Category Archives: Af/Pak

USCG Peshawar Employee Faisal Saeed Killed in Pakistan

– Domani Spero

Pakistani news reports that two gunmen riding a motorcycle opened fire on Faisal Saeed, 30, outside his residence in Peshawar.  Senior police official Najibur Rehman reportedly identified Saeed as a former employee of the U.S. consulate in Peshawar, but the U.S. embassy in Islamabad said he was a staff member.

“Local authorities are investigating a tragic incident that has affected a Pakistani national U.S. Consulate Peshawar employee,” a U.S. Embassy spokeswoman said in a statement. “We strongly condemn this brutal and senseless death, and express our heartfelt condolences to the family,” she said.

WaPo also reported yesterday that Saeed, worked as a computer programmer at the consulate and was active in updating its Facebook page.  The report citing a friend, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of safety concerns, said Saeed “was talking on his phone outside of his house when two armed men shot him and fled.”

“Pakistani officials refused to speculate whether Saeed was targeted because of his affiliation with the U.S. government.”

Peshawar has been called the most dangerous post in the Foreign Service and has been in de facto draw-down during the last five years.

In 2013, the Regional Security Office released its annual Crime and Security Report detailing various attacks against post:

Western targets, in particular U.S. diplomatic premises, personnel, and vehicles, have been attacked repeatedly in Peshawar over the past several years. In 2010, the U.S. Consulate weathered a direct assault. In May 2011, a Consulate motorcade was attacked with a car bomb in the University Town neighborhood. In September 2012, another Consulate motorcade was attacked in the same neighborhood utilizing a sophisticated surveillance network and a suicide car bomb, which resulted in numerous casualties and property damage. In November 2012, two separate indirect fire (IDF) incidents were directed at the Consulate’s University Town housing compound. A number of Consulate residences sustained minor damage, and one Consulate guard was injured.

The report also notes the anti-American sentiment in the country and the apparent rise of terrorist acts in Peshawar.

Northwest Pakistan–consisting of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province (KP), the provincial capital of Peshawar, and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA)–is a dangerous place for all Westerners and especially American citizens. The Abbottabad raid in May 2011 that captured and killed Osama bin Laden, the 2011 NATO action on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border that resulted in the death of 24 Pakistani soldiers, and the 2011 Raymond Davis incident have inflamed anti-American sentiment in Pakistan. In 2012, there were numerous anti-American protests, including large-scale demonstrations and protests against the anti-Islamic movie, “Innocence of Muslims.” The overall number of terrorist acts in the “settled areas” of Peshawar and KP Province appear to be on the rise, particularly with attacks against local commercial and government facilities.

Active links added above.  The U.S. Consulate General Peshawar was headed by senior DS agent Robert Reed from 2012 to 2013.  In fall 2013, he was succeeded by Gabriel Escobar as consul general.  Mr. Escobar previously served as Team Leader of the State Department’s PRT in Kirkuk Province, Iraq in 2009 and 2010.

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Filed under Af/Pak, Consul Generals, Diplomatic Attacks, Foreign Service, Locally Employed Staff, Pakistan, Realities of the FS, State Department, Terrorism, U.S. Missions

The State of Foreign Service Family Member Employment 2013 — Where Are the Jobs?

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– Domani Spero

According to State/FLO, the total adult family member population of the Foreign Service in 2013 is 11,528.  This number was 9,243 in 2007 and  9,819 in 2009. Family members are 78% female and 64% are not working.  Male family members are slowly expanding in numbers; they constitute 20% of the family member population in 2007, 19% in 2009 and is up 22% last year.

Of the 36% working , 24% works inside the U.S. mission with only 12% working in the local economy. The total number of family members employed was 25% in 2009.   While more jobs have become available since 2009, the FS family member population has also expanded by 1,711 in the last four years.  Of the 64% not working  or 7,392 family members — the FLO data does not provide insight into how many of these have opted to stay home voluntarily and how many are interested in working but could not find work overseas.

We should note that the State Department has created an Expanded Professional Associates Program (EPAP) for family member employment.  These are professional level Foreign Service full-time positions, centrally funded by the Department of State and some through ICASS (as opposed to post-funded positions). But the program only provides “186 filled EPAP positions in total.”  Not all family members would like to work, of course, but for those interested in professional level positions, 186 EPAP positions amount to a 1.6% drop in a universe with 11,528 individuals.

