DC’s largest lobbying firm rep firm allegedly paid off Taliban, ex-employees say

“American companies should avoid doing business with Afghan companies that helped the Taliban take over,” said Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.), a House Armed Services Committee member and Afghan war veteran. , when presented with a summary of POLITICO Reportage. “They persecute women and young girls and they kill our interpreters daily. The companies that helped the Taliban were wrong and we should not support the companies that facilitated this. It’s a question of morality, and I wouldn’t want to be associated with them.

S-3’s Scofield wrote in a text message: “S-3 as [a] policy issue does not discuss the work we do for individual clients, most of which are under an NDA,” or nondisclosure agreement.

Rick Buttner, general counsel for TSI, said TSI chose S-3 to help the company provide humanitarian support and aid to Afghans while remaining fully compliant with U.S. and international sanctions requirements. “Unfortunately, the world quickly forgets and leaves Afghanistan, so we are working with S-3 to ensure the Afghan people are not left behind,” he said.

Analysts who follow the Afghan economy acknowledge that most telecom companies paid “taxes” to the Taliban in order to operate in areas of the country controlled by the militants as they waged an insurgency against the democratically elected government.

The Taliban have been under tough US sanctions since the 1990s, and payments to the former insurgent group by a US company are prohibited by the US Treasury Department.

Treasury sanctions for violators of Taliban sanctions are rare, but have included fines for US companies API International, SeaMates International, PJ Caputo Shipping and DataMirror Mobile Solutions.

“During the last years of the Taliban insurgency, [it] have carried out numerous illegal taxations in a number of public sectors, either those run directly by the Afghan government or various private companies, including telecommunications,” said Andrew Watkins, senior expert on Afghanistan at the US Institute of Peace.

Afghan Wireless was founded in the late 1990s and the company first reconnected Afghanistan to the international telephone system by reactivating its country code. It then launched electronic telephone exchanges and installed satellite dishes in Kabul and Kandahar, before expanding to Mazar-e-Sharif and Herat. He got a license from the first Taliban government in 1998 and signed an agreement the following year that gave the company an exclusive 15-year monopoly on all mobile phone traffic in the country. Afghanistan’s now Taliban-controlled Ministry of Communications and Information Technology owns a 20% stake in Afghan Wireless, according to the company’s website, an arrangement that was would have been part of the original agreement for the license. Its main wireless networks – the first in Afghanistan – were set up after the overthrow of the Taliban regime by the United States in 2001.

But while U.S.-backed governments were in power, the company allegedly paid the Taliban to ensure its towers and other equipment were not destroyed in Taliban-held areas, according to four former senior Afghan officials. telecommunications and national security regulators and three former wireless Afghans. employees.

“Offer valuable gifts like phones and top-up cards [pre-paid time credits] and SIM cards to the Taliban shadow government in an effort to protect the wireless telecommunications infrastructure were widely recognized and generally known to staff, but Western employees were obviously kept away,” said Sean Caskie, who has led the deployment. of the Afghan Wireless network from 2002 to 2003.

Caskie said he and others suspected that some of Afghan Wireless founder Ehsan Bayat’s cousins ​​were responsible for giving their relatives, who were in the Taliban, the top-up cards. When Caskie “couldn’t take Bayat’s bullshit any longer”, he was fired because they said, according to him, he “had an underappreciation of the cultural complexities and nuances of interpersonal communications with Afghans, which which makes me a poor candidate for leadership within the company.”

Bayat, a former Afghan appointee senator who now lives in an affluent beach-side community outside Jacksonville, Fla., did not respond to requests for comment.

Brian Mallon, who was head of security for Afghan Wireless in 2002 and 2003 and former senior special agent for the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, said he witnessed the company’s ties to the Taliban when he worked there. He said Bayat once gave a Taliban member a no-show job, a gig he had never seen him work for. Mallon also said he remembered Bayat meeting two visiting Taliban members in 2002.

“There was a legitimate reason to do this. He didn’t want the Taliban messing around with the towers that were all over the country,” Mallon said, recalling that he sometimes saw the unarmed security guards protecting infrastructure sleeping soundly. “The reason you dealt with the Taliban and the government is that nobody wanted to mess with the mobile towers and you didn’t want someone to blow up the towers. It was a CYA thing just to make sure you didn’t have any issues.

Asked for comment, Buttner denied that Afghan Wireless had ever made payments to anyone or any group in the country. He pointed to Afghan government statistics which he said showed Afghan Wireless has lost more sites than any other telephone operator in Afghanistan and over the past ten years more than 230 sites have been attacked and in some cases its employees have been killed or injured.

“AWCC [Afghan Wireless Communication Company] and its affiliates have complied with all laws and requirements applicable to Afghan businesses and have remained in compliance with U.S. and international laws governing U.S. businesses operating in Afghanistan throughout its existence,” Buttner said in a statement.
suffering from widespread food shortages
When the Taliban took control of the country in August, US-owned telecommunications companies were required to suspend taxes and payments to the new government, and were told that if they wanted to legally continue doing business in Afghanistan, they had to apply to the US Treasury Department for a “specific license”, according to a US business executive with knowledge of Afghanistan’s telecommunications industry.

In keeping with long-standing practice, a Treasury spokesperson declined to say whether TSI had obtained a “specific license”, but noted that the US government supports telecommunications activities around the world, including in Afghanistan under the Taliban. The Treasury has issued several blanket licenses that authorize transactions and activities that support humanitarian aid to help the Afghan people, who are suffering from widespread food shortages this winter.


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