The families of Gold Star soldiers killed in Afghanistan have expanded a lawsuit which accuses U.S. military contractors of paying protection money to the Taliban.
The Wall Street Journal reports that two companies have been identified in an amended complaint. Together, the businesses received at least $1.7 billion to implement aid projects in Afghanistan. Their work lasted for the better part of a decade, ending only in 2015.
The amended lawsuit adds about 100 families to the existing complaint, nearly doubling the total number of plaintiffs—there are now, in total, 239 families represented. Altogether, they allege that a number of government- and military-sponsored contractors funneled finances to America’s wartime enemies to ensure the longevity of their contracts.
“Defendants supported the Taliban for a simple reason: Defendants were all large Western companies with lucrative businesses in post-9/11 Afghanistan, and they all paid the Taliban to refrain from attacking their business interests,” the original lawsuit says. “These protection payments aided and abetted terrorism by directly funding al-Qaeda-backed Taliban insurgency that killed and injured thousands of Americans.”
As LegalReader reported late last year, the federal Anti-Terrorism Act makes it illegal for any individual or entity to provide material support to the Taliban. However, the Taliban frequently extorted contractors, threatening to harm their workers or sabotage projects unless they were paid for “protection.”
While the U.S. government repeatedly warned contractors not to make protection payments, the practice persisted.
“Defendants paid the Taliban to leave them alone,” the lawsuit states. “The payments saved Defendants money: it was cheaper to buy off the Taliban than it would have been to invest in the security necessary to mitigate the terrorists’ threats.”
According to the Journal, the companies added to the lawsuit are Wisconsin-based Blumont Inc., previously known as International Relief Development; the other is Chemonics International.
Both companies carried out government-funded reconstruction projects in Afghanistan.
Blumont has denied the allegations it paid protection money to the Taliban.
“The information outlined in the complaint predates Blumont’s current structure and leadership,” Blumont said in a statement. “Blumont prioritizes compliance with the guidance and directives of the donors and partners we work with, including USAID.”
South Africa-based MTN Group, which was named as a defendant in the initial complaint, asked a U.S. court to dismiss the case in April, arguing that its operations fall outside United States’ jurisdiction. MTN hopes the amended complaint will give it another opportunity to petition for a dismissal.
“We are reviewing the new material in consultation with our legal advisers but remain in the view that we conduct our business in a responsible and complaint manner in all our territories,” MTN said in a statement.
MTN, a telecommunications company, allegedly paid the Taliban more than $100 million to prevent its cell phone towers from being targeted—the company is also accused of switching off its networks at night at the Taliban’s request, thereby hindering U.S. intelligence operations.