The 2011-2013 data indicates that the largest number of FS family members at post is located in the EUR bureau (3,319) followed by the WHA bureau (2,716).  However, the total number of family members employed at post is highest in the South Central Asia countries, followed by posts in Africa.  The South Central Asia bureau only has 615 family members at post, the lowest number among regional bureaus but at 53%, it has the highest  number of employment among family members. The SCA bureau includes Afghanistan and Pakistan  where adult family members are allowed to accompany employees pending job availability at post and “M”bureau approval .

The top leading locations for family member employment have not changed.  As in 2009, the top leading posts for family member employment in 2013 are located in the following bureaus:

#1 South Central Asia (see posts here)

#2 Africa (see posts here)

#3 Near East Asia (see posts here)

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Click on image to view the State/FLO report in pdf)

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Filed under Af/Pak, Foreign Service, Govt Reports/Documents, Realities of the FS, Spouses/Partners, Staffing the FS, State Department, U.S. Missions

Twelve Take Aways from Chandrasekaran’s Little America (Deadwood) Excerpt

Rajiv Chandrasekaran is a senior correspondent and associate editor at the Washington Post and author of the new book making waves, Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan. On June 26, an exclusive excerpt from his book titled Deadwood was published by Foreign Policy. The lead question, Why did America send its C team to Afghanistan? 

Our twelve take aways below:

  1. The US Embassy in Kabul has an invisible giant reset button that gets pushed once a year, and mission life starts anew each summer.
  2. Staff members could have done a lot more stuff (maybe answer more now emails) in Washington, DC but then they would not count as a number in the “civilian surge.”
  3. The Baghdafication of Kabul appears complete with Kabul sounding as familiar as Chandrasekaran’s Emerald City. Rajiv needs his kevlar, incoming fire starts right about now.
  4. An agency who clings fervently to mandatory age retirement for the proper functioning of the Foreign Service sent a 79-year-old man to the reconstruction team in Kandahar.
  5. When a senior State Department official told the writer, “We’re at Team C” he’s either preparing for retirement or won’t mind hate mail swamping his State Department inbox.
  6. The top State Department official in Kandahar was thrown out of the Kandahar Governor’s office and survived to order a non-disclosure agreement to protect his office’s combination lock codes from his military colleagues.
  7. Summer Coish prominently mentioned in the article may be bound for high places, just not to the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP) in Foggy Bottom. 
  8. Forty percent of U.S. government civilians who were assigned to Helmand from July 2009 to June 2010 did not last six months.
  9. By late 2010, USAID was reportedly hiring 20 new people a month to go to Afghanistan, but it was losing seventeen.  The three who remained were not desperate.
  10. A senior State Department official told the writer:  “[...] there’s enough deadwood here that it’s becoming a fire hazard.” No one has ordered a firetruck, but the State Department might order that the official’s desk be foam sprayed.
  11. Urinating on the US Embassy chancery wall or near the flagpole can get you sent home, unless you are the deputy Turkish ambassador, or someone with a small bladder who threatens to complain under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  12. Alcohol purchases at the embassy convenience store was limited to two bottles of wine or one bottle of spirits per person per day. One bottle of spirits (distilled beverage) can have as high as 40% alcohol by volume (ABV), so that’s a hell of a restriction.

Read the full article here in Foreign Policy.

Domani Spero

 

 

 

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Filed under Af/Pak, Afghanistan, Book Notes, Contractors, Foreign Assistance, Foreign Policy, Media, Special Envoys and Reps, State Department, US Embassy Kabul, USAID, War

GAO: Smuggling of Improvised Explosive Device (IED) Materials from Pakistan to Afghanistan

The GAO video below describes the threat posed by the smuggling of IED materials from Pakistan into Afghanistan. It also shows some of the key challenges to preventing such illicit commerce, both at the two official border crossing points, as well as along the rugged terrain between those border crossings.

The video is 1:27 minute short; does that say something about the short attention span of its target audience?  Below is a brief GAO summary of the accompanying 27-page report:

According to U.S. officials, U.S. agencies have encountered ongoing challenges to their efforts to assist Pakistan, such as delays in obtaining visas and in the delivery of equipment. U.S. officials have also identified broader challenges to Pakistan’s ability to counter IEDs, including the extreme difficulty of interdicting smugglers along its porous border with Afghanistan. In addition, though Pakistan developed a National Counter-IED Strategy in June 2011, it has yet to finalize an implementation plan for carrying out the strategy.

