Category Archives: War

Urgent Afghanistan Message: Need $537 Million, Send Money At Once … or This Week

– Domani Spero

 

WaPo’s Tim Craig reported today that Afghanistan has nearly run out of money:

Afghanistan’s central government is nearly broke and needs a $537 million bailout from the United States and other international donors within “five or six days” to continue paying its bills, a senior Afghan finance official said Tuesday.
[...]
Officials blame the financial woes on the ongoing stalemate over who won the election to replace outgoing President Hamid Karzai.

“We hope they will pay for us, and we are asking at once,” Aqa said of ongoing discussions with the U.S. government and other international donors. “They are asking me when I need it, and I told them this week or we will have a problem.”
[...]
Afghanistan has an annual operating budget of about $7.6 billion, about 65 percent of which comes from international assistance. The current fiscal crunch is a result of a 25 percent shortfall in Afghanistan’s domestic revenue collection from taxes and customs tariffs this year, Aqa said.
[...]
According to the World Bank, Afghanistan will need more than $7 billion annually for the next decade to sustain a functional government, maintain infrastructure and fund the Afghan army and police.

Since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, the U.S. government has appropriated $104 billion rebuilding and supporting the Afghan government, military and public services, according to the Office of the Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction.

Read the full story here.

SIGAR John F. Sopko is quoted in the report saying, “The bottom line: It appears we’ve created a government that the Afghans simply cannot afford.”

Zing! We hope they won’t let him go from that job because he said something real and true.

Now, our question is why is the finance minister doing the asking? Why is the Afghan leader, who called Americans “occupiers” is not the one doing the asking for pocket change here?

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See the Blast Crater From Truck Bomb in the Sept 2013 U.S. Consulate Herat Attack

– Domani Spero

 

About a year ago, the U.S. Consulate in Herat was attacked by militants in Afghanistan (see US Consulate Herat Casualties: One Afghan Police, Eight Local Guards Killed and Suicide Bombers Target US Consulate Herat: Locals Reportedly Killed/Wounded, No American Casualties).  The U.S. Consulate in Herat was inaugurated in June 2012 by Deputy Secretary Bill Burns (see Deputy Sec’y Bill Burns Inaugurates U.S. Consulate Herat). The total casualties includes eight members of the Afghan guard force. Seven of the eight killed are listed in the KIA page of the Diplomatic Security Wiki: the five guards, Mohammed Firooz, Mohammed Aref Sediqi, Sayed Ahmed Sadat, Mohammed Ali Ascari, and Mohammed Zoman; the local guard force interpreter Raminone Rastin, and driver, Javid Sarwarri. All  were contract employees.

Diplomatic Security recently published its 2013 report on Political Violence Against Americans and includes the following:

September 13 – Herat, Afghanistan

Taliban-affiliated insurgents attacked the U.S. Consulate using vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices. Early in the morning, seven insurgents detonated a truck-borne improvised explosive device outside the Consulate’s entrance. The initial explosion was followed by a second vehicle-borne improvised explosive device minutes later. The insurgents, equipped with small-arms, rocket-propelled grenades, and suicide vests, then engaged U.S. and Afghan security personnel in a sustained firefight, lasting approximately 90 minutes. Eight Afghan guard force members were killed in the violence. Two additional third-country national guard force members were injured.

Screen Shot 2014-08-14

Photo via State Department 2013 Political Violence Against Americans (click on image to see pdf)

An August 2014 OIG inspection report of U.S. Mission Afghanistan (separate post later) says that embassy and military officials told inspectors that the consulate “provides tangible proof of the U.S. commitment to the region. Herat—Afghanistan’s third largest city—is located on key transportation routes and serves as a regional center and economic engine for the west.” Excerpt below:

Rebuilding of the badly damaged consulate building is expected to be completed in summer 2014. Consulate employees were relocated to either ISAF’s Camp Arena or to Embassy Kabul.[snip] The embassy estimates the annual operating cost for Herat is approximately $80 million, most of which is devoted to security.

