The Underbelly of the “Civilian Surge”: Blackwater Surge

Much has been made of the so-called "civilian surge" that’s supposed to accompany the military escalation in Afghanistan, but it comes with an ugly caveat: a civilian surge means an escalation in the presence of private military contractors like Xe, formerly known as Blackwater, acting as guards and bodyguards.

Nancy Youssef’s McClatchy article last week details how the security firms are clamping down around civilian life in Kabul and beyond, driving resentment (emphasis mine).

Huge intimidating convoys of armored SUVs now are common sights in the city’s growing traffic jams. …Nearly every day, there’s some incident involving security teams pointing guns out of windows at frightened commuters.

"I have not faced an incident myself, but in front of me I saw foreigners shoot and kill two people in a small bus. We feel like we are condemned in our own country. They came from thousands of miles away, and my car can’t go in front of them. We are not happy about this situation," said Mohammad Aziz Azizi, 45, the head of a cultural society.

For anyone who’s visited Baghdad in recent years, the feeling is familiar: the tension of never knowing when violence might break out, when a wrong turn or a moment of inattention might bring one face-to-face with a security guard whose first priority is to protect the life of the person he’s assigned to.

We’ve seen this movie before.

These for-profit mercenaries managed to not only incense Iraqis, but U.S. troops as well with their gung-ho brandish-weapons-and-shoot-first mode of operation. A civilian surge of the type pushed by supporters of the military escalation in Afghanistan, though, has the effect of flooding Afghanistan with contractors working for Blackwater and its cousins. Spencer Ackerman:

But what about the firms hired to protect the new State Department personnel on their way to Afghanistan? State Department security contractors like Blackwater Xe, Triple Canopy and DynCorp have been tied to more population-alienating abuses than the ones who work for the Defense Department.

The use of these contractors accompanying a "civilian surge" has a corrosive effect on life in Kabul, and have become a serious political problem for the continued U.S. occupation. Again, from Youssef’s article:

"In the mind of the Afghan people, democracy is tied to the arrival of the foreign forces," said Wahed Mughzada, a political analyst. "They don’t like it."

That’s contributing to growing calls for a timetable for U.S. forces to withdraw, said Ashraf Ghani, a leading candidate in next month’s presidential elections. He’s suggesting that the U.S. withdraw in seven years.

"The Afghans want the use of forces to be predictable. They feel they are not being heard," Ghani said. "The pre-eminent issue is justice."

Further, as the U.S. counterinsurgency operation established forward operating bases, we will likely see even more private security firms hired and sent to Afghanistan to act as guards.

So let’s recap. First, we find out that the supposed "civilian" surge in Afghanistan would be largely made up of military personnel. Now, we find that it requires widening the use of civilian contractors, including those from the very companies responsible for carnage and popular outrage in Iraq.

This is all starting to feel so very familiar.

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