Ellis told Roll Call, adding "I’m sure the Taliban would like whatever cash we’re willing to give them, but it’s not like they aren’t able to continue funding their fighting. How about using some of that cash instead of American taxpayer dollars."