"Money is ammunition; don't put it in the wrong hands," Gen. David Petraeus warned in an August memo that gave counterinsurgency (COIN) guidance. But apparently the U.S. government is doing just that. Yesterday, the Senate Armed Services Committee released a report detailing examples where the U.S. has fueled warlords connected with the Taliban and Iranian intelligence. This is at least the third government report made public that asserts that weak contract oversight is undermining U.S. efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan--in sum, we may be funding the very folks we're fighting against.
According to the Senate report, its "inquiry uncovered evidence of private security contractors funneling U.S. taxpayers dollars to Afghan warlords and strongmen linked to murder, kidnapping, bribery as well as Taliban and other anti-Coalition activities." The report delves into numerous problems connected to the more than 26,000 private security personnel in Afghanistan, an estimated 90 percent of whom are funded through U.S. contracts or subcontracts. The issues range from untrained guards to insufficient weaponry to unmanned posts.
The report focused on two main case studies. One of these is on an Air Force Center on Energy and Environment contract to Environment Chemical Corporation (ECC) to plan and do the construction of an expansion of an airbase in Herat province in western Afghanistan. ECC in turn hired ArmorGroup North America--a company POGO readers should be very familiar with--to provide security at the airbase. ArmorGroup turned to local warlords to provide most of the guard force manpower beginning in June 2007. A dispute between two rival warlords, dubbed Mr. Pink and Mr. White, who were both providing guard force manpower, led to shootouts between them and guards attempting to leave their posts. When White was killed, ArmorGroup had no choice but to stick with the rival, Pink, for more than a month, "despite reports linking Pink to the Taliban."
Eventually ArmorGroup severed the link to Pink, but only after there were reports that Pink's men "were sending information to Mr. Pink 'regarding our movements to and from Herat, the routine of the airfield security,' and 'attempting to coerce fellow members of the guard that they should join with Pink,'" according to the Senate report, which quotes from ArmorGroup documents. After receiving this information, ArmorGroup had "very little choice" but to fire Pink's men "particularly in light of Pink's move to the Taliban," the Senate report says. Pink was later called a "mid-level Taliban manager," by a member of the U.S. military.
ArmorGroup then went with White's successor, called Mr. White II, to provide security. White II was killed during an August 2008 U.S. military raid on a Taliban meeting--being held at White II's home! According to the Senate report:
A post-raid U.S. Army investigation found that some of the anti-Coalition militia "may have been security contractors or subcontractors for ArmorGroup." In fact, Mr. White and seven men employed as security guards for either ArmorGroup or AGMA [ArmorGroup Mine Action] were killed in the operation.
While ArmorGroup North America got rid of White II's men, ArmorGroup Mine Action (AGMA), another division of the same company on a different contract, kept the men and hired the brothers of men killed in the raid. They reached an agreement with White II's brother, called, drum roll please, Mr. White III. Despite internal questions about their "potential threat," AGMA kept White II's men on the payroll until the end of their United Nations contract in December 2008.
-- Nick Schwellenbach
See also: POGO's resource page for Government Oversight of Private Security Contractors in Afghanistan and Iraq