Private Contractors' Role in Afghanistan To Grow With Awarding of Latest Contracts

By Walter Pincus
Monday, July 28, 2008

With billions of dollars newly available in fiscal 2008 supplemental war funding, the Congressional Research Service last month estimated that the Defense Department is now spending $2.3 billion a month in Afghanistan. Add $500 million monthly from the State Department and more from other agencies, and the total U.S. outlay in Afghanistan this fiscal year will be about $34 billion.

The war's demands and the availability of that kind of money guarantee a flood of new contracts. A review of the FBO Daily Web site for July contracts shows that the administration, which in Iraq turned to the private sector for tasks once handled by military or government personnel, is stepping up this practice in Afghanistan.

One of the most ambitious efforts is a solicitation from the U.S. Agency for International Development, clarified on July 15, which proposes expansion of an existing program to "increase both the human and physical capacity of the justice sector in Afghanistan."

The work statement says, frankly, that "corruption, local influence, lack of security and insufficient salaries" along with "lack of both physical and human capacity . . . plague and weaken the ability of the formal court system to deliver justice."

To remedy this, USAID is looking for a private contractor to coordinate what it calls "Justice Sector Development," a huge undertaking that would involve working with U.S. and international organizations, as well as with U.S. and NATO military units engaged in rule-of-law issues. The contractor would work with the Afghan Supreme Court to introduce a simplified case-management system and build courthouses around the country. It would advance the development of law schools and promote "access to justice for women and public awareness of rights."

USAID also announced this month that it is looking for a contractor "to increase licit and commercially viable agricultural-based alternatives for rural Afghans" to replace drug production. The target area is the six provinces in southern Afghanistan described as "most insecure and unstable," including Helmand and Kandahar.

The goal of the contract is to significantly reduce and ultimately eradicate poppy production. In developing alternatives, bidders should consider generating income for the Afghans involved as well as promoting "anti-corruption, gender, 'Afghanization' (local project ownership) and local governance," according to the USAID proposal.

Most solicitations were for new contractors in military and intelligence projects. On July 5, the Bagram Regional Contracting Center, located within the giant complex in Afghanistan that U.S. Central Command has described as our long-term base for Central Asia, sought a contractor to supply four human intelligence analysts. They will be required to work 12 hours a day, seven days a week and to be on call 24 hours a day. They also will need clearances to review top-secret and special compartmented information, the highest clearances available.

The four are to work with the Enemy Combatant Review Board, which has been set up in Afghanistan to determine whether detainees should remain in prison. They are, according to the work statement, to serve locally as the "primary military police intelligence adviser and analyst," and as liaisons with local law enforcement and intelligence.

Another notice, posted on July 15, called for a private contractor to design and construct a commercial customs building at a border-crossing point between Afghanistan and Tajikistan at Nizhny Pyandzh, Tajikistan. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Afghanistan will supervise the job, which is expected to cost nearly $10 million and take nine months to complete.

This is not the first project at this border-crossing spot, which at one point was considered an outlet for drugs. In 2006, with $4 million in anti-narcotics money from the Department of Defense, a border-crossing facility was constructed after the area was first cleared of mines and unexploded ordnance. It was built with fencing, guard towers, gates, lights and housing for 30 people.

In addition, U.S. engineers supervised construction of a $37 million bridge across the Oxus River at the Nizhny Pyandzh border, funded by the United States and other countries.

National security and intelligence reporter Walter Pincus pores over the speeches, reports, transcripts and other documents that flood Washington and every week uncovers the fine print that rarely makes headlines -- but should. If you have any items that fit the bill, please send them

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