The U.S. fiscal year 2013 Mission Strategic and Resource Plan (MSRP) for Pakistan includes a new performance indicator to track some of Pakistan’s efforts to counter IEDs, but the indicator and targets used to measure progress do not cover the full range of U.S. assisted efforts. The performance indicator focuses on cross-border activities, specifically on Pakistan’s efforts to prevent illicit commerce in sensitive materials, including chemical precursors used to manufacture IEDs in Afghanistan. As such, progress of U.S. counter-IED assistance efforts not specifically linked to cross-border smuggling are not covered, such as counter-IED training and/or equipment, a counter-IED public awareness campaign, and legal assistance for laws and regulations to counter-IEDs and IED precursors. Consequently, effects of key U.S. assisted counter-IED efforts are not tracked under the existing performance indicator and related targets. The absence of comprehensive performance measures that reflect the broad range of U.S. assisted counter-IED efforts limits State’s ability to track overall progress in Pakistan to counter IEDs and to determine the extent to which these counter-IED efforts are helping to achieve the U.S. goals.

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Anonymous FSO: AIP Posts Not the Only Places Where FSOs Are At Risk

On June 4, we posted an excerpt from a USIP interview of an FSO who served at an Iraq PRT (read Insider Quote: AIP Fatigue and a Little Hostility). That post generated the following comment, which I am reposting up front because the writer brings up important issues about the realities of service in the Foreign Service, particularly in the post 9/11 world.

Maybe there should be a little resentment from some quarters. The AIP posts aren’t the only places where FSOs put, or have put, themselves at risk to serve their country. Yes, we should honor and reward the service of FS personnel serving in AIP. But let’s not forget those who serve, or served, in other war zones.

Not to be morbid, but has anyone compared the mortality rate for USG personnel in stationed in Ciudad Juarez to those in Kabul and Baghdad? What “incentives” do we give people currently in the Mexican border posts or Yemen (where its so dangerous that Embassy personnel are not allowed to sleep in their homes)? Or until recently in Libya and Syria?

How about officers who’ve served in Angola, Congo, DROC, Cote d’Ivoire, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Mali, Chad, Sudan, Somalia, Zimbabwe etc. Sierra Leone and Liberia were particular garden spots. Remember when President Taylor’s troops strafed Embassy Monrovia? How about the 50 mm shells embedded in the Ambassador’s desk in Freetown after the AFRC coup (or was it the Nigerian invasion, or the RUF coup, or the Strasser coup)? We had FS personnel staffing a makeshift Embassy in Sierra Leone when DOD would not let its people visit on TDY because it was too dangerous.

Bosnia. (Just the word is enough.)

When I was in Angola, our DOD colleagues were getting combat pay; that wasn’t too long after UNITA attacked the Embassy compound. When we hitched rides into the interior on 40 year old C-130s chartered to WFP, the pilots corkscrewed into landings to make it harder for anyone with a SAM to take aim.

And what about the FS personnel who’ve lost family members, including children, because of medical, safety, traffic conditions in third world posts. When we honor service at AIP above all else, we diminish the sacrifice of those who put themselves, and sometimes their families, at risk to serve the USA in other dangerous places.

Folks might remember that State’s personnel system fell into a crisis in the post Vietnam years. At the height of the CORDS program, more than 400 FSOs were in the field with the CORDS (Civil Operations and Rural Development Support) program with over a hundred more were in language training.  According to Kopp and Gillespie, a number of those officers were “thoroughly dismayed” and left the service; those who remained with their operational skills received rapid advancement in their careers. But as they moved up the ranks, there were not enough positions to accommodate them all.  The up or out system had grown lax and midlevel officers resented the senior officers glut which frustrated the officers’ (many of them veterans of CORDS) chances for promotion.

A former FSO who recently wrote about the CORDS program (which he calls the Civil Operations and Revolutionary
Development Support) for the May 2012 issue of State Magazine, and who calls it as a success had the following tidbit:

At the FSO pre-employment oral exam, male applicants were told they stood every chance of going to war if accepted. Midcareer and senior FSOs were also sent to the front.[...] “You had a simple option,” he recalled. “If you were assigned to Vietnam and didn’t take it, you resigned your commission and left the service. It was as simple as that.”

