SIGN IN to access Harper’s Magazine
1. Sign in to Customer Care using your account number or postal address.
2. Select Email/Password Information.
3. Enter your new information and click on Save My Changes.
Subscribers can find additional help here. Not a subscriber? Subscribe today!
The American decision to rely more heavily on contractors and to downplay the use of uniformed military in Afghanistan has led to a sharp detour in the process of nation-building, a Senate Armed Services Committee report (PDF) has concluded. To meet their security concerns, the contractors have turned to “warlords and strongmen linked to murder, kidnapping [and] bribery.” The report also documents incidents in which contractors have tendered payments to the Taliban.
In her summary of the report for the Washington Post, Karen DeYoung presents an almost surreal case study:
ArmorGroup, according to the report, subcontracted the task to two men identified in company documents as local “warlords,” whom it nicknamed “Mr. White” and “Mr. Pink” after characters in the 1992 Quentin Tarantino movie “Reservoir Dogs,” about hapless criminals who turn on each other after a jewelry heist. At least one of the two was recommended to ArmorGroup by military personnel at a U.S. forward operating base adjacent to the air base, the report said.
In July 2007, Mr. White was ambushed and shot just outside the air base, leading guards loyal to him to leave their posts and seek revenge against Pink forces they believed responsible. White survived but was killed by Pink in a firefight in the local bazaar that December. Pink was reportedly “holed up with the Taliban” after the shooting, the report said.
Despite his reported Taliban links, ArmorGroup continued to employ Pink, identified in U.S. military documents as a “mid-level Taliban manager,” until the contractor received reports that guards under Pink’s command were providing him with military security information.” Meanwhile, the contractor replaced White with his brother, identified as Mr. White II.
The report focuses on the failure of management by the Defense Department. “Our reliance on private security contractors in Afghanistan has too often empowered local warlords and powerbrokers who operate outside the Afghan government’s control and act against coalition interests,” said Committee Chair Carl Levin (D., Mich.), echoing the report’s major conclusions. “This situation threatens the security of our troops and puts the success of our mission at risk.” Indeed, it reveals what those on the ground have long observed: private security contractors often work at cross purposes with U.S. counterinsurgency policy.
More from Scott Horton:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
On a Friday evening in January, a thousand people at the annual California Native Plant Society conference in San Jose settled down to a banquet and a keynote speech delivered by an environmental historian named Jared Farmer. His chosen topic was the eucalyptus tree and its role in California’s ecology and history. The address did not go well. Eucalyptus is not a native plant but a Victorian import from Australia. In the eyes of those gathered at the San Jose DoubleTree, it qualified as “invasive,” “exotic,” “alien” — all dirty words to this crowd, who were therefore convinced that the tree was dangerously combustible, unfriendly to birds, and excessively greedy in competing for water with honest native species.
In his speech, Farmer dutifully highlighted these ugly attributes, but also quoted a few more positive remarks made by others over the years. This was a reckless move. A reference to the tree as “indigenously Californian” elicited an abusive roar, as did an observation that without the aromatic import, the state would be like a “home without its mother.” Thereafter, the mild-mannered speaker was continually interrupted by boos, groans, and exasperated gasps. Only when he mentioned the longhorn beetle, a species imported (illegally) from Australia during the 1990s with the specific aim of killing the eucalyptus, did he earn a resounding cheer.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A tourism company in Australia announced a service that will allow users to take the “world’s biggest selfies,” and a Texas man accidentally killed himself while trying to pose for a selfie with a handgun.
Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!
“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”