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Tue Feb 5, 2013, 05:10 PM

Afghan corruption, opium, and the strange case of Kam Air (CS Monitor)

Afghan corruption, opium, and the strange case of Kam Air

Kam Air, an airline owned by a politically-connected Afghan businessman, was blacklisted by the US military in Afghanistan for opium smuggling. Then the Afghan government complained.

By Dan Murphy, Staff writer / February 5, 2013

In late January, the US military blacklisted Afghanistan's Kam Air from winning contracts with the US in Afghanistan, with the head of a US military anticorruption unit asserting that the airline was involved in bulk opium smuggling on commercial flights to Tajikistan.

The decision touched off a flurry of backroom lobbying, given the political connections of Kam Air's owner and the shadow it cast over efforts to merge the private airline carrier with the struggling Afghan government-owned airline Ariana.

The result? A few weeks later, the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan (ISAF) issued a terse statement announcing that Kam Air would be removed from the blacklist pending the results of an Afghan government investigation into the drug smuggling charges.

The release outlines a Feb. 2 meeting between senior officials in the Afghan government and the US military in Kabul. There, "US military officials explained why they had recommended the [blacklist] designation to the commander of CENTCOM," or the US Central Command based in Tampa, which is in operational control of the Afghanistan mission. The brief statement makes no explanation as to why the Afghan government's arguments were convincing, though it implies that questions of Afghan sovereignty were crucial.

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