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Private Contractor Surge Into Afghanistan-(post all AFPAK contractor news here)

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The Private Contracting Surge Into Afghanistan

Posted By Kelley B. Vlahos On May 13, 2009 @ 9:00 pm

Conveniently short on real details – perhaps deliberately so – the Obama administration’s new war strategy for Afghanistan has yet to acknowledge the huge footprint the United States will have on that country in another year’s time.

One thing is becoming clear, though: it will be a larger footprint than we had anticipated a year ago. In fact, it already is. Just like in Iraq, a "shadow army" has been serving alongside American servicemen and women in Afghanistan. So far, it is at least 70,000 strong. Private contractors – now indispensable to the U.S. military as it wages war – are expected to grow and much surpass that number as U.S. troops there double from 35,000 to nearly 70,000 by 2010.

"In short, we will be bringing as many contractors as we are troops – especially KBR [Kellogg, Brown and Root] – because they now feed and house the military, and the military has no real choice, because they have let that part of their logistics atrophy," pointed out Dina Rasor, director of the Follow the Money Project and co-author of Betraying our Troops: The Destructive Results of Privatizing War.

Despite previous calls by President Barack Obama to reform the flawed and ballooning dependence of the military on private contractors, serious problems have hardly been addressed. So while billions of dollars will remain in dispute in Iraq, Obama has no choice but to keep pouring money into American firms such as KBR, DynCorp, and even Xe (formerly Blackwater) if he wants to move forward with the mission in Afghanistan, despite those firms’ notorious reputations for waste, fraud, and abuse in theater.

Some of the most damning allegations include committing homicide against Iraqis and putting U.S. troops in harm’s way by serving them spoiled food and dirty water, exposing them to poisonous burn pits and toxic chemicals, and building them showers with faulty wiring.

"All of the fraud, waste, and … negligent homicide will be brought into Afghanistan if nothing is done," Rasor told

Stuart Bowen, special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, told the Washington Post in February that it was "too late" to implement the structural changes necessary to get real oversight of U.S. taxpayer dollars in Afghanistan, at least of the billions that are expected to go into reconstruction. Already the government has spent about $30 billion through contractors on reconstruction there, according to Bowen.

Bowen gave the Wartime Contracting Commission – which was set up by Congress to study and make recommendations on how to do contracting better, but has yet to release an interim report, yet alone the real one (which isn’t due until next summer) – a similar rendering. In the same February hearing, Thomas Gimble of the Defense Department inspector general’s office, told commissioners that there are 154 open criminal investigations into allegations of bribery, conflicts of interest, defective products, bid-rigging, and theft in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kuwait having to do with the military’s runaway spending on private contractors.

Just this month, April Stephenson, director of the Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA), told the commission that that the number of fraud investigations tied to KBR are "unprecedented" and suggested that as much as $4.3 billion might have been over-billed by the former Halliburton subsidiary, while some $3.3 billion in expenses wasn’t "supported" and another $550 million in expenses wasn’t "allowable." This all took place under the U.S. Army’s LOGCAP III (Logistics Civil Augmentation Program) contract, which covers all of the operations in the current war theater, including Afghanistan and is worth more than $16 billion to KBR.

According to investigative journalist Pratap Chatterjee, there is one KBR worker for every three U.S. soldiers in Iraq. "Obama needs to ask his Pentagon commanders: Can the U.S. military he has now inherited do anything without KBR? And the answer will certainly be a resounding no."

The military has been averse to resisting this stranglehold for many reasons, one being that the Pentagon believes it is saving an awful lot of money by contracting out the war. But more darkly, sources have testified that they did not question KBR’s more dubious practices or hold back payments, because they believed KBR might withhold goods and services for troops in the field or, at the very least, the military wouldn’t have had anyone else to turn to. Let’s face it: despite the slick, patriotic pose to the contrary, KBR is a business, with a bottom line. According to Jeffrey Parsons, head of the Army Contracting Command, which oversees LOGCAP, who also testified before the commission, "there was not any real backup plan. …This would have had to have been turned back over to the organic force, and it was questionable what that would’ve done."

The Army believed it was resolving at least some of the problems when it awarded LOGCAP IV last April. It split the monopoly KBR had on the massive cost-plus-award-fee rubric between DynCorp, the Fluor Corporation, and KBR. This left one commissioner befuddled.

"What does a contractor have to do to get the government not to contract with them?" asked Linda Gustitus. "We’ve gone through this litany of abuses from KBR … but, guess what, one of the contractors on LOGCAP IV is KBR."

Surging Into Afghanistan

When Obama was elected president, it wasn’t immediately clear to the American public what he had in mind for Afghanistan, but it became obvious – though not very well-publicized – back in January, when Walter Pincus of the Washington Post reported that the Army was building $1.1 billion worth of military bases and other facilities in Afghanistan and planning to start an additional $1.3 billion in projects this year.

"Massive construction of barracks, training areas, headquarters, warehouses, and airfields for use by U.S. and Afghan security forces – which could reach $4 billion – signals a long-term U.S. military commitment at a time when the incoming Obama administration’s policy for the Afghan war is unclear," according to Pincus. Since then, the administration has announced a sweeping new but "focused" strategy in Iraq that will include the addition of 21,000 troops, and more by 2010.

In April, the administration confirmed the combat numbers and announced a "civilian surge" in which U.S. State Department advisers (of whom it reportedly does not have enough to spare) will descend at some point on the country to help rebuild Afghan institutions, including its beleaguered and corrupted government ministries. Meanwhile, the military is also expected to engage in a massive drug interdiction effort as part of its overall counterinsurgency strategy of clear, hold, and build.

What this means to the private contracting industry is so far unclear, but we can guess it will be nothing short of a bonanza. At the height of the Iraq surge in late 2007, there were an estimated 180,000 contractors alongside a U.S. military force strength of 155,000. If there are some 71,000 contractors inside Afghanistan today, dwarfing the current number of U.S. military, which is 36,000 and climbing, well, we can do the math.

Hired Guns

Recently, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was asked to defend the ramped-up hiring and management of armed private security guards – of which there are now nearly 4,000 in Afghanistan on the U.S. government payroll – in light of myriad problems involving similar hired guns in Iraq. This came on the heels of reports since December that the Army was putting out bids for private guards to "protect the entry control points of the [U.S.] bases to prevent ‘threats related to unauthorized personnel, contraband, and instruments of damage, destruction, and information-collection from entering the installation.’"

The guards would be required to employ surveillance and counter-surveillance and be required to use “the appropriate force to neutralize any threat,” though they would be prevented from engaging in "offensive operations" alongside the military, and thus becoming full-fledged mercenaries.

"[This] would appear to dramatically expand the use of private security contractors in Afghanistan," complained Levin, who pointed out the "widespread abuses" of such notable security companies like Triple Canopy and Blackwater in Iraq. Five former Blackwater security guards are currently facing federal charges that they gunned down 17 unarmed Iraqi civilians in Nisoor Square in September 2007.

But there is one big difference when comparing the private security situation with Iraq: in Afghanistan, most of the hired guards are indigenous, not Western or international. In fact, only a fraction hold U.S. passports. Just before a Kabul crackdown on the private security contracting industry in 2007, there were some 120,000 men being employed by 2,000 militias.

These guns were – and still are – being hired out by private companies, including major ones with U.S. contracts, like DynCorp. Afghans today are frequently hired for embassy security details, and in addition to the base security, non-Americans are protecting critical U.S. military convoys coming down through Pakistan. Why not give the jobs to the locals, say defenders like Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). But others wonder how the military got to the point where it could not do the work itself.

"In Afghanistan, as in Iraq, security contractors have filled a power vacuum that was created when the administration opted for a military deployment with neither the size nor the mandate to stabilize the country," wrote Carl Robichaud for the Century Foundation in 2007. "The coalition’s inability to establish security, and its subsequent failure to stand up an effective police training effort, forced it to rely upon hired help."

Not much has changed. DynCorp still gets millions of dollars in U.S.-government contracts to reform and stand up the Afghan police, but according to Chatterjee, the $653 million already spent in this area has been an abysmal failure and the police are virtually useless. However, DynCorp thrives and is already looking forward to new contracts – funded with a fresh $2 billion under Obama’s plan. "[We're] seeing the potential for increased demand for our services in Afghanistan," said DynCorp CEO William L. Ballhaus in February.

