This blog aims to highlight issues and information that don't always make it into the mainstream media. Recognising that comment is cheap, wherever possible it will link you directly to documents and sources that are mentioned in the text.
I realised some time ago that it was impossible to write about Afghanistan without writing about Pakistan and other neighbouring countries. With that in mind, the reader will come across articles that, while not specifically about Afghanistan, in some way shed light on the conflict.
This week the US Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan held hearings on 'State Department Oversight and Contractor-Employee Conduct'. The immediate reason for the hearing was the much publicised incidents involving private contractors guarding the US Embassy in Kabul, many of whom - expecially those from the British-owned Armor Group - were indulging in orgies rather than carrying out their duties. The idea behind the Commission, set up in 2007, was inspired by the work of the Truman Committee, initially led by Senator Harry Truman, that investigated government waste during and after World War II and American taxpayers valued at an estimated $178bn in today’s dollars. The Commission is required to study, assess and make recommendations concerning wartime contracting for the reconstruction, logistical support, and the performance of security functions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Its major objectives include a thorough assessment of the systemic problems identified with interagency wartime contracting, the identification of instances of waste, fraud and abuse, and ensuring accountability for those responsible. The problems it faces are huge: the Defense Contract Audit Agency estimated in 2007, for example, that there was more than $10bn in questioned and unsupported costs relating to the Iraq reconstruction and military support contracts valued at $57bn that it had reviewed. The agency noted that contracts worth $300bn remained to be audited. Opening the hearings, Commission co-chair Christopher Shays, in reference to the Embassy guards, said: "Our primary interest is in the disturbing questions these incidents raise about the subject of wartime contracting, which Congress has mandated us to study. Specifically, who in the government, or in this case the State Department, is watching the contractors? Rhetorically, why are we having this hearing now, when significant issues with this particular contract have been festering for over two years?" Shays pointed out that reports of misconduct about ArmorGroup personnel first surfaced in December 2008. He added: "The incidents reported near the Kabul embassy undermine American efforts to build a stable, peaceful, and democratic Afghanistan. To put it bluntly, they provide free recruiting material to the Taliban." Terry Pearson, a British Army veteran, provided the most graphic account of what the ArmorGroup employees had been up to. He had blown the whistle months ago to his employers (who were ArmorGroup subcontractors), but was forced to resign for his troubles."Never go to any party that Charlie shift has," he was warned soon after he arrived at the US Embassy in Kabul. Samuel Brinkley, spoke on behalf of ArmorGroup's owners, G4S plc, and issued a litany of apologies for the disgusting behaviour of his staff. G4S, which employs more than 530,000 people, is a British company, formerly known as Group 4 Securicor. Former UK Cabinet Minister (and still a serving MP) Dr John Reid is an adviser to the company.