The United States military is in the process of taking bids from private war contractors to secure and ship massive amounts of US military equipment through sensitive areas of Pakistan into Afghanistan, where it will then be distributed to various US Forward Operating Bases and other facilities. According to the contract solicitation (PDF), "There will be an average of 5000" import shipments "transiting the Afghanistan and Pakistan ground lines of communication (GLOC) per month, along with 500 export shipments." The solicitation states that, "This number may increase or decrease due to US military transportation requirements," adding, "The contractor must maintain a constant capability to surge to any location within Afghanistan or Pakistan" within a 30-day period. Among the duties the contractor will perform is "intelligence, to include threat assessments throughout Afghanistan and Pakistan."
And while it seems the United States is trying to put a Pakistani or Afghan face on the work, the terms of the contract mandate that US personnel will be involved with inherently risky and potentially lethal operations. Among the firms listed by the Department of Defense as "interested vendors" are an Afghan company tied to a veteran CIA officer and run by the son of Afghan defense minister, General Abdul Rahim Wardak, and a Pakistani outfit with links to Blackwater.
Perhaps most striking about this US military contract solicitation is the admission by the military that contractors are being used for shipping and guarding military hardware as a runaround to the current official policy of the US and Pakistan governments that the US military does not conduct operations in Pakistan. "Due to current limitations on having US military presence in Pakistan and threat levels precluding US Military active involvement with the contractor ‘outside the wire’ in Afghanistan, the contractor must be proactive at identifying appropriate methods for obtaining the necessary in-transit visibility information," according to the contract solicitation.
Many of the companies that have currently expressed interest in the contract are registered as Pakistani or Afghan businesses. It is well established that the US military depends on Pakistani and Afghan intermediaries to pay off the Taliban and other resistance groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan to allow safe passage of US military hardware and other supplies, meaning the United States is effectively funding both sides of the war. As my colleague Aram Roston reported last year for The Nation, "US military officials in Kabul estimate that a minimum of 10 percent of the Pentagon’s logistics contracts–hundreds of millions of dollars–consists of payments to insurgents." Other US military sources have told me the number might be as high as 20 percent.
The current contracting arrangement for which the DoD is soliciting bids is essentially a more formalized way of doing the same thing. But while the contractor may place a Pakistani or Afghan stamp on the paper trail and allow the United States and Pakistan to deny that US personnel are involved, the security language of the solicitation actually mandates that US personnel work the operations.
According to the solicitation, the contractor must provide personnel "capable of facilitating, coordinating, obtaining, and reporting critical movement control data and information from the appropriate US government personnel at multiple locations." The personnel must "have the ability to obtain necessary identification…to gain access to base camps within Afghanistan without escort." Most importantly, "Personnel must have a valid US Secret Security Clearance." That level of clearance—"Secret"—cannot be issued to a foreign citizen, meaning that the contract actually necessitates US citizens working on the contract, presumably in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
This arrangement is not new. In fact, this is precisely the arrangement I reported on last year for The Nation (See "The Secret US War in Pakistan"). According to Blackwater and US military sources, US military shipments were being protected on a contract with Kestral Logistics, a powerful Pakistani firm, which specializes in military logistical support, private security and intelligence consulting. It is staffed with former high-ranking Pakistani army and government officials. A former senior Blackwater executive with experience in Pakistan told me that Kestral subcontracted to Blackwater and that "Blackwater has provided convoy security for Defense Department shipments destined for Afghanistan that would arrive in the port at Karachi. Blackwater, according to the former executive, would guard the supplies as they were transported overland from Karachi to Peshawar and then west through the Torkham border crossing, the most important supply route for the US military in Afghanistan." Blackwater, he said, was paid by the Pakistani government through Kestral for consulting services. "That gives the Pakistani government the cover to say, ‘Hey, no, we don’t have any Westerners doing this. It’s all local and our people are doing it.’ But it gets them the expertise that Westerners provide for [counterterrorism]-related work," according to the former Blackwater executive.
