• Contractor Hired Former African Child Soldiers to Guard U.S. Forces in Iraq

    April 25, 2016 // 8 Comments »

    child merc

    A defense contractor hired mercenaries from Africa for $16 a day to guard American bases in Iraq, with one of the company’s former directors saying no checks were made on whether those hired were former child soldiers.

    The director of Aegis Defense Services between 2005 and 2015, said contractors recruited from countries such as Sierra Leone to reduce costs for the U.S. occupation in Iraq. He said none of the estimated 2,500 boys recruited from Sierra Leone were checked to see if they were former child soldiers who had been forced to fight in the country’s civil war.

    They were considered merely cheaper options to fulfill contracts to defend U.S. bases in Iraq, enabling Aegis to realize higher profits.

    Aegis had contracts from the U.S. government worth hundreds of millions of dollars to protect bases in Iraq. It originally employed UK, U.S. and Nepalese mercenaries, but broadened its recruitment in 2011 to include Africans as a cost-cutting/profit raising measure.

    I am saddened to say the use of children in this capacity in Iraq was an open secret. The guards at the forward operating base where I was located in 2009-2010 were obviously very, very young, often carrying weapons nearly their own height. They were kept isolated and segregated from the Americans so the two groups could not speak, ensuring the secret was nominally kept as everyone looked the other way.

    That child soldiers were present in this capacity was (to my knowledge, first) mentioned in my 2011 book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People (in the chapter titled “Tribes.”) Our military children happened to be from Uganda, not Sierra Leone, suggesting the practice was wide spread.

    In some happy news, in 2010, the mercs guarding the U.S. embassy in Baghdad were primarily from Peru, and appeared to be all adults.

    BONUS: The recruitment of African mercenaries and, more specifically, former child soldiers, is the subject of a new documentary (video clip, below) by Mads Ellesoe, a Danish journalist who spent two years researching the subject.

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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq, Military

    Mercenary: Mr. Van Buren is rooting for an al-Qaeda takeover in Africa

    January 25, 2014 // 16 Comments »

    Well, I’m not rooting for an al-Qaeda takeover in Africa, just to get that straight, though a “private military contractor,” a mercenary to the trade, or PMC to themselves in their fantasy world, thinks I am.

    Our PMC friend wrote the following (below) on a private PMC site, in response to an article I posted on Fire Dog Lake, titled “Any More U.S. “Stabilization” and Africa Will Collapse.” An acquaintance from Iraq with ties into the PMC world was kind enough to forward the comments to me.

    I think the comments speak for themselves, albeit with highlighting added, so let’s tuck into them:

    What is there to say about Peter Van Buren here except that he appears to be out of his depth:

    He makes many statements but provides no substantiation, e.g. Libya was democratized? When was that?

    He writes “many were more focused on the underlying U.S. motives, isolating the rest of Sudan as part of the war on terror, and securing the oil reserves in the south for the U.S.” but offers no proof as usual. If one looks at http://www.eia.gov/countries/cab.cfm?fips=SU they will see NO US company getting oil from South Sudan. BS from Van Buren.

    He offers empty words about US Special Forces in South Sudan and Santa Claus but nary a word of proof.

    He cites numerous examples given by Nick Turse of the U.S. military in Africa, e.g. training some forces in countries around Somalia and logistical support for Amisom. SO?? SO WHAT IS WRONG WITH THAT?

    Is Mr. Van Buren unaware of the al Qaeda link with al Shabob in Somalia? Is Mr. Van Buren asleep at the wheel?

    Then he shows even more ignorance with his “the government of Niger fell to its military”?! NO IT DIDN’T. What is Van Buren talking about?

    He incorrectly compares the US’s experience in Iraq and Afghanistan to that of nascent South Sudan.

    Quite simply apples and oranges and way too soon to make any serious observations on South Sudan. Van Buren further shows his illogic by comparing what the US did re the “coup”in Egypt to President Obama’s words of warning of any government toppling in South Sudan.

