The Age, August 26, 2011
WikiLeaks: US links Australia’s Afghan partner to drugs
The Australian government estimates Matiullah has earned more than 45 million USD from NATO, Australia and construction and fuel contracts
By Rafael Epstein
Matiullah Khan, centre in grey, stands with co-workers deciding who may use the road between Kandahar and Tarin Kowt. (Photo: The Sydney Morning Herald)
THE United States government believes Australia's strongest local partner in Afghanistan, who has received direct payments from Canberra, is involved in the narcotics trade that fuels the insurgency.
Until last year, the Australian government paid Matiullah Khan for his armed men to work with Australian special forces.
Documents released by WikiLeaks yesterday said ''credible accounts indicate that Matiullah operates protection rackets, skims from the [police] payroll, and is involved in the illegal narcotics trade'', according to the US embassy in Kabul in 2006. Matiullah has faced repeated allegations that he tortured and killed his business and tribal rivals, but no foreign government has ever publicly backed the claims or alleged he is involved in the opium poppy trade.
Recently appointed chief of police, for many years he has controlled the police unit partnering Australian commandos and the local highway police.
Long regarded as the most powerful man in the province, last month he was targeted by insurgents in a major attack near the camp where Australian troops are based in Tarin Kowt.
The Australian government estimates Matiullah has earned more than $45 million from NATO, Australia and construction and fuel contracts. He charges tens of thousands of dollars to protect military resupply convoys on the region's roads, and last year a group of his senior fighters came to Australia for training. Dutch troops refused to work with him and the previous US ambassador did not want him to hold any formal Afghan government position. The US government cable also says the heroin trade in Oruzgan is ubiquitous, infecting all aspects of government and ''corrupting public officials''.
The Australian government has previously said Oruzgan's governor and other public officials have improved services and opposed corruption.
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