Despite operational challenges, Consulate Herat is the most productive of the platforms in providing email reporting to the embassy but transmits only a few of its own finished cables. At the time of the inspection, the consulate repairs were nearing completion and the embassy was reviewing the security and life support situations prior to moving personnel back. Once the staff returns, the impediments to sending cables directly should disappear.

Consulate Herat covers the four provinces of western Afghanistan bordering Iran and Turkmenistan: Herat, Badghis, Ghor, and Farah. According to U.S. Embassy Kabul, Consulate Herat is currently headed by Consul and U.S. Senior Civilian Representative Eugene Young William Martin (formerly of USCG Karachi, thanks A!).

Below are some DOD photos in the aftermath of the September 13 attack:

A view in front of the U.S. Consulate, occupied by U.S. Soldiers with Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, in Herat Province, Afghanistan, Sept. 14, 2013. Delta Company collaborated with other security and military forces to ensure security for the members of the U.S. Consulate after an enemy attack. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Ryan D. Green/Released)

A view in front of the U.S. Consulate, occupied by U.S. Soldiers with Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, in Herat Province, Afghanistan, Sept. 14, 2013. Delta Company collaborated with other security and military forces to ensure security for the members of the U.S. Consulate after an enemy attack. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Ryan D. Green/Released)

U.S Soldiers with Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, egress from a CH-47 Chinook in Herat province, Afghanistan, Sep. 14, 2013. Delta Company collaborates with other security and military forces to ensure security for the members of the U.S. Consulate. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Ryan D. Green/Released)

U.S Soldiers with Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, egress from a CH-47 Chinook in Herat province, Afghanistan, Sep. 14, 2013. Delta Company collaborates with other security and military forces to ensure security for the members of the U.S. Consulate. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Ryan D. Green/Released)

U.S. Soldiers with Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, carry equipment into the U.S. Consulate in Herat province, Afghanistan, Sept. 14, 2013. Delta Company collaborated with other security and military forces to ensure security for the members of the U.S. Consulate after an enemy attack. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Ryan D. Green/Released)

U.S. Soldiers with Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, carry equipment into the U.S. Consulate in Herat province, Afghanistan, Sept. 14, 2013. Delta Company collaborated with other security and military forces to ensure security for the members of the U.S. Consulate after an enemy attack. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Ryan D. Green/Released)

U.S. Soldiers with Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, unload equipment from a CH-47 Chinook helicopter at the U.S Consulate in Herat province, Afghanistan, Sept. 14, 2013. Delta Company collaborated with other security and military forces to ensure security for the members of the U.S. Consulate after an enemy attack. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Ryan D. Green/Released)

U.S. Soldiers with Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, unload equipment from a CH-47 Chinook helicopter at the U.S Consulate in Herat province, Afghanistan, Sept. 14, 2013. Delta Company collaborated with other security and military forces to ensure security for the members of the U.S. Consulate after an enemy attack. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Ryan D. Green/Released)

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Dawn of Libya militia holds pool party at U.S. Embassy Libya Annex; they’ll cut the grass, too?

– Domani Spero

 

Updated on 8/31/14 at 2302 PST:  AP and Reuters have an update on this here including additional photos of the rooms in the annex that appear to be in the condition they were left behind; the pantry appears to still have food items, the kitchen and gym did not look looted and the compound did not show signs of the reported “storming.”

Updated on 9/1/14 at 9:26pm PST: ABC News has additional photos of the annex here. Plus this: “Another commander said the group had asked cleaners to come spruce up the grounds and that U.S. staff were welcome to reside in the embassy while it was under Dawn of Libya control.”

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A commander of the Dawn of Libya militia, an Islamist-allied group in control of Tripoli has told an AP reporter that it has “secured” a U.S. Embassy residential compound in the capital city.  The AP report says that a walk-through in the compound shows some broken windows, but that “it appeared most of the equipment there remained untouched. The journalist saw treadmills, food, televisions and computers still inside.”

On July 26, the State Department suspended all embassy operations in Libya and evacuated all its staff overland to Tunisia (see State Dept Suspends All Embassy Operations in Libya, Relocates Staff Under Armed Escorts).  The U.S. Ambassador to Libya Deborah Jones is currently based at the U.S. Embassy in Malta.