Security training and protection – even the massive private mobilization to house, feed, clothe, transport, and guard U.S. military and other personnel – is one thing. There are also huge private contracts going to American companies involved in rebuilding and humanitarian aid. Afghanistan has received far less than Iraq for aid and reconstruction – about $6.9 billion through USAID since 2002 – and critics complain much of it has gone down the slippery black hole that is Kabul when it isn’t going into corporate bank accounts and the gleeful hands of local operators.

"Many contractors are widely regarded as inefficient, absorbing a high volume of funds in consultant costs and profits while providing work that is of variable quality, relevance, and impact, and all done with very little transparency," warned a recent field report by OxFam America [.pdf].

"I don’t think you’re going to see much difference," said Robert Young Pelton, war correspondent and author of License to Kill: Hired Guns in the War on Terror, who calls it all part of the "systematic abuse of our money by the Afghan government." The result: no one is happy.

Right now, "everybody is being whipsawed because they are trying to do both, they are fighting a war and doing nation-building," and there will be an ongoing need for private contractors, whether they be for security or otherwise, to fill the yawning gap. These days, he said, "it’s just the way wars are fought."

And lost, some might say. If the core of Obama’s new mission is to win over local populations in an effort to "clear, hold, and build," the looming shadow army and its formidable footprint on Afghanistan may not be an optimal selling point. But ironically, without it, there would be no chance for such a mission at all.

In 2007, war privatization expert Peter W. Singer, author of the Brookings report "Can’t Win With ‘Em, Can’t Go to War Without ‘Em: Private Military Contractors and Counterinsurgency," called war privatization "an addiction that is quickly spiraling to a breakdown" and asked whether "leaders have the will to just say no?"

It looks like, despite a new president and a new war strategy, the answer, sadly, is "no."

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Contractors involved in shooting are virtual prisoners, attorney says

Story Highlights :

Four former contractors held in a safe house in a mosque, attorney says

Paravant says former employees told not to leave country without U.S. approval

Sources say Paravant linked to firm with same owner as Blackwater

At least two Afghans wounded in shooting after car accident

(CNN) -- Four security contractors under investigation by the U.S. military for a shooting in Afghanistan are being held against their will by their former employer, their lawyer told CNN on Saturday.

Not true, says Paravant, the employer. It said that while the former employees have been "instructed not to leave the country without the approval and direction of the Department of Defense," they haven't been constrained by the company.

Paravant is affiliated with Xe, the new company name for the security contractor Blackwater Worldwide, according to sources familiar with the incident. Paravant is owned by Erik Prince, who is also the owner of Xe.

The Iraqi government says Blackwater security guards killed 17 Iraqi civilians in September 2007. Blackwater lost its contract there after Iraq's government refused to renew the firm's operating license.

Dan Callahan, the attorney for the four in Afghanistan, said Xe has been interviewing them about the May 5 incident in Kabul.

Callahan said the contractors acted appropriately in the incident, which began after a traffic accident.

He said one car slammed into another and the contractors got out to help the people who were rear-ended.

"The attacking vehicle did a U-turn and headed back at them, so they shot," Callahan said.

Two people were wounded.

The U.S. military provided a similar account of the incident, saying the contractors "were approached by a vehicle in a manner the contractors felt threatening."

Callahan said Xe is engaging in "false imprisonment" by keeping the men in a safe house in a mosque. They are mostly kept in one room but are free to leave that space and eat in other rooms. They've been able to get calls via Skype, the telephone service over the Internet, he said.

"They should be allowed to leave and not be treated as a pawn in negotiations with the Afghan government" to keep the company from losing its license to operate there, Callahan said.

The four have had their contracts terminated "for failure to comply with the terms of their contract, which require, among other things, compliance with all laws, regulations and company policies," Xe said.

Xe denied Callahan's claims about false imprisonment.

"Consistent with Paravant's obligation and desire to cooperate with the investigation, the company instructed the four terminated individuals to remain in Afghanistan pending approval from the proper DoD authorities," the company said.

It said the company continues to ask the Pentagon about the men's travel status.

"Paravant in no way has restrained these individuals. The company again renewed its request to DoD today to obtain assurance that the proper DoD authorities have granted permission for the four individuals to leave the country," it said.