All of this is consistent with the US military’s current contract solicitation. What’s more, Kestral is listed as an "interested vendor" on the current DoD contract. According to federal lobbying records, Kestral has hired former Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roger Noriega, who served in that post from 2003 to 2005, to lobby the US government, including the State Department, USAID and Congress, on foreign affairs issues "regarding [Kestral’s] capabilities to carry out activities of interest to the United States." Noriega was hired through his firm, Vision Americas, which he runs with Christina Rocca, a former CIA operations official who served as assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs from 2001 to 2006 and was deeply involved in shaping US policy toward Pakistan. Since late 2009, Kestral has paid Vision Americas and a Vision Americas-affiliated firm, Firecreek Ltd., at least $60,000 to lobby on defense and foreign policy issues.
Another company that is listed as an "interested vendor" is NCL Holdings. "What NCL Holdings is most notorious for in Kabul contracting circles," according to Roston’s reporting for The Nation in November, "is the identity of its chief principal, Hamed Wardak. He is the young American son of Afghanistan’s current defense minister, Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak, who was a leader of the mujahedeen against the Soviets." Roston reported that NCL’s advisory board included Milton Bearden, "a well-known former CIA officer. Bearden is an important voice on Afghanistan issues; in October he was a witness before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where Senator John Kerry, the chair, introduced him as ‘a legendary former CIA case officer and a clearheaded thinker and writer.’ It is not every defense contracting company that has such an influential adviser." Bearden is no longer listed on NCL’s website as a member of the advisory board. Roston reported that in Afghanistan, "NCL, operating on a $360 million contract from the US military, and owned by the Afghan defense minister’s son, is paying millions per year from those funds to a company [Watan Risk Management] owned by President Karzai’s cousins, for protection." In a letter to a US Congressional committee after Roston’s story was published, NCL denied the allegations.
The bulk of the work in protecting US military shipments through Pakistan and Afghanistan is done for the military’s Surface Deployment and Distribution Command, which, according to the SDDC website, "support[s] the transportation management of freight such as tanks, fuel, ammunition, combat vehicles, food and other commodities to locations within CONUS [Continental United States] and throughout the world." According to the Afghanistan/Pakistan solicitation, the contractor will transport and secure "SDDC and other US military-sponsored shipments entering Pakistan via Karachi or Port Qasim (all terminals) and entering Afghanistan via the Chaman, Torkham, Hairaton, Sher Khan, and/or Towraghandi border crossings (import) and exiting Afghanistan and Pakistan via the aforementioned nodes (export). Additional entry and exit nodes may be added at the discretion of the US Government."
Once the contractor takes control of the military shipments, at "predestinated locations" throughout Afghanistan and Pakistan, the contractor is required to deliver reports back to the US military’s contracting command. These include "ports, border crossings, official and unofficial checkpoints and rest stops, and final destinations / base camps within the OEF (Operation Enduring Freedom) theater of operations."
Many of these shipments will come into Pakistan through the ports of Karachi and Qasim, and the military lists the following as potential additional areas through which shipments would pass:
• In Pakistan: Quetta, Peshawar, Torkham, and Chaman.
• In Afghanistan: Torkham, Chaman, Hairaton, Kabul (Supreme / Camp Phoenix / Afghan National Army-Afghan National Police Depots, Jalalabad, Bagram, Shank, Sharona, Salerno, Kandahar, and Bastion / Leatherneck.
The solicitation essentially leaves oversight of the shipments to a combination of technology and self-policing. Radio-frequency identification tags are placed on the cargo and the contractor is required to document the movement of the shipments using Hand Held Interrogator devices throughout the trip. Though they sound ominous, the HHIs are mobile devices commonly used in austere locations to transmit data. "Due to restrictions on the military presence at key logistical locations in Afghanistan and Pakistan," the solicitation states, "quality assurance on…shipments is problematic. Therefore, the contractor must document and report any deficiencies found." According to the solicitation, "Common violations" include: failure to properly secure cargo, failure to take proper measures to prevent damage, and improper use of US Government equipment."
Read the contract solicitation here (PDF).