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The "War," Contractors, and Civilian Deaths

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One of the things that has become increasingly evident is that private "security" firms are critical to the Bush "war on terrorism." The deaths (murder) of civilians in Iraq vaulted Blackwater into the spotlight. Given the news of private security and militia in Iraq, my ears perked at the news that bodyguards had "responded" to a suicide bombing in northern Afghanistan (Baghlan) and over 50 people were killed.

They perked further with the reports that :"

Some of the dead and wounded appeared to have suffered bullet wounds and some residents said Afghan security forces began shooting wildly after the blast.

"This attack was carried out by the Taliban, but only 10 people were killed by the blast. The rest of the victims are from gunfire from the security forces," said Abdul Qadir, pointing to what appeared to be a bullet hole in his dead son's neck.

The immediate question? Who were the bodyguards or security forces? Were these Afghans, or private contractors. I have been checking periodically to see if any news of who these shooters were. Finally that is emerging.

Ultimately over 89 people died in the events in Baghlan: "70 schoolchildren, six MPs and half a dozen other people dead" (Sydney Morning Herald). We already knew that 10 people died from the suicide blast. However, the reports are that "security forces" fired into the crowd of school children trying to flee the scene.

The new information comes from an internal UN investigation into the events in Baghlan - an investigation which is ongoing. While Karzai has not explicitly named any given security company, Karzai is "exasperated" with the private security companies.

A particular source of complaint has been the dozens of security companies that operate with little oversight, often employing former guerilla fighters. The Karzai Government has raided several of these companies, seizing equipment and weapons.

"This bodyguard culture is killing Afghanistan, and we have to remove it," Mr Karzai said.

A report prepared for the UN by the group Swisspeace found that Afghan and foreign security companies in Afghanistan employ between 18,500 and 28,000 men. It said the companies were viewed as creating a "sense of distrust and insecurity". Reasons include their ties to local militia bosses, their heavily armed presence, their rudeness toward civilians and their alleged ties to crime (SMH)

From an AP report by Jason Straziuos on November 18th:

An internal U.N. report obtained Monday said bodyguards protecting parliamentarians fired indiscriminately into a crowd after a suicide bombing and that children bore "the brunt of the onslaught."

The report also said there was no evidence to show authorities had tried to identify those behind the shootings or bring them "to account for their crimes."
"Regardless of what the exact breakdown of numbers may be, the fact remains that a number of armed men deliberately and indiscriminately fired into a crowd of unarmed civilians that posed no threat to them, causing multiple deaths and injuries," the report said.

The Sydney Morning Herald report clearly implies that the "bodyguards" or "security forces" involved in the Baghlan incident included private security contractors. No article I have found to date identifies which companies those contractors were from, and there is largely a shroud of silence over the event and the details of any investigation.

This silencing is not dissimilar from the actions of contractors in Iraq, and active intervention by the United States to keep it so. However, we can thank the Center for Public Integrity for a detailed tracking of contracts in Afghanistan and Iraq in their Windfalls of War research. While over $20 billion had gone to "unidentified foreign contractors" in Iraq and Afghanistan, Blackwater has $26,550,802 ($485,149,590 combined Iraq & Afghanistan) and CACI $4,369,050 ($87,760,610 combined) in contracts in Afghanistan, and DynCorp with a combined $1,838,156,100. These are the contracts for 2004-2006 only.

Afghanistan rarely gets much coverage. Certainly the Baghlan incident has received little coverage. Perhaps because it is such an egregious action where body guards fired indiscriminately into a crowd of children. The attempt to spin this into the "worst terrorist attack" in Afghanistan, begs the question of who the "terrorists" are. As does trying to blame the events on the Taliban. Between spin, lack of coverage, and the reporting of every Afghan death as a terrorist death, it is necessary to look at the reports with a skeptical eye. It is difficult to see how 70 children gathered to hear members of the Afghan Parliament could possibly be mistaken (or counted) as terrorists. Likewise, the suicide bomber - who in death bears the lives of 10 of the deceased - had done his "job" before bullets started flying. Not asked is why they were firing at all.

Related articles of interest
Private Warriors. Frontline, PBS, 6/28/07. transcript.

Windfalls of War. Center for Public Integrity.

Just when things were looking up. Barnett Rubin. IPS, 11/23/07.


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Rowan Wolf is an activist and sociologist living in Oregon. She is the founder and principle author of Uncommon Thought Journal, and Editor in Chief of Cyrano's Journal Today.

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