A New (Old) Direction

•December 23, 2010 • 5 Comments

This will be my very last post on this blog.

It’s taken a lot of phone calls, arm twisting, late nights, cold beers, reactivation of an old network and a dozen meetings with lawyers and accountants but it’s finally here. I’ve re-opened the business I was running with two great mates (and thorough professionals) before the GFC blew into town and blew us all out onto individual contracts. It’s a gamble but I figure why work my butt off for someone else when I can do the same for myself – it’s a no-brainer really.

We don’t profess to be one of the ‘Big Boys’ and don’t expect to ever threaten their business but we were doing some great work in a smaller niche and getting great responses from our clients. We believe we can do that again. We’ve got the talent and the drive to make it work (again) so I figured ‘why the hell not?’ and here we are.

You can check us out here and view our ‘Re-Launch Announcement’, old and future blog posts here. I hope we can provide you with something of interest in the Blog and, of course, we’re always ready to assist if you need our services.

To all of my readers here at Kandahar Diary: Thanks for your support and being part of the journey. Stay safe.



Moving On (to God knows where)

•October 20, 2010 • 23 Comments

Two days ago I resigned from my contract.

There are so many reasons I did that – personal and professional – but it finally boiled down to the fact that my heart wasn’t in it anymore and a realisation that , while I felt (and still feel) a sense of duty and responsibility to the company, I felt a higher duty to my family. I had been posted from my operational role to one in Plans and that didn’t really ‘float my boat’ so I did some major soul-searching while on leave. You have to be committed to what you do to justify the risk and the separation from the family. I just didn’t feel that commitment anymore. So, it looks like I won’t be making that ‘Year in Afghanistan’ after all.

I’m job-hunting now and I’ll stay on The Circuit. I’m sure, some time soon, I’ll be off to another place in another role. I’m still hoping to find that cushy fly in – fly out security consultancy role!

I plan to re-badge this blog to make it more about life on The Circuit more generally and keep you up to date on the various assignments that take me wherever they may so, for now, it might be slim pickings here but keep me bookmarked. Until then, it’s time to catch up on all the chores around the house that have needed a man’s touch for too long and time to reconnect with my family and with the ancient art of beer drinking.

If you’re a contractor somewhere out there, stay ready and be safe. To paraphrase Orwell and Churchill, if you’re at home and sleeping peacefully tonight, spare a thought for all those rough men out here who stand ready to do violence on your behalf.

Thanks for being part of the journey.

Centurion Stands Down

•September 3, 2010 • 2 Comments

This time tomorrow night I’ll have a cold beer in my hand and a crisp, green, garden salad big enough to choke a horse, in front of me.Today was as different a picture to that as could possibly be.

Tanker roll-over, two ambushes, one of my guards shot and killed at close range driving through Kandahar City, meeting the grieving families of my recent KIA (these people give a whole new meaning to the term ‘stoic’), grilled by a commercial compliance desk-jockey from the client’s Dubai office (“why do you stop some of the convoy in an ambush?” “well, ma’am, mostly it’s because there is a crater in the road from the initiating IED but dead tanker and escort drivers also have something to do with it…” {Jesus wept!} ), and all wrapped up with one tanker and a guard team brassed up by the ANA outside of a FOB to the west of here.  After shooting up the tanker and my guys, the ANA then had the front to confiscate their weapons and demand ‘compensation’.  Remember: this is the very same ANA Karzai is insisting is ready to step up and guarantee the security of this place and the vital fuel convoys that traverse it.

Two Mirages again doing their thing in the dusk sky over KAF, the Muezzin’s song and fat little sparrows chirping in the razor wire as the crickets chirruped, made this evening’s smoke a peaceful few minutes to end another hectic day in Kandahar

Back in a little over three weeks.  All callsigns, this is Centurion. Out.

Leave And A Pavlov’s Dog

•September 2, 2010 • 3 Comments

I’m out on leave in a few days after first attending an Operations Conference in Dubai.

This has been a tough rotation.