It seems to me that early on in the Iraq War junior officers were sent to Baghdad straight out of FSI but that did not last long.  The vacancies in Iraq and Afghanistan and later Pakistan, as other assignments in the Foreign Service continued to be filled with volunteers (first tours excepted, of course).  There was that threat for “directed assignment” in 2007 with the accompanying brouhaha but that did not materialized. There was that “prime candidate” exercise, too, with letters sent out, but later died a natural bureaucratic death.

I’m tired digging up my yard to put up an edible garden today so I may be going around this in a convoluted way.  But what I think is a concern is the fracturing of the Foreign Service.  There have always been hardship and dangerous assignments in the Foreign Service.  But in the past, members of the FS can point to that collective experience of serving in places that were great, not so great, and really gadawful places on earth.  But in the years following our war of choice in Iraq, and our war of necessity in Afghanistan (I don’t know what you’d call what we’re doing in Pakistan, or Yemen, etc.), folks would be hard pressed to point to  one collective experience for all the Foreign Service.  Some FSOs with less than five years in the Foreign Service have already done two tours in the war zones. Some are heading to non war zones posts that are as perilous as any red zone.  Before too long, they will come back to a normal embassy operation, reporting in some cases to midlevel or senior officers who may have served in difficult assignments but have never done a tour in Iraq or Afghanistan where as one FSO calls it like “everything is rushing at you at 110 miles an hour.” How will that organizational relationship pans out?
Just a quick point while I’m thinking about this.  There is a distinction that is being made in the Foreign Service today: there are those who went to the war zones and there are those who did not. In a perfect world, one is either an effective officer or one is not. But we do not live in a perfect world.  Should a so-s0 Political Officer who goes to the war zone on a Hail Mary pass to get a promotion get all the carrots as opposed to a stellar Political Officer in say, the Marshall Islands?  Never mind asking why a stellar PolOff is in the Marshall Islands.  But — how does the system weigh mediocre performance in a war zone as opposed to a solid performance elsewhere in the worldwide available universe?
Then there’s this other thing.  The State Dept provides a lot of carrots to get people to go to the war zones and also hardship assignments. But the pool of volunteers is drying up. The world is getting more dangerous every day. The number of hardship and danger assignments is going up exponentially. The interviewee who talked about AIP fatigue and hostility has some unhappiness about getting the follow on or linked assignments nailed down.  Presumably, he is not the only one.
There won’t be enough carrots to go around, period.  And that will divide the Foreign Service as much as the war zone assignments.
Domani Spero

 

 

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Filed under Af/Pak, Afghanistan, Foreign Service, FSOs, Org Culture, Pakistan, Realities of the FS, War

Hamid Karzai, Our Man in Kabul — Misinterpreted Once Again!

And it’s a good thing! Because if this was not a “misinterpretation” that would make us real dummies with pet snakes in that neighborhood. 

Via HuffPo:

“If fighting starts between Pakistan and the U.S., we are beside Pakistan,” Karzai said is an interview with private Pakistani television station GEO that aired Saturday. “If Pakistan is attacked and the people of Pakistan need Afghanistan’s help, Afghanistan will be there with you.”

Here is also a snippet of a video complete with finger wagging:


The LA Times has more:

President Hamid Karzai’s office on Monday sought to distance him from controversial remarks in a television interview aired over the weekend in which he asserted that Afghanistan would side with Pakistan in a hypothetical war against the United States. The presidential palace said the Afghan leader’s comments, made in an interview with the Pakistani television station Geo, had been “misinterpreted.”
[...]
A spokesman for Karzai, Siamak Herawi, said the president had not intended any slight to the Western governments that have spent billions of dollars shoring up the Afghan administration during the 10-year war that has claimed the lives of at least 1,817 American troops.

“The media misinterpreted [Karzai’s] speech,” he said, adding that the president had been trying to express solidarity with Pakistan for having taken in millions of Afghan refugees during decades of war and the subsequent rule of the Taliban movement.

Western military officials and diplomats publicly played down the significance of Karzai’s comments, even while privately expressing varying degrees of bafflement and dismay.

Read in full here.

As long as we continue willfully misinterpreting the smoke signals being sent from over there, we’re good, right?

