I’m not referring to the controversy surrounding the attempted rescue of Linda Norgrove which is currently consuming the news cycle. My experience is that Special Operations folks do not attempt rescue operations without solid intelligence and a well rehearsed plan. I don’t know what happened in Kunar Province last weekend and therefore have no comment. What I do have plenty to comment on is the rash of articles which came out Friday morning about security contractors guarding American bases. This is the opening from ABC news:
A scathing Senate report says US contractors in Afghanistan have hired warlords, “thugs,” Taliban commanders and even Iranian spies to provide security at vulnerable US military outposts in Afghanistan. The report, published by the Senate Armed Services Committee, says lax oversight and “systemic failures” have led to “grave risks’ to US forces, including instances where contractors have employed Afghan subcontractors who were “linked to murder, kidnapping and bribery, as well as Taliban and anti-coalition activities.” The chairman of the committee, Sen. Carl Levin, D.-Michigan, said the report was evidence that the US needs to reduce its reliance on contractors.
On the small Combat Outposts (COP’s) these guard forces man the outer perimeter only and have to provide their own life support (food and shelter) and they do not go inside the wire of the Army unit they are guarding. They don’t know any more about what is happening inside the FOB’s they guard then any other Afghan living in the vicinity. Local nationals working inside the wire doing menial tasks like emptying port-a-johns, collecting and burning trash, or washing dishes would know a lot more and pose a greater intelligence risk than the exterior guard force. On the large FOB’s the guard forces have barracks inside the post but are a small percentage of the Afghan local national work force and again, limited as to where they are allowed to go. So how is it just the security guards are the ones putting our troops at risk?
I wrote bids for several of these contracts and know they require a minimum of 80% of the guards to come from the local area. When you have remote outposts and need so many armed men who do you think is going to provide them? Now Washington is shocked, shocked that we were paying warlords and other various undesirables for guard forces. When I bid on these contracts our local manpower was coordinated through the district sub governor (which I recall was another requirement) and not all sub governors are created equal. I’m not sure why the big surprise that some of the people who are benefiting from the fire hose of dollars flowing into Afghanistan are undesirables. I’m also not to sure about the definition of “undesirables” given the number of former warlords connected to the central government. Seems to me we don’t know enough about the Afghan culture to start labeling some war lords undesirables and others patriots.
Sounds like politics and looks like piling on by by the Senate Armed Services Committee who are now supporting President Karzai as he continues his program to dismantle private security companies. It’s nice to finally see some support for President Karzai from the DC crowd even if they are supporting a policy un-tethered from reality. Accepting the fact that President Karzai is not going away would be the best contribution our elected members can make now.
Shutting down the security companies makes little sense. Earlier in the month it was reported that the Afghans had shut down several companies to include Xe (Blackwater), Four Horsemen, and White Eagle. This is not true; all four remain open for business and they, like Karzai, are not going anywhere. Those companies don’t need to pay the Afghan government for a business license because they are working directly for the military, Department of State and other international government agencies and are exempt from paying Afghan taxes. The Afghan government is making it hard for internationals working for security companies outside the wire only. They have stopped issuing visa’s so many contractors remain here on expired ones. The companies with government contracts come into the country on contractor run flight that land in Bagram and by pass Afghan immigration so they do not need visas. Afghanistan isn’t like the United States with foreigners who overstay their visa. In Afghanistan that is a one strike offense that could land you in prison.
Kabul is in turmoil, the North is going right down the tubes; years ago it was easy to operate in most of the country without armored vehicles and international mobile security teams but not anymore. While this is playing out there is a growing sense that the military side of the operation is starting go well. ISAF has, for the first time, apparently locked down the Arghandab and Panjwai districts around Kandahar City. The Helmand Province is getting quieter week in and week out and the American Army in Nangarhar Province has moved a battalion of paratroopers into the southern triangle to deal with Taliban and their Pakistani cousins who have been operating openly down there all summer. This force projection off the FOB’s is a welcomed change but all the clearing currently being done needs a hold and build effort behind it and that capability is not resident within the Kabul government.
The situation on the ground is rapidly changing which makes it the perfect time for me to shift to another part of the country where I’m not so well known. I have moved south and will be joining Ghost Team again for another year of adventure. This year I’m not going to be so candid about where I live or the location of our projects. The days when we could roam about the countryside at will and have my kids visit for months at a time to work with local kids at the Fab Lab – those days are over.
The military seems to be doing what it set out to do. It is too early to know how successful they will be but if they can drive the Taliban out of Kandahar and the surrounding districts they will need help with the build portion. Ghost Team will do our part but we are not miracle workers. We’ll give it our best until the window closes on outside the wire operations for good.