My ‘Higher’ has stepped up its push for regulatory compliance and it has been a daily battle to implement it while fending off the ‘please explains’ and kicks in the arse. The fact that I’ve had to do this without an XO for most of the last two rotations has made it even harder. I have felt a bit like the Ginger Step-Kid of the family for a lot of this rotation and I know my lads are weary of the constant negative reinforcement we get. Most of this is directed at me so I’ve managed to keep it from splashing all over my teams, but it rolls down hill as they say and I have had to be a hell of a lot more strict on management and compliance issues than perhaps I was first rotation.

I fully support the company’s compliance efforts – it’s part of what sets us apart from most PSCs in Afghanistan – and I have no problem with the pressure, ridiculous work hours or constantly shifting goal posts. However what I can’t handle, day in day out, is the constant negative feedback with never a word of encouragement or a ‘well done’ for our efforts. Calls or emails from my Higher have been provoking a Pavlovian response in me – I see them come in and I react physiologically. The Conditioned Response is predictable – my palms sweat, pulse rate goes up and I get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. It is hard to handle.

I don’t need man-hugs from my bosses, or a gold star in my homework book, but the occasional ‘attaboy’ would go a long way. I’m only human after all and the constant kickings are sapping my usual stoicism and ’crack on’ attitude. Just reading this back, I realise what a weepy bastard I sound – time to give myself an uppercut and HTFU!

Still, I’ve dusted off my CV and am tapping my network for other opportunities – I’m dreaming of a job that sees more cash in my account and more time with L and the kids. A cushy BG job for a gazillionairre somewhere, or a fly-in fly-out security and risk consultancy would be just the ticket!

As usual, I am starting to worry about how my lads will be without me. Paternalistic and selfish, I know, but I do worry about them when I am out. Truth be told, they’ll probably be thankful I’m not here banging their heads about compliance, KPIs, reporting and asset management.

Only days to go to a good meal, a beer and a full night’s sleep. Bring it on…

Random Thought #561

•August 23, 2010 • 2 Comments

Cigarette and time for reflection after another mental day. Same place, same time. Looking up into the dusk sky I could see a contrail high above the dust haze (maybe 35,000 feet) and moving fast. Probably an airliner – unless, I thought fleetingly, it’s a nuke. I watched as the trail passed overhead heading NE then as it slowly banked left to head off to the NW. Where’s it going? London… Paris…? Who flies over Afghanistan to get to Europe? 

They’ll be breaking out the canapés and red wine for dinner around about now. Crisp white napkins on the drop-down tray (yes, I’m thinking Business Class), polite and attentive cabin crew. Maybe an entree of prawn and lemongrass salad, followed by medallions of beef and stir-fried Asian greens. A Châteauneuf du Pape from Côtes du Rhône I think. Finished off with a white chocolate soufflé and a glass of cool, sweet white from Languedoc-Roussillon to wash it down…. 

Tonight, as usual, for dinner I had a protein shake (chocolate and peanut butter) and an apple.

A Presidential Decree: My Thoughts

•August 19, 2010 • 5 Comments

The big news around the traps at the moment is Karzai’s announcement that all PSC (local and international) have until 1 Jan 11 to disband and, for the internationals, quit Afghanistan. This is due to the (justifiable) perception that PSCs are running amok, involved in bribery and extortion, are in league – to varying degrees – with the Taliban and are damaging ISAFs counter-insurgency (COIN) strategy.

At the outset let me say that my company is held up as an example of how a transparent, compliant and professional PSC should operate in providing convoy security to Host Nation Trucking (HNT) contractors. If it were not I wouldn’t be working for it. However, as a PSC, we are lumped in with the local firms that are nothing more than armed militia for warlords such as Ruhullah (who plies his trade between Kabul and Kandahar) and Matiullah Kahn (who commands a 2,000 men in Uruzgan where nothing moves without his approval and his payment of between USD1000 and USD3000 per truck).