    Could you show us the double-down hypocrisy in the following words?? How is that warning about South Sudan a doubling-down of hypocrisy??

    “Obama, apparently unwilling to remember how he stood aside while an elected government recently fell apart in Egypt, went on to double-down on hypocrisy by stating in regards to South Sudan, ‘Any effort to seize power through the use of military force will result in the end of long-standing support from the United States and the international community.’ ”

    Van Buren writes, “Chaos has replaced stability in many places, and terrorists have found homes in countries they may have once never imagined.”?? More empty rhetoric from empty Van Buren. Could you cite some of those countries, Mr. Van Buren, or is that expecting too much scholarship from you?

    Apparently, Mr. Van Buren is rooting for an al-Qaeda takeover in Africa as that is what the US is there to prevent. His fulminations remind me of “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.” Shakespeare’s Macbeth

    We’re always interested in the marketplace of ideas on this blog, so any PMCs who wish to offer an alternative viewpoint are welcome to either post comments or email them to the blog directly.

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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq, Military

    God’s Will: Academi and Mercs at State

    June 14, 2012 // 9 Comments »

    I wrote recently about the return of Blackwater to the State Department, with the mercenary guns-for-hire company changing its name once again (now called Academi in a homage to bad spelling) and buying an existing contract to put it back into the State Department’s world.

    It gets creepier, as government seems to get these days.

    Slam Dunk on Inman

    Academi now boasts two celebrities on its Board of Directors, former attorney general John Ashcroft and retired admiral Bobby Inman. Ashcroft of course is Mr. Homeland Security, the guy who set in motion the smorgasbord of unconstitutional wiretapping, spying and detentions without trial that followed 9/11. He is also the guy who was so offended by the marble statues at the Department of Justice that he had them draped to hide classical nude details.

    From a State Department-Blackwater love fest perspective, Inman is a slam-dunk. Inside Foggy Bottom, Inman is permanently associated with the up-armoring of embassies abroad through the 1985 “Inman Report,” a call to arms that resulted in the moated, blast-proof, unapproachable fortress embassies America promotes its image through today. The Report was also the catalyst for the establishment of the part of the State Department which titularly oversees the deployment of mercenaries, everyone’s favorite Bureau of Diplomatic Security, DS. Inman’s word is gospel to DS, so his appearance on the Academi Board is no accident.

    Small World

    Keeping the circle of life theme going, Academi’s CEO Ted Wright used to be president of mega-contractor KBR, the firm Dick Cheney worked for and the firm that made billions running the backstage logistics portion of the Iraq and Afghan crusades. One of Academi’s VPs worked for Queen Noor of Jordan, and has ties to the Bush dynasty. It is indeed a small world.

    More creepiness?

    Academi, on its “pro shop” web site, sells God’s Will T-shirts, pictured above. Just the thing for the budding merc crusader to wear while gunning down Muslims for profit. Jeez, and people wonder why we’re not winning.

    A Devil’s Bargain

    In the days since 9/11, State has undergone a fundamental shift, one that has required the organization to make a Devils’ Bargain with mercenaries like Academi. Prior to 9/11, State’s policy was generally to evacuate embassies in countries at war, reinserting diplomats when things quieted down to the point that diplomacy was again possible. This strategy worked well for some 220 years of American history.

    After 9/11, State felt compelled to out-macho the military, to prove its manliness in the testosterone-fueled Bush (and now Obama) years. This meant opening and/or keeping open embassies in the midst of shooting wars, originally just in Iraq and Afghanistan, but now spread alongside America’s increasingly one-tune foreign policy of belligerence to places like South Sudan, Yemen and elsewhere in drone land. The US military, already stretched thin by endless war, has neither the forces nor the interest in guarding State’s pasty pseudo warriors, and so the Department of State is forced to turn to private armies, like Academi, mercenaries, to enable its macho posture abroad.

