Monday, May 3, 2010

State Department Flies Mercenary Air Force Over Pakistan


Danger Room What’s Next in National Security

State Department Flies Mercenary Air Force Over Pakistan

 By Nathan Hodge

 April 30, 2010   


The airspace along the Afghanistan/Pakistan border is pretty crowded these days: Along with U.S., Afghan and Pakistani military missions, the CIA is running its own covert drone ops. Less well known, but perhaps equally controversial, is the State Department’s counter-narcotics air force, staffed by mercenaries.


A recently released State Department Inspector General report, however, gave an unusually detailed look at the size and scope of these operations. The report fills in more details about America’s growing and undeclared war in Pakistan.


The State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (known by the abbreviation INL) operates an air wing of around 14 aircraft in Afghanistan and another 17 in Pakistan. The aircraft help monitor the border, fly crop-eradication and interdiction missions, and move equipment and personnel around the region.


These kinds of missions aren’t new: The State Department has similar Air Wing programs in Bolivia, Colombia, Guatemala, and Peru. Perhaps more importantly, the State Department has outsourced much of this mission. The INL’s air wing in Afghanistan and Pakistan is operated by private military company DynCorp, and the presence of U.S. contractors in Pakistan has proven extremely controversial (the released IG report, not surprisingly, was originally marked “sensitive but unclassified”).


For instance, when it was disclosed earlier this month that the U.S. government was seeking land for an aircraft maintenance base DynCorp, the Pakistani press had a field day. Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik had repeatedly denied the presence of U.S. private security contractors on Pakistani soil, but here was the U.S. government, asking for a maintenance base for its contracted air wing. “This is worth recalling here that Interior Minister Rehman Malik had told the National Assembly in February this year, ‘Neither Blackwater nor any other security agency with such name is operating in Pakistan,’” Pakistan’s The Nation newspaper snarkily noted.

In fairness, the State Department hasn’t really been too secretive about this: INL’s winter newsletter featured a news announcement about the delivery to Pakistan of more Huey II helicopters, similar to the rotorcraft pictured here. More interesting is what the recent Inspector General report hints at the extent to which the Pakistani government relies on this air wing for domestic policing and security operations. “In Pakistan, the Air Wing program, funded at $32 million to date, has been generally effective in providing critical air support for activities along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, including a variety of missions for the Pakistan Government,” the report states.


Inevitably, the report also notes some shortcomings. DynCorp, the IG found, “had problems meeting some of the contract terms, particularly flying hour goals. The inability to meet the required aircraft readiness rate is directly related to low levels of maintenance personnel and, according to INL/A, is also affected by issues with staff from Pakistan’s Ministry of Interior.”


In addition, the IG also found the Pakistani government was less than forthcoming about how it was using State’s aircraft. The government of Pakistan, the report said, “continues its reticence in providing information on flights.”


Incidentally, the inspector general also alluded to another contracted air force, called “Kabul 40.” That air wing provides passenger and cargo movement for diplomatic staff in Afghanistan. © 2009 Condé Nast Digital. All rights reserved.


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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs


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