These, and other warlords, regularly extort ‘special payments’ or ‘security payments’ (call them what you will) from HNT contractors to ensure convoys move through their areas safely and largely unhindered. It is widely known that the protection racket also extends to the Taliban who use the warlords as their ‘collectors’ – adding to the already massive sum the insurgents rake in every year from its links to opium production and drug running. It is no coincidence that those HNT contractors who refuse to pay the protection money suffer the greatest number of incidents along the route – these incidents being, according to a large body of evidence, initiated by the warlords’ own people or by the insurgents at the warlord’s behest.

Why are my company’s convoys being contacted and ambushed almost every day? Why are we losing guards to ‘enemy’ fire at a KIA rate per head of force higher than that of ISAF? Because we and our client don’t pay the baksheesh.

As to the deleterious effect PSCs are having on ISAF’s COIN strategy, it doesn’t take a policy wonk from some Washington-based think tank to work out the reason. When the central plank to any successful COIN strategy is winning the confidence, trust and loyalty of the local populace, it is hardly going to be a ‘good thing’ when armed thugs known to be escorting convoys for the security forces (and, vicariously, the government), smacked out on hash and heroin, fire indiscriminately into villages as they pass, pull over civilians and the very tanker drivers they are charged to protect and extort cash and generally act in all sorts of illegal and unsavoury ways with apparent impunity. The very existence of these local PSCs, and the warlords who have established a parallel security apparatus to that of the legitimate government, is counter-intuitive to what ISAF are trying to achieve here.

A spokesman for the Ministry of the Interior is reported to have said today that, with the PSCs gone, the ANA and ANP will step in to fill the gap and are more than capable of doing so. Well, Mr Minister, I have news for you. If you think the ANA and, in particular, the ANP aren’t deeply and irretrievably corrupt from the local to the highest level, then you need to get out of your office more. While I have a lot of respect for many of the ANA and ANP I am in contact with, even the good ones think nothing of putting out their hand for a ‘special payment’ of one sort or another whenever they have the chance. Putting them in charge of the protection of a commodity that is as valuable as fuel is in this place is, well, just plain nuts.

So, where does this all leave me? I still, proudly, work for one of the best (if not the best) PSC in Afghanistan. I’m not ashamed to be a private security contractor for such a company. I agree that Karzai needs to disband the warlords and their militias (good luck with that, by the way, Mr President) as they are a threat to the stability of his already fragile government and his already frayed credibility. But a ‘catch-all’ statement about disbanding all PSCs (including us and the ones like us who do good work for ISAF) just hasn’t been thought out (not least because of the timeline) and will, if it comes to pass, come back to haunt Karzai or whoever sits in his seat in the future.

And that’s my tuppence worth….

Ramadan: The Insurgent View

•August 13, 2010 • 1 Comment

Ramadan has started and, with it, a noticeable up-tick in insurgent activity. INT is telling us of suicide bomber teams crossing from Pakistan in increased numbers, and ambushes on our convoys have increased along the usual bad spots (Hawz-e Madad – Zheray, Qalay-e Now). Insurgent assassination teams are roaming Kandahar City looking for opportunities to take out provincial officials and any other high-value target that lets his guard down. All of this, reportedly, being the insurgents’ way to mark the advent of Ramadan. This got me thinking.

Ramadan is the Islamic month of fasting, intended to teach Muslims about patience, humility, and spirituality. During Ramadan, Muslims ask forgiveness for past sins, pray for guidance in refraining from evil, and try to purify themselves through self-restraint and good deeds.

I’m sure that a few billion Muslims around the world follow the precepts of Ramadan for peaceful and spiritual purposes – certainly my Muslim friends and colleagues do. However, it is telling that Islamists – such as the Taliban – have twisted Ramadan, like so many other aspects of the Muslim faith, to their own radical, political ends – to wit, an end to pluralism and the rights of man and the establishment of a backwards-looking theocratic Caliphate. From where I sit, I agree with the likes of Ed Husain who, in ‘The Islamist’, points to the disconnect between Islam and its spirituality and Islamists and their politicisation of a faith not intended as a political manifesto.

Marking a holy month with death and terror? Salah ad-Din – one of my ‘historic heroes’ – a strict Sunni and an enlightened, educated and chivalrous man, would, I believe, reject such breathtaking hypocrisy.