    I saw groups like Blackwater in action in Iraq, often alongside our own military. The mercs were what our military would be like without the NCO corps to enforce discipline, a frat house with guns, lots of guns. While State makes wordplay out of claiming to supervise its mercs, overpaid, ‘roided ‘dudes with guns named Smitty, J-Dub, Spider and the like take little notice when requested to follow the laws of war in protecting diplomats so far out of their environments. It is a situation that isn’t just likely to go wrong, it is one that practically demands to devolve into crisis.

    The solution is straightforward. State should understand and admit that it is neither equipped, trained nor needed for combat situations. State should take a step back from adventures that assure its role as negotiators, diplomats, public diplomacists and the like will be misunderstood at best, and refocus its resources away from spending billions on private armies. Until then, State is forced into bed with creepy organizations like Academi, and will suffer for it.

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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq, Military

    US Planning to Slash Iraq Embassy Staff by Up to Half

    February 7, 2012 // 4 Comments »

    The New York Times reports today that “less than two months after American troops left, the State Department is preparing to slash by as much as half the enormous diplomatic presence it had planned for Iraq, a sharp sign of declining American influence in the country.”

    The World’s Largest and Most Expensive Embassy will remain, in Baghdad, but mostly as a shell. The cutting in half of the Embassy staff only mere weeks after the military pulled out of Iraq can only be described as the reluctant admission by the Department of State of complete failure. Iraq spirals out of control around the Embassy, which is helpless even to send its diplomats outside the walls to see what is going on. State’s summer-long bragging about being able to assume the security and logistics duties of the departed military crumbled quickly.

    Cited by the Iraqis as deal-breakers were the January arrest of Embassy mercenaries foot loose in Baghdad, and the emergency landing of an Embassy helicopter in urban Baghdad, both reported on this blog but not too many other places.

    FYI, the photo above shows a piece of sculpture paid for by your tax dollars as part of a $25,000 art project the US ran in Iraq for the reconstruction effort. The failure of that reconstruction, largely because the money was wasted on idiotic crap like that eagle, explains why the State Department failed in Iraq.

    War’s finally over for the US. While my book about the failure of reconstruction in Iraq was called “We Meant Well,” I think my next volume is going to be called “I Told You So.”

    To the 4479 Americans who gave their lives in Iraq, and to the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who died during our invasion and occupation, I cannot disgrace you by saying you died in vain, so I shall only say, now, rest in peace.

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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq, Military

    US Embassy Helo Hella Fail in Baghdad

    January 27, 2012 // 1 Comment »

    The World’s Largest Most Expensive Embassy (c) maintains its own air force, several dozen helicopters and fixed wing aircraft. The aircraft ferry personnel in and out of Iraq (commercial air transport is considered unsafe so State Department personnel roll private from Amman or Kuwait into Baghdad), and move people around inside the country.

    The helicopters are also used by some of the 5,500 mercenaries hired to protect the Embassy, for observation and armed search and rescue missions when a diplo convoy gets ambushed along some freedom highway in Iraq.

    So it is a developing story that one of State’s merc helos went down inside Baghdad today and had to be rescued itself, eventually hauled back in shame into the Green Zone on a flatbed trailer with the Iraqi Army in support. Agence France-Presse on Twitter is the only outlet that even seems vaguely interested in a story that would represent a major diplomatic incident had it occurred in any other country.

    The Embassy states it was an “emergency landing” with no one hurt, but refuses further comment. Oh well, Iraq is a special place.

    For me, I tried as hard as possible to always fly Army while I was in Iraq. As recounted in We Meant Well, the closest I came to getting killed was when a State Department helicopter idiotically took off with me still standing next to it, the tail rotor swishing just over my head and the head of the bewildered crew chief the pilot accidentally left on the ground with me. The door was wasn’t closed and so the pilot also lost an unsecured weapon and some other items in his haste to depart. Army radios couldn’t contact the State helo radio, so we had to make a phone call to the Embassy to call the mercs to radio the helicopter to recall the helicopter.

    Until we know more about the downed helicopter, Embassy staffers are advised to buckle their seatbelts when in flight– it may be a bumpy ride.

