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US Power,Occupation and Morality

 

By Imtiaz Gul

Weekly Pulse Sep 10, 2009

As the US and British forces battle the hardened Taliban militants and the politico-military surge continues, an independent watchdog group, the Project on Government Oversight, delivered to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a video of scantily-clad security guards of the US embassy in Kabul dancing around a bonfire and urinating while others snap photographs. A video of other guards pouring alcohol down the bare backside of a new recruit and trying to drink it as it spills from the man's buttocks is also part of the report which flashed around the world in the first September week appear to show security guards employed at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul in some highly embarrassing moments. (September 3, 2009 Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty).

This is the latest of a series of abuses, misconduct and human rights violations by US soldiers or their private counterparts, hired to do jobs that the officials agencies cannot or do not want to perform.

Citing written and video materials, the group accuses private security contractor Armor Group North America, which provides security guards for the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, of "grossly deficient" management that it says poses "a significant threat to the security of the embassy and its personnel -- and thereby to the diplomatic mission in Afghanistan."

Armor Group is a subsidiary of the Florida-based Wackenhunt Services, which did not comment on the report. It is under a five-year, $189 million contract that was extended in June through July next year. It is just one of the several contracts handed to private security groups such DynCorp, Black Water, and some other affiliates of G4S – the largest private security network in the United States. They are all busy world over – looking after the US military and political interests. Taking care of their security, training and rescue and surveillance missions, airbases’ operations, logistics are all part of the jobs these companies are providing in the Gulf, Iraq, Afghanistan, and now in Pakistan.

The Project on Government Oversight, according to RFE/Radio Liberty, characterized the atmosphere among the private security guards in Kabul as a "Lord of The Flies environment," in reference to the allegorical novel by William Golding in which schoolboys stuck on a deserted island turn into sadists, against a backdrop of fear and chaos.

U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly told a September 2 press briefing that the State Department was investigating and this meant that private security contractors were, are under increasing scrutiny. A report by the Congressional Research Service, posted online last week of August by Secrecy News, a publication of the Federation of American Scientists, says that the Department of Defense had 68,197 contractors in Afghanistan as of March, outnumbering military service members at the time by nearly 16,000.

This means private contractors now outnumber U.S. uniformed soldiers in Afghanistan by the highest ratio of contractors to military personnel in the U.S. history.

The unusually high soldier to contractor ratio also explains where the billions of dollars the Bush administration and its successor have claimed to be pumping into Afghanistan since the ouster of the Taliban regime.

Currently about 450 guards are looking after 1,000 U.S. diplomats, staff, and Afghan nationals work at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. Some 150 of them are Americans or from other English-speaking countries, while the remaining 300 are identified by the Project on Government Oversight as Gurkhas from northern India and Nepal -- some of whom speak little or no English.

Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, told media in Washington that the incidents her organization recorded are "not just a bunch of guys who are blowing off steam. It's supervisors who are...predatory, who are engaging young recruits into this really weird, deviant behavior."

These revelations were the latest in a series of allegations of misconduct by private security contractors currently providing security services to the U.S. government in Iraq and Afghanistan. Abu Ghraib, Bagram and Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo Bay also became notorious for the same reasons.

Accompanying such news are deadly strikes on suspected Taliban targets that entail huge collateral damage and thus provide the insurgents with greater justification for their bloody campaign. NATO's deadly air strike against insurgents in Kunduz province north of Afghanistan early September 4, which killed over 100 people, was the latest strike that has caused grief and fury among locals.

Experience on ground that we have gathered in Afghanistan suggests that misconduct and abuse of authority becomes automatic, something self-understood in a war zone. Young soldiers, and more so mercenaries provided by private security companies such as DynCorp Inc., Wackenhunt G4S, and ArmorGrouhp, do tend to conduct themselves in a princely way. Operating under continuous stress conditions turn them into trigger-happy adventurers who would give a damn to the life of an Afghan. Apprehensive of an ambush or an improvised explosive device, the ISAF-NATO or US military convoys move on the roads of Kabul or elsewhere with disdain for life around them. Their prime concern is to move as swiftly and safely as possible. And this has caused quite a few outrages. In May, 2006 for instance, ISAF tanks had trampled a few vehicles and thereby invited countrywide protests, which left at least seven dead.

These incidents in Iraq and Afghanistan also underscore that outsiders – drunk with a sense of superiority and arrogance – display little regard for the local cultural and social sensitivities. This results in the kind of videos that Ms Clinton has been handed. It also entails a lesson for us all; while operating outside their own country, foreign soldiers and mercenaries can at times act to the detriment of peace and respect for law and human rights. And this obviously goes against the stated objectives of the invasion and occupation i.e. peace and stability in the target areas. Regardless of the stated objectives, these large-scale operation do ensure tough terrain training, and huge economic dividends for the private security business as well as for US corporations such MAIN, Bechtel, Louise Berger, Halliburton, who have all been reaping dividends of the US-led invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. Now they will fall over one another for share in the funds destined for Pakistan on their way to further prosperity – irrespective of what these funds bring to Pakistan.

(The author heads the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad. And the author of a recent Penguin publication “The Al-Qaeda Connection – Taliban and Terror in Tribal Areas.”

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk