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.