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US loses £220m in Afghan graft

The US military estimates 360 million in US tax dollars (£220 million) has ended up in the hands of people the American-led coalition has spent nearly a decade battling - the Taliban, criminals and power brokers.

The losses underscore the challenges the US and its international partners face in overcoming corruption in Afghanistan.

A central part of the Obama administration's strategy has been to award US-financed contracts to Afghan businesses to help improve quality of life and boost the country's economy.

But until a special task force assembled by General David Petraeus began its investigation last year, the coalition had little insight into the connections many Afghan companies and their vast network of subcontractors had with insurgents and criminals.

In a murky process known as "reverse money laundering," payments from the US pass through companies hired by the military for transport, construction, power projects, fuel and other services to businesses and individuals with ties to the insurgency or criminal networks, according to interviews and task force documents obtained by the AP.

"Funds begin as clean monies," according to one document, then "either through direct payments or through the flow of funds in the subcontractor network, the monies become tainted."

The conclusions by Task Force 2010 represent the most definitive assessment of how US military spending and aid to Afghanistan has been diverted to the enemy or stolen.

Only a small percentage of the 360 million dollars has been garnered by the Taliban and insurgent groups, said a senior US military official in Kabul.

The bulk of the money was lost to profiteering, bribery and extortion by criminals and power brokers, said the official.

Overall, the 360 million represents a fraction of the 31 billion dollars (£19 billion) in active US contracts that the task force reviewed. But insurgents rely on crude weaponry and require little money to operate.

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