 
 
 
 

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Thanks to a Hardworking Congress, Some Feds in the Garden Countries of I’Af/Pak to Lose Some Benefits

Stephen Losey of Federal Times reported last week that federal employees deployed to the I’Af/Pak region who are not in the Foreign Service have now lost numerous travel, medical and leave benefits because those benefits were not renewed by Congress after they expired Oct. 1. Excerpts:

The following benefits, which are available to Foreign Service officers, will no longer be available to non-Foreign Service personnel posted in Iraq, Afghanistan or Pakistan, according to the Office of Personnel Management:

  • Reimbursement of travel costs when going home on leave.
  • Reimbursement of travel costs when obtaining necessary medical care when such care is not available locally.
  • Reimbursement of travel costs when evacuating family members who are in imminent danger.
  • Reimbursement of travel costs when transporting furniture and other personal effects when moving to another duty station.
  • Mandatory leave for employees who have returned home after a three-year deployment. Agencies also will no longer have the option to offer leave to employees who had served in a war zone for 18 months.
  • Medical examinations, mental health care, inoculations, vaccinations and other preventative care.
  • A death gratuity equal to one year’s salary when an employee dies of injuries sustained while supporting military operations.

Read in full here.

I have not read the OPM notice but I am presuming that these changes applies to non-Foreign Service and non-Defense employees serving in those three priority countries.

The 2010 OIG review of US Embassy Pakistan indicates that there are some three dozens non-State and non-DOD personnel in that country (DEA: 16, FBI: 7, DHS: 4, BBG:1, DOE: 1, NAS: 8, Treasury: 1).

On the U.S. Embassy Iraq staffing — well, trying to pin down the staffing number over there, is of course, rocket science and I simply do not have the brains for it. Also, with the military withdrawal and the embassy taking charge, a whole lot of big numbers are bring thrown around – 5,000 – 17,000.  Security people is a big component but not sure how many non-State/USAID and non-DOD personnel will continue to deploy in Iraq and our consulates there when all is said and done in 2011. 

Due to the recent “flavor of the month” in Afghanistan, the civilian uplift staffing picture there is a bit more clearer.  Seven civilian agencies (State/USAID excepted) account for about 26% of the total civilian uplift.  So all those folks, plus some three dozens in Pakistan and an undetermined number in Iraq will be affected by Congress’ non-renewal of warzone benefits.

In short, if they need mental health care after service in the warzones, they’re basically out of luck?

This will have an impact to the employees already deployed there, but may have a larger impact on recruitment of employees for the 2012 assignment and onward.

From SIGAR/State OIG

Below is an excerpt from the SIGAR/State OIG review of the civilian uplift in that country:

[...] State increased its civilian personnel deployed to Afghanistan from 192 in January 2009, to 501 in March 2011—an increase of 309 personnel.

State has an additional 81 authorized full-time equivalent positions for the civilian uplift as of May 31, 2011, but the positions are currently unfilled. According to State officials from the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs (SCA), they will continue to place additional civilian personnel in these positions through fiscal years 2011 and 2012.

USAID had the second largest presence of any agency prior to the start of the uplift. USAID personnel increased from 85 in January 2009 to 307 as of March 2011, an increase of 222 personnel. USAID has an additional 80 authorized positions for Afghanistan that are currently unfilled. According to USAID officials, they will continue to place additional U.S. civilians in these positions in fiscal years 2011 and 2012.

As of June 2011, the other seven civilian agencies with a presence in Afghanistan accounted for an increase of 189 personnel, or approximately 26 percent of the total civilian uplift. These agencies provide personnel at the request and direction of the Chief of Mission in Afghanistan and State officials in Washington in order to meet the mission’s strategic goals. The Chief of Mission determines the number of authorized civilian uplift positions in consultation with each department.

DOJ accounted for an increase of 78 personnel, or 11 percent, of the total civilian uplift. The majority of these uplift personnel are employees of the Drug Enforcement Administration who work on mentoring and training Afghan law enforcement entities in an effort to promote the rule of law. In addition, they provide leadership and guidance in the conduct of bilateral counternarcotics investigations and operations. USDA has deployed 59 civilian uplift personnel as of June 2011, representing eight percent of the total civilian uplift. These employees primarily mentor Afghan government officials at the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation, and Livestock.

The remaining five agencies account for approximately seven percent of the total civilian uplift. DHS personnel advise, mentor, and train Afghan border, customs, and related entities to enforce Afghan customs and immigration law. Treasury places technical experts at Afghan government ministries where they provide assistance in four areas: strengthening budget and financial accountability, combating economic crimes and corruption, building internal audit capacity and increasing non-tax revenues, and achieving debt relief and improving debt management. Transportation personnel advise officials at the Afghan Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation on issues such as civil aviation law and surface transportation planning. HHS personnel work on health programs, such as programs to strengthen maternal and child health services in Afghanistan. Finally, Commerce personnel assist with efforts to promote Afghanistan’s economic development and trade. 

