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Blackwater Wants to Surge Its Armed Force in Afghanistan

A newly released State Department audit of Blackwater praises the firm’s work as the US government weighs expanding Blackwater’s operations in Afghanistan.

by Jeremy Scahill

A just-released US State Department Inspector General's report [PDF] on Blackwater's work in Afghanistan reveals that Blackwater is proposing increasing its private armed forces in Afghanistan, particularly in Mazar-e-Sharif and Herat where the US is opening consulates. Blackwater is currently in the running for a $1 billion contract to train Afghanistan's national police force.

In general, the report praises Blackwater's work in protecting US diplomats and aid officials, saying its "personal protective services have been effective in ensuring the safety of chief of mission personnel in Afghanistan's volatile and ever-changing security environment." The Inspector General, however, criticized Blackwater for providing "inappropriate" training for its Afghanistan personnel pre-deployment, saying "before arriving in the country, personal security specialists did not receive a specific type of security training unique to operating in the Afghanistan environment," saying that "rather than taking courses in cultural awareness for Afghanistan, the specialists had been trained in Iraq cultural awareness."

The IG's report, which was completed in August, makes no mention of the May 2009 incident where Blackwater operatives allegedly killed two Afghan civilians sparking their arrest in the US on murder charges. That could be because those men worked on a Department of Defense training contract (not a State Department diplomatic security contract) for Blackwater subsidiary Paravant. Blackwater works for multiple federal agencies in Afghanistan. The IG's report focuses on the work of Blackwater's recently renamed US Training Center (USTC). "No one under U.S. Training Center's protection has been injured or killed, and there have been no incidents involving the use of deadly force," according to the report. The report was released before the December 30 suicide bombing of the CIA station in Khost, Afghanistan where at least two Blackwater operatives were killed while reportedly doing security for the CIA.

Since 2006, the State Department has spent $110 million on 119 Blackwater personnel in Afghanistan. It notes that earlier this year, 54 additional Blackwater personnel were added. Blackwater "has conducted missions in 24 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces," according to the report. As of April 2009, Blackwater had 94 Americans and 20 Colombians working on the State Department contract. Most of the Americans, according to the IG, had a special forces background.

According to figures provided to the Inspector general by Blackwater, in 2008 the company "conducted 2,730 personal protection missions in support of staff  from the Department of State, including the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, USAID, and various Congressional delegations."

In March 2009, the State Department decided to deploy 14 Foreign Service Officers to the new consulates in Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif. Blackwater subsequently submitted a proposal to add 67 personnel to each location, which seemed to raise some eyebrows at the State Department. The Regional Security Officer in Kabul, according to the IG report, "has reported that the security threat in Mazar-e-Sharif and Herat is considerably lower security than in Kabul."

In a revelation that should certainly spark another audit, the IG found that the State Department's Diplomatic Security (DS) division is not independently verifying Blackwater's invoices for the labor of its forces. "DS does not review or verify the accuracy of personnel rosters (muster sheets) prepared by USTC before they are submitted to USTC program management and subsequently to DS in the United States to ensure that contractor charges for labor are accurate." These "muster sheets" are "the basis for the [State] Department's payment" to Blackwater.

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