By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 7, 2009
New contract solicitations by the U.S. military for private guards at forward operating bases in Afghanistan require that at least half of those hired be Afghans who come from nearby towns or villages.
"The contractor shall hire a minimum of 50% of its guard force from within a 50 kilometer [30-mile] radius of the location requiring security," reads a solicitation that the Joint Contracting Command-Iraq/Afghanistan posted Nov. 30 at FBODaily.com.
The solicitations also limit what guards may do, starting with rules prohibiting their involvement in offensive operations.
"Security guards may not use force except to defend themselves, the roads leading into the [forward operating base], the construction of the road network or the traffic on the roads entering the FOB from hostile attack," according to a solicitation for Forward Operating Base Lightning, in the southeastern province of Paktia. In addition, contract guards will not be allowed to engage in law enforcement.
At a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee last week on President Obama's new strategy for Afghanistan, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) raised the issue of contracting practices. She noted that in Afghanistan, unlike in Iraq, two-thirds of the roughly 75,000 contractors working for the U.S. government are from the home country.
"It's not clear to me whether this has been purposeful or situational," McCaskill said.
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, responded with a reference to Forward Operating Base Lightning, saying: "There's a very specific effort there to hire Afghans first. And that, I think, is represented in the numbers that you're talking about, which to me makes all the sense in the world."
Three other forward operating bases in that area are seeking private security guards with the same provisions as Lightning.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told McCaskill that in February, when she asked about Afghan contracts, she found that all contracting had stopped.
"We have been trying to not only get a handle on the contracts, but try to persuade contractors to employ more Afghans," she said. "I think it is, to some extent, a message, but it's also just the reality of who is there and what the mission requires."
She said her department is reviewing all the contracts. Clinton added that, given the military's experience with security guards employed by Blackwater, now known as Xe Services, "we're trying to assert more State Department-USAID oversight."
"We want to account for every single penny," she said. "But we also want to be sure we have enough flexibility to be smart."
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, responding to McCaskill's question about whether hundreds of contract-monitoring positions are still vacant, said, "We do not have as many contract monitors in Afghanistan as we want."
The new security solicitations entail other restrictions and requirements. Contractors are not allowed to hire former military personnel, no matter what rank, unless they see documentation of honorable discharge. This is also true of former police officers.
In addition, site managers and supervisors must be able to speak English -- defined as "being able to clearly articulate attack conditions to the base commander without the need of repeating portions of the conversation due to inability to remember or pronounce words."