Officials at the State Department are blocking attempts to understand how they will manage a surge of private soldiers in Iraq. Above, the department’s headquarters.
As U.S. forces withdraw from Iraq early next year, a mercenary army of more than 5,000 troops overseen by the U.S. State Department will assume the role of protecting American officials in the region, and the department’s official watchdog agency knows next to nothing about it. That’s because department chiefs are doing everything they can to keep the operation a secret.
Considering the department failed to prevent the killing of 17 Iraqi civilians at the hands of Blackwater guards in 2007, the most pressing unanswered questions pertain to exactly how the government plans to ensure mercenary soldiers will not misbehave. Ramzy Mardini, an analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, said of the department: “They have no experience running a private army.” —ARK
By January 2012, the State Department will do something it’s never done before: command a mercenary army the size of a heavy combat brigade. That’s the plan to provide security for its diplomats in Iraq once the U.S. military withdraws. And no one outside State knows anything more, as the department has gone to war with its independent government watchdog to keep its plan a secret.
Stuart Bowen, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR), is essentially in the dark about one of the most complex and dangerous endeavors the State Department has ever undertaken, one with huge implications for the future of the United States in Iraq. “Our audit of the program is making no progress,” Bowen tells Danger Room.
For months, Bowen’s team has tried to get basic information out of the State Department about how it will command its assembled army of about 5,500 private security contractors. How many State contracting officials will oversee how many hired guns? What are the rules of engagement for the guards? What’s the system for reporting a security danger, and for directing the guards’ response?