Commentary on the economic , geopolitical and simply fascinating things going on. Served occasionally with a side of snark.
Friday, May 30, 2014
War Watch May 30 , 2014 -- Regardless of troop levels remaining in Afghanistan after the end of 2014 ( allegedly 9800 for 2015 , half of that for 2016 and then complete removal at the end of 2016 ) , an army of private contractors will be in country ...... ....... Iraq death dealing continues unabated ...... ...... Libya’s Dueling PMs Add to Uncertainty Over Parliament’s Future Already Facing Coup, Parliament's Internal Split Grows ........ Syria Updates from Syria Direct
WEDNESDAY, MAY 28, 2014 09:35 AM EDT
Exclusive: New document details America’s war machine — and secret mass of contractors in Afghanistan
What is a huge army of private contractors secretly doing in Afghanistan? A leaked PowerPoint presentation explains
A U.S. soldier stands at the site of a suicide car bomb attack in Kabul February 10, 2014. A car bomb in the Afghan capital Kabul killed two United States contractors for the international security force ISAF on Monday, the NATO-led force and a U.S. official said. (Credit: Reuters/Mohammad Ismail)
On Tuesday, following his surprise Memorial Day visit to Bagram Air Force Base outside Kabul, President Obama announced that the United States plans to keep at least 9,800 U.S. troops in Afghanistan until 2016, further delaying the end of what he calls “America’s longest war.”
But in his remarks at the White House, the president didn’t say that the nearly 10,000 U.S. troops he’s asking to remain in an “advisory role” will be augmented by a huge army of private contractors. As they have in Iraq, contractors will vastly outnumber the U.S. uniformed forces training Afghan troops as well as the special operations forces providing counterterrorism operations against what the president called “the remnants of al-Qaida.”
The role of contractors in the Afghanistan war is spelled out in a document obtained by Salon from SAIC, one of the nation’s largest military and intelligence contractors. The document, an unclassified PowerPoint presentation, shows exactly how contractors have been used in that war since 2009, when Obama endorsed a surge of 33,000 troops and a counterinsurgency strategy in the war against the Taliban. Those policies increased the U.S. presence in Afghanistan to more than 100,000 troops.
One of the PowerPoint slides defines the four “mission areas” of the company’s five-year, $400 million contract with the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, which provides contracted services to other combat commands, special forces and other parts of the U.S. military. They are “Expeditionary Warfare; Irregular Warfare; Special Operations; Stabilization and Reconstruction Operations.”
There, in black and white, is proof positive of how deeply contractors have penetrated the U.S. war machine.
“We’ve already taken public functions and privatized them,” said Lawrence Wilkerson, a retired U.S. Army colonel who was the chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell during the Bush administration, in a recent interview with Salon. “But this is an example of privatizing the ultimate public function, war.”
The PowerPoint was created by SAIC to help its subcontractors understand the Army’s needs in the contract, which was signed in 2010. The ARL, which is based in Adelphi, Maryland, just outside of Washington, provides the “underpinning science, technology, and analysis that enable full-spectrum operations” by the U.S. military, its website says.
According to SAIC, the ARL is the “execution agency in support of” all U.S. combatant commands, the United States Special Operations Command as well as the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, which funds much of the U.S. military’s high-tech wizardry. “It is an SAIC contract vehicle to support COCOMs, DARPA and SOF, yet it can and has gone beyond this market as approved by ARL,” one slide states. It adds: “SAIC staff is very well matched with ARL counterparts.”
An ARL spokesperson confirmed that the PowerPoint presentation was authentic. A spokesperson for SAIC, which recently changed the name of its national security division to Leidos, would not comment, and directed my questions to the Army.
In addition to SAIC, the “ARL III” contract has 11 primes and more than 180 subcontractors, according to a project manager for the project. The primes include such well-known providers of weapons and intelligence as Raytheon, BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin and ManTech. Another major prime is General Atomics, which manufacturers the drones used extensively in Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa, including the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper (it tags its ads with the slogan “dwell, detect, destroy”).
The SAIC document was obtained from a source working for one of the subcontractors on the ARL project who asked that his identity, and the name of his employer, be kept secret. He also provided a copy of his company’s teaming agreement with SAIC for its work in Afghanistan with DARPA under the ARL contract. It states that “the Army Research Laboratory is planning to issue a solicitation for classified work in support for DARPA requirements … The parties wish to establish a team arrangement in the form of a prime contractor/subcontractor relationship pursuant to which SAIC will act as the prime.”
Under the contract, the primes and their subcontractors provide typical technologies used by U.S. forces, including electronic and electro-optic equipment, systems integration software, energy generation and storage, as well as body armor and cold weather gear. But it also calls for contractors to provide software for “data analysis and intelligence tools,” as well as “individual and platform lethality.” The latter should be designed for “enhanced lethality, including accuracy, destructive capabilities, and speed of engagement for U.S. Army and USSOCOM individuals and platforms (air, land, sea).”
The contract ends in 2015, and “is being prepared now for recomplete,” the SAIC document says.
Using contractors to supply or enhance weapons is not unusual. But expeditionary warfare, stabilization and reconstruction operations, and intelligence services are tasks that most Americans believe are the sole job of the government or the military.
Thomas A. Moyer, ARL’s public affairs director, told me that those areas don’t fit the legal definition of “inherently governmental,” the term for functions reserved only for men and women in uniform or government employees. “These type [of] activities do not require either the exercise of discretion in applying government authority, or the making of value judgements in making decisions for the government,” he said in an email.
