U.S. Special Operations Forces have a brand new home in Afghanistan. It’s owned and operated by the security company formerly known as Blackwater, thanks to a no-bid deal worth $22 million.
You might think that Blackwater, now called Academi, was banished into some bureaucratic exile after its operatives in Afghanistan stole guns from U.S. weapons depots and killed Afghan civilians. Wrong. Academi’s private 10-acre compound outside Kabul, called Camp Integrity, is the new headquarters for perhaps the most important special operations unit in Afghanistan.
That would be the Special Operations Joint Task Force–Afghanistan, created on July 1 to unite and oversee the three major spec-ops “tribes” throughout Afghanistan, which command some 7,000 elite troops in all. It’s run by Army Maj. Gen. Raymond “Tony” Thomas, a former deputy commander of the Joint Special Operations Command, and is already tasked with reforming how those elite forces train Afghan villagers to fight the Taliban. And its role is only going to grow in Afghanistan, as regular U.S. forces withdraw by 2014 and the commandos take over the residual task of fighting al-Qaida and its allies. Perhaps that’s why Academi’s no-bid contract runs through May 2015.
Academi spokeswoman Kelley Gannon declined to comment for this story. But it’s highly unusual for U.S. military forces to take up official residence on a privately owned facility. According to Lt. Col. Tom Bryant, the spokesman for Special Operations Joint Task Force-Afghanistan, it’s only supposed to be temporary, as the command plans to move to Bagram Air Field by summer 2013. But Camp Integrity is already shaping up to be a crucial location for an Afghanistan war that’s rapidly changing.
Peter Singer, a scholar at the Brookings Institution who’s closely studied the private security industry, finds the spec ops’ private HQ unsurprising. “We’ve seen these kind of close, intertwined relationships in the field between the public and private forces before,” he says. “The U.S. military and the CIA, reportedly, have hired these companies to do everything from building bases, running the facilities and logistics, to serving as the guard forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan. You get to a certain point where you wonder where the U.S. military and private military roles begin and end. But to me, the interesting question is what have we actually learned from these past experiences?”....
Academi’s contract for providing the “life support services” to the task force is worth $22.3 million. If all options on the contract are exercised, and the planned move to Bagram takes longer than the command anticipates, it will last until May 2015 — an indication that the special operators’ counterterrorism mission in Afghanistan will continue after most U.S. forces come home after 2014. Last month, Gen. Joseph Dunford, President Obama’s nominee to take over command of the war, said “counterterrorism” would be among the missions of a post-2014 force.
U.S. and Afghan negotiators recently began discussions over the scope of that residual presence, and a big factor in that debate will concern which Afghan bases will host American troops. But it’s less clear what authority U.S. diplomats and Afghan bureaucrats have over a privately-owned base like Camp Integrity, although Academi’s operations are already certified by Afghan authorities.
Academi won’t talk much about Camp Integrity. A spokesman, John Procter, told Danger Room in March that it contains a “24/7 operations center, fueling stations, vehicle maintenance facility, lodging, office and conference space and a fortified armory.” His colleague Gannon declined to elaborate for this story. According to its contract, Academi will provide everything from food to tech support to “armed security services” for the mega-spec ops command at Camp Integrity.
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