Related item:       
SIGAR Audit-11-17 & State OIG AUD/SI-11-45 Civilian Uplift | September 8, 2011

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Filed under Af/Pak, Afghanistan, Career Employees, Civilian Surge, Congress, Federal Agencies, FS Benefits, Iraq, Pakistan, State Department, War

NOC! NOC! Who’s there? Ambassador Munter Stopped at Pakistani Airport Over NOC, What’s Next?

The US reportedly lodged a strong protest with Pakistani authorities after ambassador Cameron Munter was stopped at the Benazir Bhutto International Airport and asked about a “no-objection certificate” for travelling outside Islamabad.  He was travelling to Karachi, and the officials were supposedly enforcing a rule that requires “all” foreign diplomats to have a “no-objection certificate” or NOC for travelling outside the capital city.

Over the weekend, VOA also reported that diplomatic sources said that the U.S. embassy in Islamabad received a letter from the Pakistani Foreign Ministry last month setting new limitations on when and how diplomats can move outside the capital. The Associated Press, which obtained a copy of the letter, says the communique requires all U.S. diplomats to apply for special permission to leave the city five days in advance.

Oh dear! Something to remember about frienemies, the claws are never too far away. Makes one wonder what’s next?  Quarantine the embassy’s diplomatic mail and require a “no objection certificate” for every box from Amazon.com? 

Below Ambassador Munter enjoying a camel ride in Karachi’s Clifton Beach. I wonder if Pakistan will now post officials at the beaches to enforce this rule that requires all foreign US diplomats to have a “no-objection certificate.”

Ambassador Munter at Clifton Beach on the Arabian Sea
in Karachi, Pakistan

Don’t be surprise if things are not going to get better anytime soon. This rather expensive “ally” in South Central Asia is still sore for the Bin Laden kill. It will find a way to let our folks there know just how sore they are. Today it’s the NOC, tomorrow, it will be something else; like — permission to shake hands with a Pakistani national?

But there is a solution to this. It’s called “reciprocity” or if you want it straight, a tit for tat. If Pakistan requires a NOC for any travel by US diplomats outside of Islamabad, the US can require the equivalent of a NOC for any travel by Ambassador Husain Haqqani and other Pakistani diplomats outside of Washington, D.C. Yes, including travels to Maryland and Virginia, of course. 

But an even simpler solution? Wrap up Afghanistan 2.0 and bring the troops home. No more logistics/supply chain to worry about, period.  Hamid Karzai can go ahead and do his own nation-building without the “occupiers” that he loves one day and hates the next. Pakistan can continue worrying about India and its regional headaches; and China will be there to provide the aspirin. 

Of course, our hawks in Congress would have a fit.  They are still ever willing to burn a hole in the U.S. Treasury’s pocket. Hungry children in America, forgetaboutthem.  Talk your heads off about the debt ceiling; there is no such thing as a war ceiling if some of our folks in DC have their way. And just so you know, our job creators are hard at work in the war zones and in the wars of the future not yet drawn but already imagined.

 
 
 
 

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GPS Tracking for State Dept Staffers in the Danger Zones of Iraq, Af/Pak and Yemen

Wapo’s Walter Pincus recently wrote about a new high-tech system to track U.S. staff on risky tours:

The State Department is installing advanced, classified security systems in Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen to monitor staff movements in those countries where moving among local populations remains dangerous, according to department budget and contract documents.

The Blue Force Tracker system uses a small transmitter mounted on a vehicle, an aircraft or an individual that sends continuous signals to a Global Positioning System satellite and back to a computer in a secure command post. The command post computer shows precise locations within a 10-foot radius of tracked individuals, vehicles or aircraft on ever-changing map displays.

“This critical technology provides department personnel with the confidence to travel into highly dangerous areas, knowing there is an over-watch and a reaction capability to help them at the push of a button,” according to a State Department fiscal 2012 budget document presented to Congress. About $9.4 million was being sought to support the tracking system in Iraq next year.

No State Department official would discuss the systems on the record.

Read the whole thing here.

It’s supposed to give staff confidence because the watchers will be able to pinpoint their location — and give the State Department an “over-watch and a reaction capability to help them [(staff] at the push of a button.”

So — if we have another Raymond Davis incident in any of those four countries, this would allow for a quick extraction of personnel in danger, is that the idea? Because — really, unless you can retrieve/extract the personnel in danger, pinpointing location is just that – a dot on the screen. 

