by David Rohde at Rueters November 16, 2012
Amid the politicking, there’s an overlooked cause of the Benghazi tragedy
For conservatives, the Benghazi scandal is a Watergate-like presidential cover-up. For liberals, it a fabricated Republican witch-hunt. For me, Benghazi is a call to act on an enduring problem that both parties ignore.
One major overlooked cause of the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans is we have underfunded the State Department and other civilian agencies that play a vital role in our national security.
Instead of building up cadres of skilled diplomatic security guards, we have bought them from the lowest bidder, trying to acquire capacity and expertise on the cheap. Benghazi showed how vulnerable that makes us.
Now, I’m not arguing that this use of contractors was the sole cause of the Benghazi tragedy, but I believe it was a primary one. Let me explain.
The slapdash security that killed Stevens, technician Sean Smith and CIA guards Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty started with a seemingly inconsequential decision by Libya’s new government. After the fall of Muammar Qaddafi, Libya’s interim government barred armed private security firms – foreign and domestic – from operating anywhere in the country.
Memories of the abuses by foreign mercenaries, acting for the brutal Qaddafi regime, prompted the decision, according to State Department officials.
Once the Libyans took away the private security guard option, it put enormous strain on a little-known State Department arm, the Diplomatic Security Service. This obscure agency has been responsible for protecting American diplomatic posts around the world since 1916.
Though embassies have contingents of Marines, consulates and other offices do not. And the missions of Marines, in fact, are to destroy documents and protect American government secrets. It is the Diplomatic Security agents who are charged with safeguarding the lives of American diplomats.
Today, roughly 900 Diplomatic Security agents guard 275 American embassies and consulates around the globe. That works out to a whopping four agents per facility.
In Iraq and Afghanistan, the State Department relied on hundreds of security contractors to guard American diplomats. At times, they even hired private security guards to protect foreign leaders.
After Afghan President Hamid Karzai narrowly survived a 2002 assassination attempt, the State Department hired security guards from DynCorp, a military contractor, to guard him. Their aggressiveness in and around the presidential palace, however, angered Afghan, American and European officials. As soon as Afghan guards were trained to protect Karzai, DynCorp was let go.
But the State Department’s dependence on contractors for security remained. And Benghazi epitomized this Achilles’ heel.
The New York Times November 9, 2012
The sudden development came just days after President Obama won re-election to a second term. Mr. Petraeus, a highly decorated general who had led the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, had been expected to remain in the president’s administration.
Instead, Mr. Petraeus said in the statement that the president accepted his resignation on Friday after he had informed him of his indiscretion a day earlier.
“After being married for over 37 years, I showed extremely poor judgment by engaging in an extramarital affair,” Mr. Petraeus wrote. “Such behavior is unacceptable, both as a husband and as the leader of an organization such as ours. This afternoon, the president graciously accepted my resignation.”
Wired’s Danger Room September 17, 2012
The State Department signed a six-figure deal with a British firm to protect the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya just four months before a sustained attack on the compound killed four U.S. nationals inside.
Contrary to Friday’s claim by State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland that “at no time did we contract with a private security firm in Libya,” the department inked a contract for “security guards and patrol services” on May 3 for $387,413.68. An extension option brought the tab for protecting the consulate to $783,000. The contract lists only “foreign security awardees” as its recipient.
The State Department confirmed to Danger Room on Monday that the firm was Blue Mountain, a British company that provides “close protection; maritime security; surveillance and investigative services; and high risk static guarding and asset protection,” according to its website. Blue Mountain says it has “recently operated in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, the Caribbean and across Europe” and has worked in Libya for several months since last year’s war.
A representative for Blue Mountain, reached at its U.K. offices Monday, said no one was available to comment.
The State Department frequently hires security companies to protect diplomats in conflict zones. It usually is done through what’s known as the Worldwide Protective Services contract, in which a handful of approved firms compete to safeguard specific diplomatic installations. In 2010, State selected eight firms for the most recent contract. Blue Mountain wasn’t among them, and the State Department did not explain why the Benghazi consulate contract did not go to one of those eight firms.
Reuters September 12, 2012
BENGHAZI, Libya – The U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other embassy staff (Shaun Smith) were killed in a rocket attack on their car, a Libyan official said, as they were rushed from a consular building stormed by militants denouncing a U.S.-made film insulting the Prophet Mohammad.
Gunmen had attacked and burned the U.S. consulate in the eastern city of Benghazi, a center of last year’s uprising against Muammar Gaddafi, late on Tuesday evening, killing one U.S. consular official. The building was evacuated.
The Libyan official said the ambassador, Christopher Stevens, was being driven from the consulate building to a safer location when gunmen opened fire.