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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq, Military

    More Questions Regarding Arrested Mercs in Iraq

    December 29, 2011 // 1 Comment »

    The story of three “security contractors” arrested by the Iraqi Army, held for 18 days without charges and then released after efforts by the World’s Largest Embassy (c) raise more questions than have yet been answered.

    Almost all of the information about the case comes from Congressman Peter King of New York. The men, two of them American citizen veterans and one from Fiji, were working for a security firm and were arrested by Iraqi Army forces in Mahmudiyah on December 9 but were not charged with any offense, said King. He went on to say that the three men were detained because the Iraqi military “did not like the ‘mission request authorization’ paperwork that had been issued by the Iraqi Ministry of Interior.”

    So, some questions:

    –Did the three men work for a State Department contractor? King implies they did, asking “We’re going to have thousands of contractors over there, including many Americans. Can the Iraqis just take them off the street and hold them? This is a terrible precedent.”

    –Which firm did they work for? Everything I have read about this case has been very particular not to identify the employer. Were they indeed private employees?

    –What were they doing in Mahmudiyah, a rural area south of urban Baghdad? One report says they were “escorting a logistical convoy” and may have gotten stopped at a checkpoint. Who else was in the convoy? What happened to the convoy? Were only the three mercs detained? Why?

    –Why did the State Department get involved in their release?

    –What was the nature of the State Department’s intervention to free the men?

    –Why did the Iraqis really arrest them?

    –What is a “mission request authorization”?

    And the big money question is… what does this incident have to say about the future of the World’s Largest Embassy (c) and the 5,500 mercs/security contractors they employ in Iraq? Is the Embassy going to spend its time putting out fires caused by the unusual non-so-diplomatic arrangements in Iraq, or is this just a beginners blip?

    “We have excellent people at the State Department with management, acquisitions, logistical, security, communications and medical skills,” Patrick Kennedy, who oversees the huge transition portfolio as the undersecretary of state for management said. “We are ready.”

    So that’s settled, for now, and at least he did not say “robust.”

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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq, Military

    US Mission to Iraq: 16,000 Personnel?

    November 14, 2011 // 5 Comments »

    Iraq, acting so so cute when it tries to seem like a real grownup sovereign nation, actually has asked the US to explain who all the 16,000 personnel that will make up the State Department’s mission in Iraq are.

    A member of the al-Iraqiya Bloc in the Iraqi Parliament has demanded the Iraqi government carry out an accounting of the people at the World’s Largest Embassy (c), including the estimated 5000 security contractors in charge of protecting the Embassy.

    “Iraq of 2012 shall be different than the previous years, as its doors are no longer open before whoever wishes to enter the country, under any name, and without knowing the foreign intelligence agency he belongs to and who had sent him and who he it would protect,” the Parliamentarian said. “It is necessary to carry out a complete counting for the contractors, in charge for the protection of the US Embassy in Baghdad, along with the total number of the Embassy’s staff, in order to know the real size of the Embassy and whether Iraq’s regulations allow the establishment of an embassy with such a large size.”

    So really, what are 16,000 people going to do everyday in Iraq on behalf of the US government?

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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq, Military

    Security in Iraq: We’re from the Government and We’re Here to Help

    September 14, 2011 // Comments Off on Security in Iraq: We’re from the Government and We’re Here to Help

    This won’t hurt a bit. After eight years of victories in Iraq, here’s what the State Department had to say in its September 13 travel warning for Iraq:

    The Department of State warns US citizens against all but essential travel to Iraq given the dangerous security situation. Civilian air and road travel within Iraq remains dangerous… violence and threats against U.S. citizens persist and no region should be considered safe from dangerous conditions. Attacks against military and civilian targets throughout Iraq continue, including in the International (or “Green”) Zone (IZ).

    The US Embassy is located in the International Zone (IZ) in Baghdad. The IZ is a restricted access area. As of June 30, 2009, Iraqi authorities assumed responsibility for control of the IZ. Travelers to the IZ should be aware that Iraqi authorities may require special identification to enter the IZ or may issue IZ-specific access badges. Some terrorist or extremist groups continue to target US citizens for kidnapping.