One company source said that while the four are free to leave, the company won't buy them one-way tickets home and want the men to remain in the country for a meeting next week with military officials investigating the incident.

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U.S. military probes Blackwater Kabul killing

By Peter Graff
Sunday, May 17, 2009 3:09 AM

KABUL (Reuters) - The U.S. military is investigating a shooting incident in which four contractors from the re-named firm formerly called Blackwater are accused of killing an Afghan man after a traffic accident, a spokesman said on Sunday.

The military said it had asked the firm to keep the four men in Afghanistan until its investigation was complete. The firm said it was cooperating with the investigation and had fired the four men for failing to follow regulations.

A lawyer for the four men said they were being held against their will by the firm in Kabul.

The North Carolina firm, which once had a lucrative contract to defend U.S. diplomats in Iraq, has changed its name to Xe Services and lost its Iraq contract this year.

It gained notoriety in Iraq after its staff killed 17 civilians in Baghdad during a traffic incident in 2007. One Blackwater guard has pleaded guilty to manslaughter and other charges over that incident and five others are awaiting trial.

"At this time, we can confirm an incident involving some of our off-duty contractors for Paravant in Afghanistan," Anne Tyrell, spokeswoman for the firm, said in an e-mail to Reuters. She identified Paravant as a subsidiary of Xe, the renamed firm.

"Paravant terminated the contracts with the four individuals involved in the incident for failure to comply with the terms of their contract, which require, among other things, compliance with all laws, regulations, and company policies," she said.

U.S. military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Christian Kubik said the four men were employed to train Afghan troops.

After being involved in a car crash in Kabul on May 5, they fired on an oncoming car that they saw as a threat, wounding three Afghans, one of whom died two days later, Kubik said.

"The contracting company is cooperating with us. We have asked them to keep the individuals in-country until the investigation is complete," Kubik said.

"When you're talking about the death of an Afghan, that's very important to us. We want to get it right."

A U.S. lawyer, Daniel Callahan, who said he was representing the four men -- Chris Drotleff, Steve McClain, Justic Cannon and Armando Hamid -- said they were being held "captive" by the company at a "safe house" in a mosque in Kabul.

Xe spokeswoman Tyrell denied the men were being held, but said the company had told them they could not leave the country without the approval of the U.S. Defense Department, and the firm was trying to clarify whether they had permission to leave.

An Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman said he was looking into reports of the incident.

(Editing by Alex Richardson)

Published on Monday, May 18, 2009 by the Wall Street Journal

Killed Civilians Bring More Controversy for Blackwater

US Contractors Fired at Kabul Car

by August Cole

Four U.S. contractors affiliated with the company formerly known as Blackwater Worldwide fired on an approaching civilian vehicle in Kabul this month, wounding at least two Afghan civilians, according to the company and the U.S. military.

The off-duty contractors were involved in a car accident around 9 p.m. on May 5 and then fired on the approaching vehicle, which they believed to be a threat, according to the U.S. military. At least some of the men, who were former military personnel, had been allegedly drinking alcohol that evening, according to a person familiar with the incident. Off-duty contractors aren't supposed to carry weapons or drink alcohol.

The incident occurred at a delicate time for the U.S., which faces rising outrage from Afghan leaders over civilian casualties from U.S. airstrikes. For Xe, which is the name Blackwater chose this year to distance itself from its controversial security work in Iraq, the shooting comes as the Obama administration and Defense Secretary Robert Gates reconsider the role of military contractors, a practice that boomed during the Bush years.

The contractors were trainers hired by Paravant LLC, a subsidiary of Xe. Paravant has terminated contracts with the four men "for failure to comply with the terms of their contract," according to Xe spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell. "Contractual and or legal violations will not be tolerated," she said.

The contractors were ordered not to leave Afghanistan without permission of the Defense Department, she said, and the company said it is cooperating with authorities.

The U.S. military is investigating the incident, according to a May 7 news release that didn't name the company involved. The statement also said two Afghans received hospital treatment for their wounds.

Afghanistan's ambassador to the U.S., Said Jawad, said he is still waiting to learn the details from his Interior Ministry. "Blackwater has reached out to us and offered compensation to the families of the victims," he said. "The embassy has put them in touch with our Ministry of Interior."

