WASHINGTON — A report released this month by the Center for International Policy’s Security Assistance Monitor finds that U.S. counterterrorism aid intended to bolster U.S. and its allies' efforts to combat violent extremists has also had the unintended consequence of fueling corruption and funding terrorist group activities and recruitment.
Colby Goodman and Christinia Arabia, the authors of the report, say although the U.S. has included mechanisms designed to stymie the diversion of U.S. weapons and other kinds of security aid, “there are still important gaps in U.S. government efforts to assess, monitor, and evaluate U.S. counterterrorism aid, particularly related to corruption risks.”
“Corruption involves far more than a waste of money,” Goodman notes. “It also poses a grave danger to U.S. and global security by reducing the effectiveness of U.S. counterterror programs. In some instances, widespread corruption in military aid programs actually strengthens terrorist organizations by fueling anti-government sentiment, undermining the morale of front-line military personnel, and diverting U.S.-supplied equipment to groups like ISIS, the Taliban, and Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.”
The report finds two-thirds of the recipients of U.S. counterterrorism aid pose “serious” corruption risks. Routine practices such as nepotism in the recruitment and promotion system, bribery, extortion, the use of “ghost soldiers” to divert money from fictitious military “no shows” to high-ranking officials, and flawed purchasing practices all pose the most serious corruption risks.
Despite these risks, the United States continues to propose high levels of counterterrorism aid. The report says that from fiscal 2017 to fiscal 2019, the U.S. proposed an estimated $24 billion in U.S. counterterrorism aid to 36 countries in Africa, the Middle East, and South and East Asia.
Of those 36 countries, 24 have engaged in at least three of the five key defense corruption practices that have fostered counterterrorism challenges in the past. The key corruption indicators here are cited as nepotism; ghost soldiers; theft or delay of soldiers' pay; bribery; and illicit economic activities on the part of a nation’s armed forces.
These corruption practices increase the risk of human rights violations and coups as governments and militaries fragment, and disillusioned military personnel and youth are drawn toward extremist groups, according to the report.
The report says that in “Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, and Burkina Faso, it appears that terrorist groups benefit from popular grievances against corruption to help encourage new recruitments or support from others for their cause.”
For example, in Bangladesh, the report suggests, terrorist groups are seeking to recruit Bangladeshi soldiers that feel marginalized by recent purges in their ranks. The report notes similar instances of terrorist groups using corruption in their recruitment messaging taking place in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Mali, Nigeria and Somalia.
To curb corruption, the authors recommend the U.S. strengthen risk assessments and provide in-depth risk reports on high-risk countries, specifically Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Cameroon, Chad, Egypt, Iraq, Kenya, Nigeria, the Philippines, Somalia and Uganda. The focus of these assessments should be to “map the structure of corrupt networks in the countries, including main revenue streams, external enablers and facilitators, and connections with the military,” as well as possible organized crime, according to the report.
The authors suggest these assessments be incorporated in the Defense Department’s ongoing effort to publish a new directive aimed at improving the ability to assess, monitor and evaluate U.S. security aid to foreign countries.
Building in conditions for the use of U.S. counterterrorism aid may also help. Goodman and Arabia say it would be important to identify triggers that could spark a revision or termination of certain types of counterterrorism aid for this effort to be successful.
Daniel Cebul is an editorial fellow and general assignments writer for Defense News, C4ISRNET, Fifth Domain and Federal Times.