“The American ambassador and three staff members were killed when gunmen fired rockets at them,” the official in Benghazi told Reuters.
There was no immediate comment from the State Department in Washington. U.S. ambassadors in such volatile countries are accompanied by tight security, usually travelling in well-protected convoys. Security officials will be considering whether the two attacks were coordinated
Abandoned weapons that were once part of toppled dictator Moamer Kadhafi’s arsenal pose an ongoing and serious threat to civilians in Libya, warned a report published by Harvard University on Thursday
Times Live August 2, 2012
“These weapons may have been abandoned, but their ability to harm civilians remains intact,” said Bonnie Docherty, leader of the research team sent to Libya by Harvard Law School and partner organisation CIVIC.
Weapons left behind after last year’s conflict range from bullets and mortars to torpedoes and surface-to-air missiles, creating an “explosive situation” in a country with a weak central government, the report said.
“The sheer scale of weapons here is shocking,” co-author Nicolette Boehland told AFP in Tripoli.
“Arms are spilling out of hundreds of inadequately secured bunkers. Other weapons have spread across the country to militia stockpiles in urban centers, museums, fields and even homes,” she added.
Threats to civilians include stockpiles at risk of explosion in or near populated areas, civilian curiosity and access to contaminated sites and munitions, plus the harvesting of abandoned weapons for sale or personal use.
Civilians are endangered during the clearance of munition by local communities that lack professional training and the display of weapons as mementos of war, the report found.
In one instance, in the western town of Dafniya, where a brigade kept weapons in some 22 shipping containers, an explosion spread so much dangerous material that it endangered the whole community.
Steve Joubert of JMACT (Joint Mine Action Coordination Team) was quoted as saying that there are “now more weapons than people in Misrata,” in reference to Libya’s third-largest city, which suffered a brutal siege in 2011.
The report noted that the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) and international organisations have shouldered the brunt of the work in clearing ordnance and advising local communities on stockpile management.
Citing UNMAS, Boehland said that as of June, there had been at least 208 casualties, including 54 fatalities, from explosive remnants of war. The toll included 72 children either wounded or killed.
“Children are especially attracted to weapons because they are brightly coloured or look like toys,” she said, noting that the number of casualties is likely to be higher than those documented so far.
The report called on Libya’s newly elected authorities to develop a national strategy to secure leftover ordnance and manage stockpiles. It urged international organisations, notably NATO, to help out.
NATO’s bombings of ammunition bunkers during the conflict last year “spread ordnance across open fields, thus creating a more dangerous and difficult problem,” it said.
The New York Times Africa June 25, 2012
The release by NATO of a list of unexploded munitions from the alliance’s military action in Libya has been both welcomed as a step toward postconflict accountability and criticized as a half-measure that falls short of protecting civilians and specialists trying to rid the country of its hazards.
The United Nations said this month that NATO, in an exchange not publicly disclosed, had shared details of 313 possible sites of unexploded ordnance from the alliance’s action against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s government last year. The alliance provided the latitude and longitude for each site, the weight of the ordnance and a description of the means of delivery (fixed-wing aircraft, helicopter gunship or naval vessel).
With the widespread use of sophisticated targeting sensors, with which aircrews record infrared video of the impact of a missile or bomb, air forces have a greater capacity than ever to know exactly where weapons struck and when they have failed to function properly. Such data is routinely gathered as part of what militaries call battle damage assessment. It is used to determine whether a target has been destroyed or should be hit again, and to assess the reliability and effectiveness of various missiles and bombs.
The data also presents options for humanitarian and cleanup efforts. When shared, it can allow for governments and mine-clearing organizations to alert residents of specific risks at specific places, and to focus efforts on removing high-explosive remnants of war. Its existence also suggests an opening for Western militaries to adopt a new standard for responsibility in air campaigns.
For these reasons, the United Nations, which had asked NATO for the data last year, welcomed the list, even though it contained limited information.
Reuters Tripoli June 4, 2012
A Libyan military court on Monday handed down long prison terms to a group of men from the former Soviet Union accused of serving as mercenaries for ousted leader Muammar Gaddafi in last year’s war.
One Russian man, deemed the group’s coordinator, was sentenced to life in prison, the court heard. Another Russian, three Belarussians and 19 Ukrainians were handed sentences of 10 years with hard labor. They had denied the charges.
The military trial was the first of its kind in Libya since a popular revolt ousted Gaddafi last year. The new government is trying to prove its judicial process is robust enough to try high-profile Gaddafi loyalists including his son Saif al-Islam.
“This is the worst kind of sentence,” said Belarussian ambassador Anatoly Stepus who was present at the hearing. “We thought that even if they were sentenced it would not be so strict. They have suffered a lot.”
