By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 4, 2007
The Defense Department plans to continue hiring private contractors to provide security at reconstruction projects in Iraq and to train U.S. and Iraqi military officers in counterinsurgency, despite problems with past contracts for such jobs that traditionally have been done by military personnel.
The contracting out of these wartime activities comes at a time when the United States is stretching its resources to provide the additional 21,500 troops in Iraq that are needed under President Bush's new strategy, which involves stepped-up counterinsurgency operations in Baghdad and the expansion of economic reconstruction activities.
During an appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee last month, Army Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, the new top commander in Iraq, said he counts the "thousands of contract security forces" among the assets available to him to supplement the limited number of U.S. and Iraqi troops to be used for dealing with the insurgency.
A former senior Defense Intelligence Agency expert on the Middle East, retired Army Col. W. Patrick Lang, said last week that contracting out intelligence collection and security for Army units and their contractors "results from actual military forces being too small." He added: "I can't remember a subordinate commander considering mercenaries as part of his forces."
Retired Marine Gen. Anthony C. Zinni, who once headed the U.S. Central Command and today serves on an advisory board of a defense contractor, said there is a role for private firms taking on security missions. But he warned that problems can arise "when they take on quasi-military roles."
Aegis Defence Services Ltd., a British security firm, has about 1,000 employees in Iraq, about 250 of them Iraqis, under a $300 million contract that began in 2004.
Under that contract, which is up for rebidding, Aegis provides security support services to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers personnel working on reconstruction projects throughout the country. Among its tasks is the operation of six Reconstruction Operations Centers, which disseminate threat warning information and track convoys.
Aegis also coordinates security in Iraq for 10 prime contractors and their subcontractors through security liaison teams, and the teams pass on to the military information gathered by their sources.
Aegis provides about 300 guards to Corps of Engineers facilities in Iraq, along with personal security escort teams for Corps personnel and contractors when they travel to such sites. The firm also provides the reconstruction liaison teams that travel the country to get updates on projects and information about local communities.
In 2005, the U.S. special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction investigated the Aegis contract and found a number of shortcomings. Among them was that Aegis did not vet all of its Iraqi employees for security, as required.
A sample check of the personnel records of 20 of 125 Iraqi nationals then on the payroll found no evidence of an interview for six, no evidence of a police background check on 18 and no records at all on two. "As a result, there is no assurance that the Iraqi national employees do not pose an internal security threat," the inspection report said.
In response, Aegis managers said Iraqi police checks were too difficult to obtain, given the destruction of past records. The requirement was dropped. The report also said that the company agreed that Iraqis would be vetted through the State Department system. The inspection report said that, as of April 2005, only 17 of the "last" 213 Iraqis hired had been vetted through that system. Aegis employees include foreign nationals, among whom are Gurkhas from Nepal, and all must be vetted.
Under the new contract now out for bids, the winner is to monitor all convoys, maintain a Web site, provide "Iraq-wide unclassified daily reports," as well as "provide relevant and timely intel/ops reports throughout Iraq" -- referring to intelligence/operations reports.
The U.S. government will provide about 134 vehicles, primarily sport-utility vehicles, but also armored personnel carriers. The government will also furnish weapons and ammunition, but the contractor must identify the people to whom the weapons will be issued. Employees will have access to government dining facilities and post exchanges, "where available," and will be entitled to "acute medical and dental services to include medical evacuation under emergency circumstances . . . at no cost" while they are "in theater."
Another contract up for bids is the operation of the Counterinsurgency Center for Excellence (COIN CFE) for up to three years at Camp Taji, north of Baghdad, in a section called the Phoenix Academy, which is devoted to joint U.S.-Iraqi training. Established in 2005 by Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the commander of Multi-National Force-Iraq then, it will now operate under Petraeus, who recently rewrote the Army's counterinsurgency manual.
Last May, a Pentagon news release said COIN CFE, which involves U.S. and Iraqi personnel, was established "to help units adapt to and train for the war against terror in Iraq as it is fought today." At that time, it was a week-long course with 31 trainers and classes with about 40 trainees, including "brigade commanders, battalion commanders, company commanders and senior staff -- including noncommissioned officers," the news release said.
Under the new proposal, contractors will handle a variety of classes, including a special seminar for "general officers and senior field grade leaders at the multi-national corps and division levels." The group for senior leaders will be limited to 25, while the lower-level classes will include up to 70 students and will involve not just Iraqi army forces but also Iraqi National Police.
Lang, a former Green Beret who worked in counterinsurgency in the post-Vietnam War period, said the need to set up a counterinsurgency school in Iraq and rewrite the textbook showed that the Army had dropped that subject matter altogether during the 1980s and the 1990s. "The old doctrine died out, along with the lessons of East Africa, Vietnam and Bolivia," he said, "and now they need people with this kind of memory who are retired and know from experience."