The arrest of an Afghan commander on charges he led a crime ring reveals the level of corruption in Afghan society, U.S. officers say.
Col. Mohammad Wasil is suspected of providing details about U.S. troop movements to militants and selling weapons to insurgents, Stars and Stripes reported Monday.
He and members of his command staff also are charged with pocketing the wages of their troops, extorting contractors and selling supplies intended for soldiers.
Lt. Col. Daniel Mouton of the 1st Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, brought Wasil to the attention of Afghan military officials earlier this year after he began investigating complaints from villagers. Even though Wasil is now being held in an Afghan military brig, U.S. military officers worry the Afghan commander's actions up until his arrest will inspire the country's soldiers to emulate his corruption or intimidate others into silence.
"The corruption is embedded like a tumor, and it isn't easy to remove," said Lt. Col. James Salome, commander of the 1-504, commenting on efforts by some Afghan officials to stymie the Wasil investigation.
Salome and Mouton had to prod Afghan officials to charge Wasil. While he's been removed from command, he could be put in charge of another battalion.
When Wasil was charged, he reportedly told his superiors, "If there is a problem, I can pay it all back."
More than 50 corruption cases against high-ranking Afghan officers are pending in 14 provinces in eastern Afghanistan, according to an estimate by an Army official with the U.S. command in the region.
"It's not just about stealing," said Salome. "The bigger problem is that you have these soldiers -- young men -- who are willing to die for their country, but they can see that not all of their leaders are equipped to lead them."
When senior officers are not held accountable, they set a bad example for young soldiers just rising through the ranks, said Capt. Caleb Ling, who commands the 1-504's Company C based at Muqur. "They'll do the same thing, and they'll be just as easy for the Taliban or whoever to influence."