Paravant was set up to subcontract to Raytheon Co. on a large U.S. Army training contract, according to a person familiar with the situation. Raytheon referred questions to U.S. Central Command, which runs the military effort in Afghanistan.

Large defense contractors typically rely heavily on specialized subcontractors when operating in hot spots such as Afghanistan and Iraq. Raytheon's use of Paravant is for a program called Warfighter Focus, a sweeping U.S. Army training effort valued at more than $11 billion over a 10-year period.

The incident comes at a transition point after Blackwater changed its name in February and Blackwater founder Erik Prince announced in March he was stepping back from day-to-day operations after bringing in new senior executives. The company, which has had problems with weapons-export paperwork and other back-office issues, also moved to shore up its operations after a meteoric expansion from a small training outfit founded in 1997 to the biggest U.S. private security company.

"While this kind of change does not happen overnight, we are confident that we have the right team in place to provide the best possible services to our customers," said Ms. Tyrrell.

Xe is now winding down its guard work in Iraq as the government there is effectively forcing them out after a 2007 shooting incident involving one of its State Department security teams left 17 Iraqis dead. The company is counting on offsetting that loss of business, for hundreds of millions of dollars a year, with contracts in Afghanistan doing everything from training to flying cargo for the U.S. military.

The May 5 shooting in Kabul is likely to further embolden critics of not only the company's tactics but also management of its contractors. A 2006 incident in Iraq also involved a Blackwater security contractor who shot and killed a bodyguard for Iraq's vice president on Christmas Eve.

-Yochi J. Dreazen and Siobhan Gorman contributed to this article.

Copyright ©2009 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.


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Why is Xe/Blackwater Still in Afghanistan?

May 19, 2009, 1:02PM

How is it with all of the incidents involving employees of Xe/Blackwater shooting civilians, that this company still receives its millions of dollars and is allowed to continue causing more harm than good? Last I heard, Iraq expelled the company from its borders (anyone know if that's correct?), so why are we still allowing these thugs to represent US interests at all?

Here's the latest from the Independent:

Four US contractors for the company formerly known as Blackwater were not authorised to carry weapons when they were involved in a deadly shooting in Afghanistan this month, the US military said today.

The men - accused of opening fire on a vehicle in the capital (Kabul) on 5 May - have charged that their employer, now called Xe, issued them guns in breach of the company's contract with the military. One Afghan was killed in the shooting, and two others wounded.

Xe has said its employees are not generally banned from carrying weapons in Afghanistan, though the authorization depends on the duties of the contractors. Anne Tyrrell, a spokeswoman for Moycock, N.C.-based Xe, declined to comment on the terms of this specific contract or say if the company issued guns to the men.

But the military told The Associated Press that the contract did not allow the men to keep guns on them.

The four American contractors claim they are being scapegoated by Xe, claiming that Xe issued them the guns. It surely wouldn't be surprising to anyone to find out that this was true, but still, opening fire on unarmed citizens after being involved in an accident is a hard one to explain away.

"While stopped for the vehicle accident, the contractors were approached by a vehicle in a manner the contractors felt threatening" and opened fire, the statement said.

Callahan -- the attorney who also represented the families of four Blackwater employees killed in Iraq in 2004 who sued the security company -- said the contractors were traveling in two vehicles when a car hit the first one. They had gotten out to give first aid when another car made a U-turn and drove toward them, he said.

"These four men drew their guns and shot," Callahan said.

The brother of one of the wounded Afghans has said the car was full of shopkeepers heading home from work who misinterpreted one of the Americans hitting the car as an order to move. Bullets started hitting the back of the Toyota Corolla as it drove off. A passenger was hit in the stomach and died two days later, said Shah Agha, whose brother Farid was driving the car. Farid was shot in the hand and another person was injured outside the vehicle, Agha said.

One would have a hard time arguing that Xe/Blackwater was responsible for these men using unauthorized weapons to kill a civilian. But the overall picture is still the same, employees of Xe/Blackwater have again found themselves in another incident of needless killing. Is it lack of training? Lack of accountability? Lack of any real oversight?

Isn't it time that we stopped this practice of hiring private contractors to do the jobs that our military has traditionally done? Wasn't the whole argument put forward by Donald Rumsfeld that private contractors were more efficient and cost-effective? Where is the evidence of this?


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