The report did not say what type of GPS system this might be — a wearable item like a watch, a smart phone with GPS locator, an implantable device more or less the size of rice, a waist-clip on GPS enabled thingee like a pager or I don’t know — a fake eye, a third eye, an earing, an anklet ….

If a GPS rice implant is available, that might be the best choice – nothing to remember, nothing to forget, nothing to misplace or pack or hide when you travel. And if you ever get into a tussle with overly excited security agents of the host country, nothing that may break (that Uncle Sam can then charged you with). Of course, since this is the government, they probably will have somebody check out your GPS rice implant every year for the annual inventory. Be prepared to be scanned like Ms. Kitty.

It does look like the Blue Force Tracker Program (BFT) is deploying into the hot zones of Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen since Olgoonik Global Security, LLC is hiring Security Specialist IIs for all four countries; it says so online:

Subsidiary:     Olgoonik Global Security, LLC
Location:     Pakistan
Organization:     BFT
Requisition Number:     2010759

Overview:

The Department of State, Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS), Office of Security Technology (ST), is responsible for the Department’s Blue Force Tracker Program (BFT). BFT utilizes GPS satellite tracking for personnel, vehicles and aircraft. It is designed to maximize visualization of designated assets traveling and conducting operations in hostile or hazardous areas.  This position will be responsible for working with DS/C/ST and Embassy personnel on-site and providing technical guidance on both the BFT tracker hardware and monitoring software.

Among other things, it requires that applicants have “Bachelor’s Degree plus seven years of experience preferred; High School Diploma plus 12 years of experience can substitute for a Bachelor’s Degree.” Also the following:

Security Clearance:                                       

TOP SECRET Clearance with SCI Access Required

  • Must have a current US Government TOP SECRET Personnel Security Clearance and be able to qualify for SCI access
  • Must have a current US Government Single Scope Background Investigation (SSBI) (less than 4-1/2 years old) or be able to successfully complete a U.S. government administered Single Scope Background Investigation.
  • Must be a U.S. Citizen.
  • Must be eligible for and able to obtain and maintain required Security Clearance/access approvals.

Physical Demands:

The physical demands described herein are representative of those that must be met by an employee to successfully perform the essential functions of this position.  The employee must be able to stand, walk and sit for a prolonged period of time; use hands and/or fingers to handle or feel objects, tools or controls; operate office equipment; reach with hands and arms; climb stairs; balance; stoop; kneel; talk and hear. Specific vision abilities required by the job include close and distant vision.  The employee must occasionally lift and or move up to 50 pounds.  Medical conditions or physical impediments may disqualify candidates from overseas work where comprehensive medical care may be limited or unavailable, or where the condition or impediment would put the individual at unacceptable risk.  Duties may be performed in an active combat zone where the employee would be required to seek shelter. There may be stress, psychological and physical hardships, and the possibility of living in field conditions associated with this position.

Travel:

Overseas travel will be required up to 90% of the calendar year in high-threat areas.  Domestic travel may be required for training and program coordination.
Work Environment:  Full-time, 84-hour week usually under hazardous conditions when deployed in a theater of operations.  Personnel meeting the provisions of Department of State Standardized Regulations, Chapter 650 – Danger Pay Allowance, and performing in a location determined a hazardous duty area are eligible to receive danger pay up to 35% over basic compensation.

Living Environment:  Lodging, meals, medical and basic life support services will be provided while in a theater of operations, as well as the prevailing per diem rate for incidental expenses (IE).

Work Location:  The location of high-risk environments will be disclosed upon interview.

Interested? Check it out here. You have to locate each job vacancy using the location country drop down menu on its website.

A side note — DOD has been using Blue Force Tracking (BFT) for years.  In 2006, Popular Science did a piece on BFT used in Iraq. Read “Winning-and Losing-the First Wired War.”

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Afghanistan-Iraq-Pakistan Staffing Fills Up Fast But Pool of Volunteers Continues to Shrink; Longer Tours On the Table?

State OIG conducted an inspection of the  Office of the United States Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (S/RAP) and the report was recently posted online. The inspectors conclude that the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (S/SRAP) has built an organization that meets the Secretary’s challenge. Below are some items that you may find interesting:

AIP Staffing Priority Fills Up Fast

Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan are the Department’s number one staffing priority. To further this goal, the Department now has two assignment seasons: June of each year for Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq, and early fall for all other positions. This procedure, which allows the three priority missions to choose their candidates before the regular bidding season begins, has meant that a large percentage of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan positions are filled within a few months. By mid-March 2011, the bureau had filled 92 percent of the summer 2011 Afghanistan positions, 91 percent of the Iraq positions, and 95 percent of the Pakistan positions.

