WASHINGTON Dec 8: “The contractor must maintain a constant capability to surge to any location within Afghanistan or Pakistan” within a 30-day period, says an official US announcement released in 2010.
The announcement — highlighted by The Nation, the oldest US weekly, in May 2010 — solicits bids from private war contractors to secure and ship US military equipment through sensitive areas of Pakistan into Afghanistan.
Among the duties the contractors were required to perform was “intelligence, to include threat assessments throughout Afghanistan and Pakistan”.
The solicitation notice — almost completely ignored by the Pakistani media — also underlines the enormity of the task: “There will be an average of 5,000” import shipments “transiting the Afghanistan and Pakistan ground lines of communication (GLOC) per month, along with 500 export shipments”.
The terms of the contract indicate that US personnel were directly involved in these operations, although a bulk of the force was hired locally, in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Ninety American contractors were among the 65,000 people killed in Pakistan in 17 years.
A May 25, 2010 article in The Nation, by journalist Jeremy Scahill, points out that among the firms listed by the US Department of Defence as “interested vendors” were an Afghan firm tied to a veteran CIA officer and run by the son of a former Afghan defence minister, Gen Abdul Rahim Wardak, and a Pakistani firm with links to Blackwater, a private security company based in the US.
Although often highlighted in the US media, the mysterious world of private contractors drew little attention in Pakistan until recently, when a report by the Brown University’s Costs of War Project mentioned that 90 American contractors were among the 65,000 people killed in Pakistan in the last 17 years.
The activities of private contractors in Pakistan did not receive much attention in the US media either, mainly because the death tolls in Afghanistan and Iraq were much higher.
According to the Brown University report, a total of 7,820 private American contractors have been killed since 2001. Of them 3,937 were killed in Afghanistan, 3,793 in Iraq and 90 in Pakistan.
For most Pakistanis, even 90 contractors are far too many as the number makes them realise that hundreds of private American contractors have been operating in their country without their knowledge.
But the 2010 solicitation expla¬ins why the United States had to hire a large number of private contractors in Pakistan. It identifies “current limitations on having US military presence in Pakistan and threat levels precluding US Military active invol¬vement” as the main reasons for hiring private contractors.
Defining a contractor’s functions, the solicitation states: “The contractor must be proactive at identifying appropriate methods for obtaining the necessary in-transit visibility information.”
Although no official statistics are available about the total number of American contractors deployed in Pakistan, in 2012 the US Central Command informed Congress approximately 137,000 contractors were working for the Pentagon in the greater Middle East region that includes Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan.
Of that total, 40,110 were US citizens, 50,560 were local hires, and 46,231 were from neither the US nor the country in which they were working.
“These numbers do not reflect the totality of contractors. For example, they do not include contractors working for the US State Department,” journalist David Isenberg wrote in the Time magazine on October 9, 2012.
According to the US Department of Defence data, at the peak of their deployment (2008-2011) contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan represented 52 per cent of the total force, averaging 190,000 contractors to 175,000 uniformed personnel.
Focusing on the situation in Pakistan, journalist Antony Loewenstein, wrote in an Australian publication in April 2012 that in Pakistan “private security is a state within a state”.
He wrote that a total of 62 retired military officials were running these private companies and at least half of them “had been arrested and then released for corruption and working for the Americans”.
According to him, “the most revealing company name” on the 2012 list was G4S Wackenhut Pakistan. G4S is a British behemoth in the security industry with a troubling human rights record.
A January 2010 report of the Foreign Policy (news site) also covers the period when private security was its peak in Pakistan. It notes that in 2010, the top UN security official, Gregory Starr, the former head of US State Department Security, advocated an increase in the use of private security firms in Pakistan.
The report notes that the UN “accelerated its move toward hired guns” in Pakistan after the Taliban launched an attack against a UN residence in October 2009, killing five UN employees.
The report also identifies some of the companies active in Pakistan in that period, including Blackwater/Xe, Triple Canopy, Dyncorps and Aegis. Most of them have now hired local partners.