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The Nation

Pentagon Seeks Private Contractor to Move Weapons Through Pakistan/Afghanistan

Jeremy Scahill

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
[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 US 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 firm tied to a veteran CIA officer
and run by the son of Afghan defense minister, Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak,
and a Pakistani firm 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 run-around 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
the Taliban and other
resistance groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan to allow safe passage of
US military hardware and other supplies, meaning the US 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 US 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

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
[6] 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

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. RFID (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]

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