Contractors in IraqNow that the warlords are back in control in Somalia, it is probably not surprising that the country is devolving into chaos again. After America’s Ethiopian allies drove the Islamic Courts Union out of power a few months ago, the brief period of stability Somalia experienced after years of bloodshed abruptly collapsed. Now, the situation on the ground is ripe for profit.

As African Union peacekeepers take up positions in Mogadishu, under fire, they are being supported by contractors hired by the United States. The company that is the beneficiary of the contract is DynCorp International:

The State Department has hired a major military contractor to help equip and provide logistical support to international peacekeepers in Somalia, giving the United States a significant role in the critical mission without assigning combat forces.

DynCorp International, which also has US contracts in Iraq, Bosnia, Afghanistan, and Iraq, will be paid $10 million to help the first peacekeeping mission in Somalia in more than 10 years.

DynCorp International has a long and illustrious history in government waste and unseemly activities overseas.

In January the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction reported on DynCorp’s activities in Iraq as part of a larger investigation into waste and fraud:

One of the reports released on Wednesday found that an American company, DynCorp, appeared to act almost independently of its contracting officers at the Department of State at times, billing the United States for millions of dollars of work that was never authorized and starting other jobs before they were requested.

The findings of misconduct against the company, on a $188 million job order to build living quarters and purchase weapons and equipment for the Iraqi police as part of a training program, were serious enough that the inspector general’s office began a fraud inquiry.

The Washington Post provides more detail on DynCorp’s contracts in Iraq:

In its review of work under DynCorp’s $1.8 billion State Department contract, the special inspector general found that the department’s lax oversight led it to pay $43.8 million for a residential camp for DynCorp trainers that has never been used.

The State Department ordered work on the project stopped in September 2004, shortly after issuing the contract, because of concerns that the location was too dangerous for DynCorp’s trainers. DynCorp initially told the department that the camp had already been completed, but more than a year later said it wasn’t.

In 2005, a State Department official became concerned about "potential fraud" regarding DynCorp’s billing for 500 trailers that may have never been built. Yesterday’s report said the investigation is ongoing.

The department also can’t account for $36.4 million of weapons and equipment, including armored vehicles and body armor, because DynCorp’s invoices were vague, the report said. "DynCorp invoices were frequently ambiguous and lacked the level of detail necessary to identify what was procured," the report said.

With all this waste I can see how DynCorp’s contract to train Iraqi police might not have gone so well.

DynCorp has also spread good cheer in Afghanistan in a blow to Karen Hughes’ ill-fated public diplomacy mission. DynCorp’s heavy-handed mercenaries that protect Afghan president Hamid Karzai have managed to upset not only the Afghans but also America’s NATO allies. DynCorp’s behavior in Afghanistan earned a rebuke from the State Department:

The US State Department has rebuked a private security firm over the "aggressive behaviour" of guards hired to protect Afghan leader Hamid Karzai.

US State Department’s Richard Boucher said the issue was raised with DynCorp, the company that supplied the guards.

There have been several reported cases of apparently over-zealous and insensitive conduct on the part of Mr Karzai’s private security contractors.

A BBC correspondent recently saw one of the guards slap an Afghan minister.

Crispin Thorold reported seeing the Afghan transport minister receive a slap from one of Mr Karzai’s security guards on a visit to the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif.

To complete the waste and public diplomacy picture, DynCorp adds child prostitution:

DynCorp is the same company whose employees hired child prostitutes while working in Bosnia a few years ago, until some people started complaining. Rather than face local justice or courts-martial, the perpetrators were simply sent home.

One of the whistleblowers, a DynCorp employee named Ben Johnston, lost his job for speaking out. He later told Congress, ‘’DynCorp is the worst diplomat our country could ever want overseas.'’

Texas-based DynCorp’s parent, CSC, declined to comment on any of these incidents, saying that it is ‘’constrained'’ from doing so by its contracts with the State Department.

With a resume as illustrious as this, DynCorp appears poised to carry on the tradition of lawlessness into the already lawless Horn of Africa.

As the United States turns more and more to private contractors to support post-conflict operations, it must also extend the realm of accountability to include these contractors. As the story of DynCorp demonstrates, that much needed accountability is lacking. What exists today is government (tax payer) financed lawlessness that only serves to undermine any goodwill America hopes to engender in conflict regions such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia. The fact that firms like DynCorp are constantly rewarded with new contracts, in the face of their bad behavior, fits a pattern of behavior for the Bush Administration - where bad behavior is rewarded and calls for accountability are often punished harshly. It is up to the long comatose Congress to protect the funds we, the tax payers, have entrusted with the government - they must ensure accountability by punishing bad behavior. It is also up to the Congress to ensure that if the United States is going to outsource war fighting and post-conflict operations to mercenaries, these mercenaries must follow the same code of conduct that we expect of our soldiers.

However, a quick look at DynCorp’s donor list suggests that the bad behavior will continue, with government sanction. The hearts and minds will have to be won after the money runs out and the feeding trough is empty.

under Politics , International , Foreign Policy
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