Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and Now Afghanistan Private Security Sex Scandal Hurts U.S. Image Negatively Impacting Its Mission

The spring of 2006 I was on my third assignment in Kabul, Afghanistan. Providing professional development training for the Afghan men and women employed by the Department of State, I returned to a large newly built Embassy – one of the largest in the world. Embassy size indicates level of U.S. entrenchment. A commanding presence of nearly 1000 U.S. Diplomats, staff and Afghan nationals employed at the Embassy to promote Democracy, there are hundreds of private security contractors inclusive of the “kill on command” Gurkhas of Nepal and Northern India. Their sole responsibility is to ensure the safety of Americans. With this awesome task to protect against constant threats from the Taliban, it is about time security guards for the Wackenhut subsidiary ArmorGroup North finally got caught in their vulgar sex scandal. Former FBI agent and Wackenhut founder George Wackenhut is turning in his grave.

The firing of security personnel involved in this outrage does little to erase another embarrassing U.S. blemish showcased around the globe while fighting terrorism. If anything, this incident inclusive of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo serves as another great marketing tool to recruit more terrorists strengthening the Taliban’s resolve believing Americans are proving their hypocrisy in Afghanistan by imploding. The lewd acts by these men enliven anti-American sentiment; making the work more difficult.

In Afghanistan, I spoke to guards who worked for various private security agencies about their work. With top secret security clearances enabling them to interface with ISAF (International Security Assistance Force), our troops and the Embassy’s Regional Security Office, nearly all of the men proudly served in the military and/or some sort of paramilitary organization. A pay of $180k annually, men from the private security agencies said they enjoyed a month off every three months with paid leave to go anywhere in the world. Instead of going home to their families many flew to Thailand, Dubai or some other exotic locale for R&R. Some men claimed having bad marriages, and other life stress that eclipsed their desire to go home. All enjoyed living on the edge, carrying semi automatics and an extra fifty pounds of body armor in case something “jumped off.”

The men bragged they were the ones who kept Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai alive – stating if it was not for them, the warlords would take him out. Over lunch or dinner, it was fascinating to hear stories about their work. It was hard to tell if what they told me was real or hyperbole, but in a place like Afghanistan when lives are continuously in jeopardy, the exaggeration was perhaps real.
Every morning, I’d leave my hooch to go train I saw the guards execute their security routine. At various events on Embassy grounds, the men drank beer and hard liquor throwing back more than a few in an evening.

The drinking led to loud talk and feeling uninhibited to make hard passes at the women present explaining in the most pitiful ways how long it’s been. Not completely blaming them for wanting to fulfill a perfectly normal biological need, the concern was how inebriated some men became. How could they properly protect us should an attack on the Embassy take place? A short muscularly built African American supervisor began to walk around telling his guards to chill out, it’s time to go back to their compound, or they had enough to drink. It was common knowledge a few of these guys were “out of control,” but not enough to do anything about it until now.

When the American Embassy was attacked around Memorial Day of 2006, I was relieved the security force emerging to defend us was the U.S. military. The private security forces were present doing their part, but after observing what I saw in a non-emergency setting, I was thankful I did not see them when bullets flew over the Embassy.

To work in Afghanistan for an extended period of time is physically and psychologically grueling - at times extremely lonely. However, the work of high level security in Afghanistan at all times is for the honorable, mentally and morally strong – there’s too much at stake - American lives and the reputation of the United States of America.

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