The Underbelly of the “Civilian Surge”: Blackwater Surge

Posted: July 28, 2009 in Uncategorized
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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.

  1. Sporkmaster says:

    That is interesting to read, as I understand it that blackwater lost its contract to work in Iraq at the end of the year. That could be the reason that they still in Afgan.

    As far as seeing them in Iraq, it was a rare sight. I mean I say more Iraqi police and army convoys then of blackwater. Also they where just as armed if not more so then Black water. So I am not sure about the comment about the intimidation factor.

    But it would come down to if we brought aid workers in, how would their safety be assured along with those that they are giving aid too.

  2. […] The Underbelly of the “Civilian Surge”: Blackwater Surge posted on July 28th, 2009 at Return Good for Evil […]

  3. subby says:

    The contractors are there to protect americans and their allies not to make the Afghans feel safer. If there government weren’t so corrupt, we would use thier security apparatus, instead their police and army are a joke. Afghans don’t trust each other, how do they expect us to trust them with our security?

  4. dcrowe says:


    First, we are the ones trying to win the Afghans trust. It’s their country.

    Second, you’re right, the government we backed with our violence and our funds is deeply corrupt. That’s as much an indictment of us as it is of them. They’re only the government of Afghanistan because they’re the faction we decided to use as catspaws to fight the Taliban.

    Third, the entire rationale for sending more troops and civilians is to “win” a counterinsurgency–and if you’d read the manual, you’d know that counterinsurgency requires you to accept short term tactical risk (which is the opposite of having cowboy contractors acting like frat boys with automatic rifles in the name of “protecting Americans”) for long term strategic gain (convincing the Afghans to back our preferred faction as the legitimate authority in Afghanistan). If the contractors are used in line with your view, it shows we’re not being truthful about our rationale for sending more troops and civilians.

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