Want to know what the United States is planning to do in a post-bin Laden Afghanistan? One way to get a clue is by checking out government contracts.
Over the past six years U.S. contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan have provided a guide to activity on the ground.
For example, five years ago a contract for private armed security guards with armored vehicles — meant to carry U.S. civilian officials four blocks in Baghdad, from their living quarters on a U.S. military base to their offices at the Interior Ministry — illustrated the city’s dangers. That the solicitation noted the Americans worked on a separate floor from Iraqi employees — and needed private security escorts even in the building — also spoke legions.
In 2007, dozens of construction contract solicitations first indicated the beginning of the enormous buildup of U.S. military facilities at Afghanistan’s Bagram Air Field and at other bases around the country. It was a 2008 contract for a falconer to provide “Bird Control Services at Bagram” that heralded the sharp increase in aircraft operations there.
What about today? Two relatively new contracts among more than 100 in the past few weeks caught my eye.
The first reflects the obsession in the State Department and Pentagon that the United States is losing the propaganda war with the Taliban. There’s an idea that better public relations would improve U.S. odds.
So the State Department, through the American Consulate General in Frankfurt, is seeking a contractor who would build a “turnkey” broadcasting studio within the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. The project also would provide compatible equipment for a photographer/videographer who would work outside the embassy.
Why this unique capability? According to the solicitation, “It is often difficult or impossible for Afghan media to follow the ambassador to events where he inaugurates new U.S.-funded projects.” An in-house production capability “consisting of video and still cameras, editing and multimedia equipment, and a small studio where the ambassador and other embassy officials can create broadcast messages” would solve that problem.
Output from this studio would include public service announcements, ready-made video press releases, and allow “rapid response coverage for any breaking news.” It would also supply background footage, called B-roll material, ‘to support news and information disseminaton.” And it would “fully utilize the power of social networking and emerging communication technology,” according to the solicitation.
But the proposal acknowledges challenges, too, starting with the recognition that such a facility would have to “transition from an American-based staff to an Afghan-based staff who may or may not be familiar with some of the equipment.” Thus there is uncertainty about “the ability to support and to maintain the studio equipment.”
A contractor would have 90 days to “design, procure, ship, build, install, configure and test” the embassy broadcast facility and warrant all labor and materials for one year. Oh, and that contractor would have to “provide security for its personnel while in Afghanistan.”
The second set of contracts reflects that security remains a problem.
Last month, the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) turned to private security companies soliciting contractors to provide guards to man static positions such as entry control points and guard towers at 20 of its operating bases and other facilities in Afghanistan under new rules set by President Hamid Karzai.
The so-called Karzai bridging agreement — reached at the end of March after negotiations between the Afghan government, the United States and other parties — permits coalition military facilities and all diplomatic structures to hire private security companies licensed by the Afghan Ministry of Interior for another two years, as long as they work only as fixed-site guards.
Three USSOCOM solicitations last month sought private guards at Special Forces small outposts called Village Security Platforms, where teams — sometimes numbering as few as 12 members — train townspeople as police.
One called VSP Gaji is located at Pol-E-Kumri in northeastern Afghanistan. Typically they have two shifts of guards, each putting in 12 hours, and their numbers depend on the number of entry control points and guard towers.
Larger facilities, such as the Forward Operating Base Fenty near Jalalabad, requires 25 guards serving 12-hour shifts to cover each day. Along with guards on two towers, Fenty has five guards at its outer-entry control point and one at an inner-entry control point during each 12-hour shift.
Private security contractors working for the Defense Department in Afghanistan actually grew by almost 4,500 in the first quarter this year over last last year and totaled almost 19,000 altogether, according to the latest quarterly report from Herbert Richardson, the acting special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction. Only 136 of the added security contractors were American; 322 were third-country nationals, and the remainder — more than 4,000 — were Afghans.
If these contracts tell us anything, maybe it’s that the immediate future looks like more of the same.