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Private Contractors Sought As Guards in Afghanistan

By Walter Pincus
Monday, December 8, 2008

The U.S. Army is looking to private contractors to provide armed security guards to protect Forward Operating Bases in seven provinces in southern Afghanistan. In a recent study, Anthony H. Cordesman, an intelligence expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, described five of those provinces -- Helmand, Kandahar, Nimruz, Zabol and Uruzgan -- as among the most dangerous parts of Afghanistan.

The proposed contracts would be for a minimum of one year, beginning Jan. 1, but with options to continue for four years. The move to hire contractors to provide armed guards comes as the United States is deploying more American troops to Afghanistan and looking to double the size of the Afghan National Army from 80,000 to 162,000 over the next five years.

Ironically, a year ago, there was a crackdown on private security contractors in Afghanistan, including a U.S.-based company, because of complaints of fraud. At that time, however, the private guards were protecting U.S. Agency for International Development employees and their contractors, not U.S. military bases.

In a Nov. 26 notice, the Army said the proposed guards would protect the entry control points of the bases to prevent "threats related to unauthorized personnel, contraband, and instruments of damage, destruction and information collection from entering the installation."

The hired guards would be required to carry out surveillance of the perimeter of the base from fixed positions to see whether someone is attempting to sneak inside. They are also to engage in counter-surveillance, watching to see whether someone is monitoring who enters and leaves the base. The contractor guards are also to be available to protect supply routes, facilities, convoys and property.

The guards would be required to employ "the appropriate force to neutralize any threat," particularly from individuals trying to enter illegally "with the intent to harm personnel or damage facilities and equipment . . . but are NOT authorized to undertake offensive operations."

According to the proposal, the guards are to wear unique uniforms that are "easily distinguishable" from those of U.S. forces, coalition forces, the Afghan National Army, the Afghan national police or International Security Assistance Force units -- or any other contractor performing a similar function.

The contractor would, when required, provide vehicles for the armed guards and be responsible for maintenance and repair. As with uniforms, the vehicles must be "distinct in both color and markings" from those of U.S. and other official armed services, as well as Afghan police units.

The solicitation offers four hypothetical pricing scenarios for contractors. For example, a Forward Operating Base in Farah province would require 32 guards, 30 male and two female, to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They would be given billeting space, water, potable water and a kitchen for food preparation.

For the Baylough Forward Operating Base in Zabol province, the solicitation estimates that 34 guards, plus supervisors and a program manager, would be needed, but no vehicles. About 10 guards at a time would be needed to man the Baylough observation post, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The government will supply communications equipment for the personnel at the observation post.

The guards will be armed, "at a minimum," with AK-47s and 120 rounds of ammunition with four magazines that have 30-round capacity. They all must carry identification documents and a letter authorizing the carrying of a weapon, but off-duty personnel "shall not carry concealed weapons," the solicitation specified.

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

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