 

Meanwhile, at the pool party at Embassy Tripoli’s compound residential annex:

 

And because Ambassador Jones is now reachable via Twitter, she was asked about it:

 

We don’t know what that means.  Who told these guys to “safeguard” a U.S. diplomatic property?  Did they bring their own whiskey to the pool party?

The good news is —  the Dawn of Libya militia apparently wrestled the compound from a rivaled militia and neither group set the compound on fire.  The bad news is “securing” the compound was apparently done to avenge U.S. airstrikes. If true, just “securing” the compound, a sip of whiskey and having a dip in the pool may not be enough.

The other good news , of course, if the U.S. needs to, DOD knows where  exactly to send its Predator drones and Navy F-18 fighter jets.

Not that we want the Pentagon to do that for many reasons.  Perhaps the uninvited guests can be persuaded to cut the grass, too, while they’re there?

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State Dept Updates Ukraine Travel Warning: Ongoing Violent Clashes in the Eastern Regions

– Domani Spero

 

On August 29, the State Department issued an updated Travel Warning on the risks of traveling to the eastern regions of Ukraine:

The Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the risks of travel to eastern Ukraine due to ongoing violent clashes between Russia-backed separatists and Ukrainian forces in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. In addition, Russian military forces continue to occupy the Crimean Peninsula and are present on the eastern border of Ukraine.This supersedes the Travel Warning for Ukraine dated August 1 to provide updated information on the security situation in southern and eastern Ukraine.

The Department of State warns U.S. citizens to defer all travel to the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.  Russia-backed separatists continue to control areas in the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts.  These groups have established illegal checkpoints and have threatened, detained, or kidnapped individuals, including U.S. citizens, for hours or days.  The Ukrainian armed forces have launched an operation to reclaim these areas.  Violent clashes between the Russia-backed separatists and Ukrainian forces have escalated over the past month and have resulted in hundreds of injuries and deaths.  Some of these clashes have included the use of armored vehicles, aircraft, and other military weapons including surface to air missiles, the use of which was responsible for the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 on July 17.  Widespread disorder and looting has been confirmed in areas controlled by Russia-backed separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts.  These Russian-supported groups have taken on a more strident anti-American tone, especially in eastern Ukraine and Crimea.  U.S. citizens who choose to remain in conflict areas should maintain a low profile and avoid large crowds and gatherings.

The Department of State also warns U.S. citizens to defer all travel to the Crimean Peninsula, and to exercise caution in the regions of Odesa, Kharkhiv, Zaporizhia and Kherson.  Russian forces have occupied the Crimean Peninsula in support of the Russian Federation’s attempted annexation of Crimea and these forces are likely to continue to take further actions in the Crimean Peninsula consistent with Russia’s continuing occupation of this part of Ukraine.  The international community, including the United States and Ukraine, does not recognize this purported annexation.  The Russian Federation maintains an extensive military presence in Crimea and along the border of eastern Ukraine.  In addition, there are continuing reports of abuses against the local population by de facto authorities in Crimea, particularly against those who are seen as challenging the current status quo on the peninsula

The situation in Ukraine is unpredictable and could change quickly.  U.S. citizens throughout Ukraine should avoid large crowds and be prepared to remain indoors and shelter in place for extended periods of time should clashes occur in their vicinity.

Peace Corps Volunteers departed Ukraine on February 25, and remain out of the country at this time.  U.S. Embassy Kyiv’s Consular Section is open for all public services; however, in light of the ongoing unrest, the Embassy has severely restricted the travel of U.S. Government personnel to areas in eastern Ukraine and the Crimean Peninsula, and occasionally limits travel to other adjacent regions.  As a result, the Embassy’s ability to respond to emergencies involving U.S. citizens in eastern Ukraine and Ukraine’s Crimean region is extremely limited.

