Thursday, October 7

Senate study finds major U.S. military contractors hiring Taliban and warlord subcontractors in Afghanistan

This is not the same inquiry I discussed last week; that one was an inquiry carried out by USAID's Office of Inspector General into allegations that USAID contractors were paying protection money to the Taliban. This inquiry focused on contractors and subcontractors for the U.S. military; here's the PDF for the report that resulted. Nathan Hodge summarizes the findings for The Wall Street Journal:
... A yearlong investigation by a Senate panel has found evidence that the mostly Afghan force of private security guards the U.S. military depends on to protect supply convoys and bases in Afghanistan is rife with criminals, drug users and insurgents.

The Senate Armed Services Committee inquiry, based on interviews with dozens of military commanders and contractors and a review of over 125 Pentagon security contracts, found evidence of "untrained guards, insufficient and unserviceable weapons, unmanned posts" and other failings that put U.S. troops at risk.

More alarming, the report alleges that some local warlords who have emerged as key labor brokers for private security firms are also Taliban agents.

Sen. Carl Levin (D., Mich.), the chairman of the committee, said failures to adequately vet private security contractors in Afghanistan poses "grave risks" to U.S. and allied troops. The overall lack of proper contractor supervision, he added, poses a fundamental threat to the U.S. mission.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has ordered that all security firms in Afghanistan be dissolved by the end of the year, though that process has only just begun. Coalition officials have supported the effort because of concerns about the private forces, but say the alternative—the Afghan police—isn't yet competent enough to take over the job.

The majority of the private security contractors are Afghan; companies employing them are both international and locally based. The Senate inquiry focuses on the role of Department of Defense contractors, but the State Department also employs private guards.

According to U.S. Central Command figures cited in the report, Afghanistan has more than 26,000 private security personnel, 90% of whom are working under U.S. government contracts or subcontracts.

Doug Brooks, the president of International Peace Operations Associations, a group that represents security firms, said the report highlights the difficulty in complying with contract requirements to provide local hires.

"There's not a huge amount of choice in the local hires they can use," he said. "Where are they going to get guys who have never smoked hashish, who have never worked for the Taliban or who have never considered joining the Taliban?" ...
Hodge goes on to detail two of the large security contractors that have come under scrutiny -- one in the USA and the other in the U.K.

GlobalPost, the news organization that broke the story about USAID contractors, examines for Friday's edition whether US funding for the Taliban can be stopped and notes that counterinsurgency theory "bumps up against some hard realities in Afghanistan."

Not to keep pounding the lectern but this is what happens when the aim of warfare gets lost.

In any event, the Senate inquiry brings out one of the worst consequences of the contractor situation: the pay for such work has lured thousands of Afghans away from work in the Afghan army and police.

So talk about shooting oneself in the foot; the use of so many contractors has worked directly against the counterinsurgency plan, which depends on beefing up the country's defense and policing forces. And it took a yearlong inquiry to figure this out?

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