Those Burning Nato Fuel Trucks: Like Houses In Detroit?

Contractors are endangering troops and prolonging the Afghanistan war by sabotaging their own equipment for a quick profit.

That’s the upshot of this provocative BBC story—which came out yesterday and was buried, more or less, in the non-stop news cycle. I’ll bet, though, that with a few decades of distance, the incident will provide some historian with a metaphor for the war (assuming the war is over in a few decades).

Here’s how Juan Cole summarizes the scam described in the BBC story, involving insurance fraud by contractors who own those burning tanker trucks bearing fuel for NATO forces in Afghanistan:

Once they are idled, all but a little fuel is siphoned off and sold, then the trucks are set ablaze, and the insurance company made to pay for the whole loss. That would be a double profit…

And no small profit, either—those fuel transport contracts run into the tens of millions of dollars, and if a sabotaged fuel truck is insured for, say, $1 million, the payout would be all cake for the perpetrator of such a fraud.

Unfortunately, the BBC doesn’t name a single suspect contractor, and some of its on-the-record sources are merely repeating rumor.

It may take insurance company claims investigators to get to the bottom of this, with Afghan government officials dismissing the BBC’s queries. And if those hypothetical private investigators ever do prove that NATO-hired contractors burned their own trucks to up their profits, there would presumably be a great deal of pressure to keep such embarrassing findings from becoming public.

But consider this.

If the US and NATO had left their logistics in Afghanistan to uniformed military personnel, instead of private contractors, allegations such as these would never have made the headlines.

Even if the story is false, and the BBC has been recruited into some clever anti-Western propaganda campaign, such rumors can only do damage if they are somewhat plausible. After nine years of war and countless stories on corrupt contractors, the rumors are, sadly, highly plausible.