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Pentagon knew peace-talks fund would ‘likely’ benefit Taliban

Document suggests some money would give ‘material support to terrorists’

Aerial view of the Pentagon building photographed on Sept. 24, 2017. ( Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Aerial view of the Pentagon building photographed on Sept. 24, 2017. ( Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Pentagon leaders formally asked Congress in writing earlier this year for a $30 million fund to support peace talks with Afghanistan’s Taliban, even though, the Defense Department officials wrote, it was “likely” some of the money would materially support terrorists.

The legislative proposal, obtained by CQ Roll Call, suggests that the fiscal 2020 money to cover logistics involved in the negotiations may directly or indirectly provide financial support to violent groups in Afghanistan that have been fighting Americans and their own countrymen, including in targeted attacks on civilians, for nearly 18 years.

[Administration wants to reimburse Taliban’s travel expenses]

A Pentagon spokeswoman, Cdr. Rebecca Rebarich, confirmed the authenticity of the document and acknowledged for the first time that taxpayer money may soon be spent to support insurgents’ participation in peace talks.

According to her description, the benefit to insurgents, if any, would be indirect because the Defense Department would be footing the bill for logistics surrounding the talks.

Rebarich stressed that the objective is to end the long-running war. But until this week — when CQ Roll Call disclosed congressional concerns about Pentagon money covering Taliban expenses in peace talks — the public was not aware that the U.S. government intended to cover at least some of its enemies’ bills.

A Pentagon narrative explaining the legislative proposal and request for funds makes plain officials’ knowledge that they might, without a new law, run afoul of statutory prohibitions on aiding terrorists.

The details of the Pentagon document were not known until now and they appear to show official cognizance that the money would probably be of material help to insurgents.

“By definition, reconciliation requires the Government of Afghanistan to reconcile with actors in conflict with the Government of Afghanistan,” the Pentagon document says. “Facilitating and supporting this reconciliation will likely require the U.S. to provide support under subsection (b) to individuals or organizations in a manner that may implicate provisions concerning material support to terrorists and terrorist organizations. This section specifically excepts support provided under this section from these prohibitions.”

Some portion of the $30 million would cover “transportation, security and logistic support, supplies and services” — not just for Afghan government personnel or U.S. officials but also for insurgents, the document indicates.

In addition to this request, the Pentagon notified appropriators in March that the department would be diverting some funds already received for the current fiscal year to support the same objective, a spokesman for Indiana Democrat Peter J. Visclosky, chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, told CQ Roll Call this week.

Rebarich said in a statement Thursday that the Pentagon “is not providing funds to the Taliban.”

When asked on Friday about the legislative proposal, Rebarich said that the U.S. military has not yet spent funds to support participation of Taliban fighters in talks, though she acknowledged for the first time that such expenditures may yet happen.

“The requested authority anticipates potential scenarios in which DoD facilitates transport for meetings participants (including the Afghan Government and insurgent groups) if the agreed upon location is in areas that are difficult to access otherwise, but would not use DoD vehicles [or] aircraft for the transport,” she said. “The authority has been requested to lay the groundwork in anticipation of opportunities to facilitate talks with the Afghan government to find a way to end the war. We have not expended any funds to date to facilitate local meetings, but will want to be poised to do so if the conditions allow.”

She added that there would be no reimbursing of Taliban expenses, although the section of the Pentagon-proposed legislation that officials worried would conflict with anti-terrorism laws is titled, “Reimbursement.”

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