Ground transportation may be disrupted throughout the country.  Drivers may encounter roadblocks that restrict access on certain roads.  Following the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 in eastern Ukraine, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) to prohibit all U.S. flight operations within Dnipropetrovsk Flight Information Regions.  This expanded the FAA’s previous NOTAM restricting U.S. flight operations within the

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Tweet of the Day: Commemorating the White House Burning, Sorry!

– Domani Spero

 

First the good news!  The British diplomats in D.C. enjoy a smokin’ good barbecue.  Apparently, they had a  a ‘White House BBQ’ to mark the 200th anniversary of a ‘rather unfortunate event in UK/US relations.’   The embassy even had a huge White House cake to commemorate the burning. Then tweeted about it:

 

In related news, the embassy’s social media ninjas in D.C. shortly thereafter had to apologize for their tweet. It looks like some in the Twitterverse did not appreciate the joke even if it came 200 years later with cake.  Some complained that this was  bad form, some blamed David Cameron.  No, no one has thought of blaming the Queen yet.

We hope they’re not going to fire the intern. Anyone from Foggy Bottom attended the barbecue?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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U.S. Relocates More Baghdad/Erbil Staff to Basrah and Amman (Jordan), Updates Aug. 8 Travel Warning

– Domani Spero

 

On June 15, 2014, the State Department went on partial “temporary relocation” of USG personnel in Embassy Baghdad to Basrah, Erbil and Amman, Jordan (see US Mission Iraq: Now on Partial “Temporary Relocation” To Basra, Erbil & Amman (Jordan)).

Today, the State Department issued an update to its August 8 Travel Warning for Iraq noting the departure of  a “limited” number of staff from our posts in Baghdad and Erbil to the Consulate General in Basrah and Amman, Jordan.

CIA map

Map via CIA.gov (click on image to see larger view)

The Department of State warns U.S. citizens against all but essential travel to Iraq.  Travel within Iraq remains dangerous given the security situation. The Embassy in Baghdad and the Consulate General in Erbil remain open and operating, but the Department of State has relocated a limited number of staff members from the Embassy in Baghdad and the Consulate General in Erbil to the Consulate General in Basrah and the Iraq Support Unit in Amman. The Embassy in Baghdad and the Consulate General in Erbil remain open and operating. This Travel Warning supersedes the Travel Warning dated August 8, 2014, to note the departure of some staff from the Consulate General in Erbil. The ability of the Embassy to respond to situations in which U.S. citizens face difficulty, including arrests, is extremely limited.

U.S. citizens in Iraq remain at high risk for kidnapping and terrorist violence.  Methods of attack have included roadside improvised explosive devices (IEDs), including explosively formed penetrators (EFPs); magnetic IEDs placed on vehicles; human and vehicle-borne IEDs; mines placed on or concealed near roads; mortars and rockets; and shootings using various direct fire weapons.  These and other attacks frequently occur in public gathering places, such as cafes, markets and other public venues.

Numerous insurgent groups, including ISIL, previously known as al-Qa’ida in Iraq, remain active and terrorist activity and violence persist in many areas of the country.  ISIL and its allies control Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, and have captured significant territory across central Iraq and continue to engage with Iraqi security forces in that region.  In early August, the threat to the Iraqi Kurdistan Region (IKR) increased considerably with the advance of ISIL towards Kurdish areas.

Due to the potential of political protests and demonstrations to become violent, U.S. citizens in Iraq are strongly urged to avoid protests and large gatherings.

Read in full here.

Three days ago, President Obama ordered U.S. aircraft to drop humanitarian supplies to tens of thousands of Yezidi refugees fleeing the terrorists of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in northern Iraq. The president also ordered U.S. combat aircraft to be ready to launch airstrikes to protect Americans in Erbil, Iraq.

On August 8, the Pentagon announced that at approximately 6:45 a.m. EDT, the U.S. military conducted a targeted airstrike against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) terrorists.

Two F/A-18 aircraft dropped 500-pound laser-guided bombs on a mobile artillery piece near Erbil. ISIL was using this artillery to shell Kurdish forces defending Erbil where U.S. personnel are located. The decision to strike was made by the U.S. Central Command commander under authorization granted him by the commander in chief. As the president made clear, the United States military will continue to take direct action against ISIL when they threaten our personnel and facilities. 