    State Department guidance to US businesses in Iraq advises the use of protective security details. Detailed security information is available at the US Embassy website

    Hmmm. So, after eight years and 4474 dead Americans, Iraq still unsafe. Check. Iraq controls Green Zone which Americans call the International Zone so you can’t even get to the Embassy for help as an American unless the Iraqis approve. Check. Detailed info on the Embassy website. Check.

    OK, motoring over to the Embassy website for some detailed info. Front page features Hillary and a “soft” power story on woodworking. No detailed security information. OK, how about clicking on Emergency Messages. Sounds important.

    Under Emergency Messages the last Iraq-specific message is dated July 15, some two months old and that just repeats the heads-up that Americans can be kidnapped in Iraq. Check. Another kidnapping message is there, this one from May, which starts with the line “As the United States has stated publicly, Iraq continues to make significant progress on security with the assistance of American Forces” and then goes on to say you’ll be kidnapped for money and refers back to the main State website for details, which refers you back to the Embassy web site, which refers you back to the main State website… You get it.

    Not much help, so let’s click on Local Resources, then Security Companies. Ah hah, here is the meaty goodness we have been looking for. The US Embassy helpfully lists twelve firms that can supply you with your own mercenaries to accompany you on a jaunt through Iraq. It is unclear which if any of these are front companies for Blackwater, but it is odd that for the US Embassy, all but two of the firms listed are outside the United States. Most are in Britain or Dubai. What up American Embassy? Aren’t American mercenaries good enough for your freaking website? Show a little Flag people, help create jobs in America. Our mercenaries are as good as any foreign merc, except for those accents, which are kind of sexy.

    Clicked on a few links to these security companies, but no one lists prices. What does a mercenary cost these days anyway? Nothing on Angie’s List either. A promising one is AKE, which provides secure lodging in Iraq for you, featuring free WiFi (!) and “a bar with good atmosphere.” Lots of email addresses; I sent a few off, asking what the going rate for killing an Iraqi on my command might be, but so far no response.

    And that’s about it for the detailed information promised to travelers by the State Department. Travelers, please note that the World’s Largest Embassy (c) in Baghdad is closed both US and Iraqi holidays (so as not to miss a day off, the Embassy helpfully advises that “In keeping with the spirit of the Monday Holiday Bill, the intention of which is to provide three-day holiday weekends, US holidays covered by the Monday Holiday Bill will be observed on Sundays”, so if you are kidnapped on Columbus Day, please wait until the next business day to call and plead for your life.

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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq, Military

    Blackwater Faces Another Suit for Cheating State Department

    July 15, 2011 // Comments Off on Blackwater Faces Another Suit for Cheating State Department

    It is beginning to become more and more clear why these wars are so darn expensive: the State Department keeps tossing away money on things they never receive.

    Employees of the security contractor previously known as Blackwater filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the company. The lawsuit in US District Court alleges that Blackwater (now known as “Mr. John Smith”) overbilled for protecting State Department employees in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Specifically, the lawsuit alleges that Blackwater billed the State Department for sniper services from one individual who sat behind a desk, probably without a rifle. In at least one other case, the company allegedly billed for services provided by a marksman who had failed a required drug test. A spokesman for Moyock, N.C.-based mercenary company declined comment, citing the pending legal action.

    In addition to the ongoing hilarity involving anything “contracty” that the State Department touches in Iraq and Afghanistan, the steady drumbeat of these kinds of lawsuits and investigations drives home the point that after ten years of wars of terror, State still has not figured out how to supervise the thuggish contractors they employ. It is equally clear that those contractors sure as hell have figured out the game, and feel free to shoot people, double bill or just outright steal money, knowing the consequences of getting caught are few.

    Kinda like working for the White House, consequence-free no matter what happens. Viva!

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    Posted in Embassy/State, Iraq, Military