Af/Pak Staffing and Consequences

Staffing Afghanistan and, to a lesser extent Pakistan, is a challenge. The Department began the first of three phases in 2009 in what is termed a “civilian uplift.” This uplift was intended to increase the number of U.S. Government civilians from all agencies under Embassy Kabul chief of mission authority from 977 in 2009 to 1,396 in 2011, after which growth was projected to level off. These numbers are augmented by several hundred temporary duty employees. The Afghanistan and Pakistan desks and SCA/PPD aggressively recruit to fill these positions.

The Department is relying on a blended workforce – a mixture of Foreign Service, traditional Civil Service, 3161s, contractors, Presidential Management Fellows, interns, and retired diplomats – to staff both S/SRAP and the missions. Managing this blended workforce is a challenge. Also, as noted elsewhere, S/SRAP has a number of entry- level officers, many of whom have little if any previous experience either overseas or in the Department. Faced with a shortage of mid- level officers and having authority to hire new entry- level officers, the Bureau of Human Resources has been forced to fill mid- level positions in Washington with officers on their first or second tours, who require more training and supervision than experienced veterans. Even this source of stopgap staffing will be lost, if funding cuts force a reduction in the number of new officers hired. While the number of positions continues to increase, the pool of potential Foreign Service volunteers who have not yet served in Afghanistan, Pakistan, or Iraq continues to shrink (emphasis added).

Embassies Kabul and Islamabad have requested that the Department consider increasing the length of tours from 1 year to 18 months or 2 years. While this would improve continuity, many working with Foreign Service assignments say it would decrease the number of people willing to volunteer to work in these extremely challenging missions.

A number of Civil Service employees have expressed interest in serving in Afghanistan or Pakistan. However, assignment rules allow Civil Service staff to be assigned to Foreign Service positions only if no Foreign Service officer has bid on the position. This can sometimes mean that no one fills the job at all, if the Foreign Service bidder subsequently goes elsewhere after logging the bid. The assignments offices within the bureau and in the Bureau of Human Resources have worked to mitigate this problem. As the pool of Foreign Service personnel who have not served in these missions shrinks, it may be necessary to increase the opportunities for Civil Service employees to fill positions there.

The New, New Normal: From One-Year Tours to 18 Months, 24 Months …

The 1-year tour-of-duty policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan has caused a lack of continuity with contacts and impeded efforts to build personal relationships with members of the local media. This discontinuity is a challenge for the embassies’ public affairs sections. At times, the S/SRAP director of communications and the staff have reached out directly by telephone to set up media events for high- level visiting U.S. officials. During the inspection, such difficulties occurred when the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee went to Pakistan to help resolve the Lahore incident described above.

The director of communications’ work for Senator Kerry’s visit was crucial to orchestrating and designing the media engagement plan in Lahore, which included a pooled television roundtable and a session with top Pakistani editors and columnists. The Urdu-speaking deputy director for outreach also got involved by telephone with the Pakistani media, to ensure successful media opportunities. In a society and in an industry where personal relationships are all- important, tours of duty longer than 12 months for the press attaché and public affairs section chief would be desirable, to give them time to build relationships and foster continuity. Already, Embassies Kabul and Islamabad encourage their chiefs of section and principal officers to commit to 2-year assignments; expanding this approach to apply to senior press officers and local language public spokespersons would be consistent with this already established model (emphasis added). It is worth noting that the officers would be more likely to make such a commitment if some accommodation were made to permit spouses to accompany them, at least on a case-by-case basis.

If Af/Pak principal officers and chiefs of sections have already been asked to commit to 2-year tours, the OIG recommendation that press officers extend their tours to 2 years is not a big leap.  Given the shrinking pool of volunteers to AIP assignments, how soon before this “model” will expand to the rest of the staff in Afghanistan and Pakistan is not a matter of if but when. 

Related item:
-06/30/11   Inspection of the Office of the United States Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (ISP-I-11-48) June 2011  [474 Kb] 

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Filed under Af/Pak, Afghanistan, Foreign Service, FSOs, Pakistan, Staffing the FS