InterCross ICRC From the Field May 30, 2012
The ICRC in Libya started to address the humanitarian consequences of explosive remnants of war immediately after the figting ended in April 2011.
In an effort to protect returning residents, our explosive ordnance disposal teams entered Sirte and Bani Walid at a time when unexploded ordnance caused on average one casualty a day.
They proceeded to train hundreds of Libyans in risk education, including members of the Libyan Red Crescent. These volunteers now work in local communities in the regions and cities most affected by the problem.
The total number of mines and explosive remnants of war in Libya is unknown but the weapons continue to kill and maim, primarily children and young men.
National Post April 12, 2012
The Iraqi cabinet has agreed “to provide necessary technical assistance to the Libyan authorities to dispose of their chemical stockpiles, according to the procedures followed by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW),” the statement said.
Libya’s representative to the OPCW, Mohammed Jibril, requested Iraqi “help in the diplomatic and technical field to get rid of chemical stockpiles that Libya has which must be destroyed under the supervision” of the OPCW, it said.
Iraq approved the request because Baghdad wants “to provide the necessary assistance … to Arab brothers at all levels,” the statement said, noting Iraq’s “extensive experience … in disposing of chemical weapons.”
The OPCW is the implementing body of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), to which Iraq became the 186th state party in 2009, according to the OPCW website.
The OPCW said in November that Libya’s ruling National Transitional Council had pledged to continue with the previous regime’s program of destroying its chemical weapons stockpiles.
The organization said in January after a visit by inspectors that ousted Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s regime possessed undeclared mustard gas shells.
“Libya must now submit a detailed plan and completion date for destroying all of the declared materials to the OPCW not later than April 29, 2012, the date of the final extended deadline,” it said.
The Daily Star March 5, 2012
TALLINN: An Estonian demining expert died in a blast in Libya while clearing unexploded ordnance left over from the civil war that toppled Moamer Kadhafi, the Baltic state’s foreign ministry said Monday.
The 31-year-old, who worked for Danish charity DanChurchAid, was killed on Saturday as he was disposing of a charge, ministry spokeswoman Helen Rits told AFP.
She declined to give further details.
The Baltic News Service reported that the man died in Dafniya, a town 180 kilometres (112 miles) west of the Libyan capital Tripoli.
It said Kadhafi loyalists had laid mines in the area in an attempt to stem an assault on Tripoli, as rebels moved ever-closer to ousting Kadhafi’s 42-year regime.
Kadhafi was overthrown and killed in October and the country’s new rulers, the Libyan National Transitional Council, have appealed for foreign explosives experts to help clean up the debris of war.
The Estonian had worked in several post-conflict zones in the past for his homeland’s authorities and a range of international organisations.
The New York Times At War, Notes from the Front Line February 1, 2012
Today, At War journeys into crowd-sourcing to ask for readers’ help identifying a weapon found on the battlefields of Libya last year. Followers of this blog know that we have spent considerable time identifying and sometimes tracing the tools of war in several recent conflicts back to their sources. But this time, we are stumped.
The items in question are what ordnance professionals call submunitions, but are more widely known among lay readers as cluster bombs. The photograph above shows one found in November at the ruins of an arms depot a few miles outside of Mizdah, in the desert south of Tripoli.
We post it here to bring into public view an ordinary and often frustrating process has been happening, quietly and by fits and starts for several months, among nongovernmental organizations and arms specialists working in Libya.
Here is the background: This submunition was in the arsenal of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s military, and was fired at anti-Qaddafi rebels in the summer and perhaps again in the fall, part of the pro-Qaddafi forces’ last gasps. After the conflict ended, many more were found scattered near shattered bunkers in the depot near Mizdah. These apparently had been kicked out of storage when bunkers were struck by bombs from NATO or allied warplanes. (More on that here.) You can see the disposition of some of them at the depot, below
“In the coming years leishmaniasis may become the most important condition you have never heard of among veterans”
Contractors will be even less likely to be diagnosed and/or treated timely or effectively. Diagnoses normally occurs long after they’ve had contact with their families.
In recent months, many politicians and presidential hopefuls have called for budget reductions, and many have specifically targeted military spending for cutbacks. Unfortunately, even programs proven to be cost effective are vulnerable to cuts. Medical research for our troops is no exception to this rule — programs such as the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR) often find themselves low on the priority list despite their crucial role in saving the lives of our troops on the battlefield and here at home.
One important area of research is tropical medicine. During World War II and the Vietnam War, more than one million service members acquired tropical infections such as malaria, dengue fever, hookworm, and typhus, and many of these diseases continued to plague our veterans after they returned home. Today, American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan still face formidable tropical disease threats, especially from a disease transmitted by the bite of sand flies known as leishmaniasis, which can cause a disfiguring ulcer in one form, and a serious systemic condition that clinically resembles leukemia in another. In the coming years leishmaniasis may become the most important condition you have never heard of among veterans.