I passed this exchange by a former high-ranking general who served in Afghanistan and later worked as a U.S. diplomat. “That makes my eyes water,” he said. The companies involved in the ARL contract, he explained, represent “an entirely new set of actors” who have come to prominence during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Under the new plan for Afghanistan, which the president is outlining in a speech Wednesday at West Point, U.S. forces will no longer be involved in direct combat after 2015 with the exception of counterterrorism operations directed against the Taliban and remnants of al-Qaida. Those operations would undoubtedly be led by the U.S. Special Forces Command, which is expected to retain a large presence in Afghanistan long after the last regular troops have left.
And, clearly, thousands of contractors.
Mostly Militants Among 92 Killed, 23 Wounded in Iraq
The only fighting reported in Anbar was in and around Falluja. The hospital was struck by artillery fire just a day after the Iraqi government denied it was intentionally shelling the hospital there. Across the country at least, 92 Iraqis were killed and 23 more were wounded.
A week and a half into the ongoing coup attempt by Gen. Khalifa Hifter, Libya’s parliament seems to be facing growing internal problems as well, with two different claimants to the position of premier raising doubts about the parliament’s ability to resist the Hifter takeover.
Elected by parliament two weeks ago, Ahmed Maiteeq’s premiership is seemingly on hold indefinitely now, as his predecessor, interim PM Abdullah Thinni, refuses to hand over the office and now says he won’t do so without an order from a Libyan high court.
Thinni was named interim PM is March after the ouster of Ali Zeidan, but refused the position on a permanent basis, claiming threats to his family. After many weeks of infighting, parliament settled on Maiteeq.
Yesterday, Thinni suggested he wasn’t sure the election of Maiteeq was legal, but today he questioned the legality of parliament in general, faulting the body’s effectiveness.
Maiteeq is supported by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Justice and Construction Party, while Thinni, a former Defense Minister, commands the loyalty of the Interior Ministry and some secular MPs.
The risk of a divided parliament in this case is not just lack of clarity on the June election, but that as the militias organize to resist Hifter’s coup, some are lining up to fight the Interior Ministry, one of the few government ministries parliament still has on its side, in this secondary fight.
Syrian air force war planes reportedly conducted 10 air strikes on the East Ghouta town of al-Mleiha in Outer Damascus Wednesday, as heavy clashes continued between rebel troops and regime forces supported by Iraqi Shi’ite militias.
The battle in al-Mleiha “was the most violent in terms of clashes and shelling in the 30 days” since Syrian troops attacked the rebel stronghold, the pro-opposition Local Council of al-Mleihareported Wednesday, as government troops “aim to complete their policy of outflanking [rebel groups].”
Pro-regime media mocked the undersupplied rebels. “Dilapidated opposition militias are trying to regain power” on the eastern outskirts of the town, pro-government Al-Hadath News reported, adding that clashes were most intense in orchards and neighborhoods in the town’s east. Al-Mleiha, under rebel control since 2011, overlooks the road to Damascus International Airport.
Obama announces counterterrorism aid to Syria’s neighbors
In a commencement speech at the US Military Academy at West Point Wednesday, President Barack Obama announced increased counterterrorism and refugee support for Syria’s neighbors, defended his decision not to use military force to intervene inside Syria and emphasized American support for the moderate opposition amidst concerns over rising extremism.
“I made a decision that we should not put American troops into the middle of this increasingly sectarian civil war, and I believe that is the right decision,” President Obama said, adding the United States is “pushing back against the growing number of extremists who find safe haven in the chaos.”
Though some analysts had predicted President Obama would directly announce an acceleration of CIA-led training programs for moderate rebels, Obama instead announced “new counterterrorism partnerships fund of up to $5 billion,” to be spent in Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan and elsewhere, to combat the diffuse threat from global extremism.
Last week, the US Senate’s Armed Services Committee passed a bill recognizing the Syrian opposition as “a US ally in the war on terror,” authorizing “the Secretary of Defense to provide equipment, training, supplies and defense services to assist vetted members of the Syrian opposition,” Al Monitor reported.
After Khan Sheikhoun, battle moves to Maarat a-Nauman
A car bombing reportedly injured 20 and wounded dozens more in a crowded market in the rebel-held town of Maarat a-Nauman in northern Idlib province on Wednesday afternoon, according to pro-opposition Smart News. The attack came as government forces intensified their aerial campaign against the town following rebels’ seizure of Khan Sheikhoun, which lies roughly 25 km south of Maarat a-Nauman along the strategic M5 highway connecting Damascus with central and northern Syria.
With Khan Sheikhoun’s capture, rebels control a stretch of the M5 running from Mourik in northern Hama province to Idlib’s Maarat a-Nauman. The town is rebel-held, but lies just 6 km east of Wadi a-Deif, which is among the Syrian army’s most heavily fortified and which rebels have repeatedly targeted over the past month.
The source of the bombing remains unclear—the town is under rebel control, and regime forces have not been known to use car bombings as a tactic.
Opposition sources report 20 dead in a car bombing in Idlib's Maarat a-Nauman. Photo courtesy of @al_kataloony.
UN report: 75% of Syrian living in poverty
The Syrian civil war has set Syria’s human development back more than four decades and cost the country over $143.8 billion, according to a United Nations report released Wednesday on the state of the country’s economy. The UN carried out the study, entitled “Squandering Humanity,” during the second half of 2013, finding that 75 percent of Syrians now live in poverty, of which 54 percent suffer under “extreme” poverty and 20 percent are barely acquiring the means to survive.
“Syria is now blighted by joblessness and overwhelmed by unemployment,” said Alex Pollock, Director of Micro-Finance for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) in a press release Wednesday.
“Eleven million dependents have lost their primary means of financial support as 2.67 million people joined the unemployed,” Pollock said. The report also finds that many of these dependents have lost access to education, with 52 percent of school-age children no longer attending school.