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Millions of US tax dollars ‘knowingly’ went to terror groups from charities, Pentagon says

U.S. Marines from Joint Task Force 505 load USAID relief supplies from the United States Agency for International Development onto a U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey at Tribhuvan International Airport, Kathmandu, Nepal. (Lance Cpl. Hernan Vidana/U.S. Marine Corps)
November 09, 2018

A new Pentagon report released this week has revealed that U.S. humanitarian aid repeatedly ended up in the hands of terror groups, including Al Qaeda, over the past year.

The report identified “numerous instances” in which U.S. aid was “knowingly diverted” to terror groups in Syria, including one of the strongest in the region, a Pentagon Lead Inspector General report exposed Monday.

The report said, “Since late 2017, USAID [U.S. Agency for International Development] OIG investigations have uncovered numerous instances of possible or confirmed diversions to armed groups in Idlib Governorate in northwestern Syria, including Ha’yat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization.”

HTS surfaced as a new terror group over the past two years and has quickly grown to be a major threat in the region, becoming one of the most powerful terror groups in Idlib, Syria, according to Reuters. In August, Turkey designated HTS as a terror group, citing their ties to Al Qaeda and ISIS. It was previously designated a terror group by the U.S. in early 2018.

“One investigation found that an NGO’s employees knowingly diverted thousands of USAID- funded food kits worth millions of dollars to ineligible beneficiaries (including HTS fighters) and submitted falsified beneficiary lists. The investigation resulted in USAID suspending the program and the NGO terminating the employment of dozens of individuals from March to May 2018,” the Pentagon report added.

The food kits were part of a $30 million relief effort for millions of starving Syrians displaced from their homes, and the relief effort was operated by the U.S. charity Catholic Relief Services, according to Irin News.

USAID’s investigation identified risks associated with the funds ending up in the wrong hands, and prompted a series of changes to aid provided to the region.

“These risks included systemic coercion by HTS of NGO employees to assist in diversions; imposition of taxes, duties, and fees on USAID implementers and beneficiaries; HTS control of local councils and IDP camp management that assist USAID implementers in identifying eligible beneficiaries; and implementers failing to adequately mitigate the threat to USAID programming from these armed groups,” the report said.

Approximately $4 million is aid was immediately halted from reaching the HTS region.

However, the report also revealed that investigators determined funds from other charities were also diverted to HTS.

“USAID OIG also investigated diversions of assistance to HTS in another NGO’s programs, which OIG suspected was perpetrated by NGO staff affiliated with the terrorist group,” the report noted.

The involved charities voluntarily halted their funds and terminated some employees and volunteers. However, it’s unclear if the investigation has identified all of the organizations responsible for diverting the aid.