WRAIR’s leishmaniasis diagnostic laboratory is the only one of its kind in the world, so each time funding is slashed our military loses considerable expertise and capabilities in the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of this devastating disease. For example, in the years prior to the Gulf War, the WRAIR leishmaniasis program was officially decommissioned and all research was halted. Only after cases of leishmaniasis among U.S. forces exposed to sand-fly bites in the Iraqi desert were the remaining leishmaniasis experts at WRAIR quickly assembled and tasked with making up for lost time. In 2002, the WRAIR leishmaniasis program was again dissolved only to be urgently activated once more with the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. The interruptions to the WRAIR leishmaniasis program are part of much larger budget cuts across all of WRAIR’s tropical infectious disease research programs. There is no end to the irony of such cutbacks given that they coincide with the activation in 2008 of the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), charged with fighting the war on terror across the African continent. Today, sub-Saharan Africa has the largest number of cases of tropical diseases anywhere in the world. Many of these tropical infections, such as river blindness and African sleeping sickness, have been shown to destabilize communities and may actually promote conflict in the region.
Carney said five contractor specialists were on the ground to work with the new Libyan leadership to secure weapons stockpiles.
The US State Department has provided $3 million to help destroy weapons and raised particular concern over the spread of shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, also known as Man-Portable Air-Defense Systems (MANPADS), which could be used to target civilian aircraft.
AFP September 27 2011
ABOARD AIR FORCE ONE — The United States is working closely with Libya’s new interim leaders to secure all arms stockpiles, amid concerns over weapons proliferation, the White House said Tuesday.
“Since the beginning of the crisis we have been actively engaged with our allies and partners to support Libya’s effort to secure all conventional weapons stockpiles including recovery, control and disposal of shoulder fired anti-aircraft missiles,” spokesman Jay Carney said.
“We are exploring every option to expand our support,” he told reporters on Air Force One as President Barack Obama toured western states.
US General Carter Ham, who led the first stage of the coalition air campaign in Libya, said in early April that there were fears that militants could seize some of the estimated 20,000 shoulder-launched missiles in Libya, calling it “a regional and an international concern.”
The proliferation of arms raided from the vast stores of ex-strongman Moamer Kadhafi is raising fears not only for Libya’s future stability, but also that the weapons will fall into the hands of radical groups like Al-Qaeda
“I would go to Libya or any other country to fight for a good salary,” he told SETimes.
Ever since turmoil erupted in February, there have been reports of Balkan mercenaries in the north African country. Media reports last week claimed that rebel fighters executed a large group of fighters-for-hire in the city of Misrata, including nine Croats, 12 Serbs and an unknown number of Bosniaks.
That story remains unconfirmed, and details about the overall number of Balkan mercenaries active in the country are hard to come by. Still, military operations experts say they have enough data to form a rough estimate.
“According to my information, about 250 persons from Serbia are located in Libya,” military analyst Ljubodrag Stojadinovic told SETimes. He said several hundred well trained troops emerged from the Balkan wars, and are willing to use their expertise.
The mercenaries are driven by the promise of monetary gain, and not by politics or ideology, Stojadinovic added
France denied on Monday that it had mercenaries in Libya, after Muammar Gaddafi’s loyalists said they had captured 17 foreigners — some British and French — in the fight for a town still held by the ousted leader’s followers.
The claim by Gaddafi’s spokesman Moussa Ibrahim that foreign security personnel had been captured in the battle for the pro-Gaddafi bastion Bani Walid could not be verified and no immediate proof was presented.
It comes as the new authorities are facing stark reversals on the battlefield and in the political arena.
Nearly a month after Gaddafi was driven from power, his loyalist holdouts have beaten back repeated assaults by National Transitional Council forces at Bani Walid and Gaddafi’s home city of Sirte. NTC fighters have been sent fleeing in disarray after failing to storm Gaddafi bastions.
The NTC, still based in the eastern city of Benghazi, has faced questions about whether it can unify a country divided on tribal and local lines. A long-promised attempt to set up a more inclusive interim government fell apart overnight.
“A group was captured in Bani Walid consisting of 17 mercenaries. They are technical experts and they include consultative officers,” Gaddafi spokesman Ibrahim said on Syria-based Arrai television, which has backed Gaddafi.
“Most of them are French, one of them is from an Asian country that has not been identified, two English people and one Qatari.”
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, in New York to attend a U.N. meeting, told journalists: “We have no French mercenaries in Libya.”