Pentagon releases indicate that to date, U.S. military aircraft have delivered more than 52,000 meals and more than 10,600 gallons of fresh drinking water to the displaced Yezidis seeking refuge from ISIL on the mountain.

USCG Erbil which remains open is headed by Joseph Pennington, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service who assumed his duties as Consul General in Erbil in July 2013.  Prior to his arrival in Erbil, Mr. Pennington served as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Prague, Czech Republic (2010-13) and held the same position in Yerevan, Armenia (2007-10).

USCG Basrah is headed by Matthias Mitman, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service who assumed post as Consul General in Basrah in September 2013.  He previously served as the Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) at the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa, Honduras from 2011-2013 and as the Minister Counselor for Economic Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow from 2009-2011. He was the Director for Iraq at the National Security Council from 2006-2008 with responsibility for U.S. economic policy in Iraq and international engagement.  Before joining the NSC staff, Mr. Matthias was assigned to U.S. Embassy Baghdad as Senior Economic Advisor.

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State Dept Suspends All Embassy Operations in Libya, Relocates Staff Under Armed Escorts

– Domani Spero

 

Updated on 7/27/14 with media reports on number of evacuees.

In the early morning of July 26, the State Department finally suspended all embassy operations in Libya and evacuated all its staff overland to Tunisia, due to ongoing violence between Libyan militias in the immediate vicinity of the embassy in Tripoli.  The new preferred official term for these personnel movements now appears to be “relocation,”perhaps to avoid any negative connotation that might be attached to the use of the term “evacuation.” So this is a relocation but under armed escorts.

The State Department also  released an updated Travel Warning for Libya (excerpt below):

The Department of State warns U.S. citizens against all travel to Libya and recommends that U.S. citizens currently in Libya depart immediately.  On July 26, the U.S. Embassy suspended all embassy operations in Libya and relocated staff, due to ongoing violence between Libyan militias in the immediate vicinity of the Embassy.  This Travel Warning supersedes the Travel Warning issued on May 27, 2014.

Please direct inquiries regarding U.S. citizens in Libya to LibyaEmergencyUSC@state.gov.  Callers in the United States and Canada may dial the toll free number 1-888-407-4747.  Callers outside the United States and Canada may dial 1-202-501-4444.

The security situation in Libya remains unpredictable and unstable.  The Libyan government has not been able to adequately build its military and police forces and improve security following the 2011 revolution.  Many military-grade weapons remain in the hands of private individuals, including antiaircraft weapons that may be used against civilian aviation.  Crime levels remain high in many parts of the country.  In addition to the threat of crime, various groups have called for attacks against U.S. citizens and U.S. interests in Libya.  Extremist groups in Libya have made several specific threats this year against U.S. government officials, citizens, and interests in Libya.  Because of the presumption that foreigners, especially U.S. citizens, in Libya may be associated with the U.S. government or U.S. NGOs, travelers should be aware that they may be targeted for kidnapping, violent attacks, or death.  U.S. citizens currently in Libya should exercise extreme caution and depart immediately.

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The status of the country’s interim government remains uncertain.  The newly elected Council of Representatives is scheduled to convene by August 4, but political jockeying continues over where and when to seat the parliament.  Heavy clashes between rival factions erupted in May 2014 in Benghazi and other eastern cities.  In Tripoli, armed groups have contested territory near Tripoli International Airport since July 13, rendering the airport non-operational.  State security institutions lack basic capabilities to prevent conflict, and there remains a possibility of further escalation.

 

Read in full here. For previous warning see New Libya Travel Warning, Amphibious Assault Ship USS Bataan (LHD 5) Sails Closer.

Closure of an embassy indicates the termination of diplomatic relations, and that has not happened here. Here is Secretary Kerry emphasizing that this is a suspension of embassy operations not a closure.

 

American officials told NBC that 158 Americans, including 80 heavily armed U.S. Marines, left the embassy compound early Saturday.  The Daily Beast reported that “158 U.S. diplomats and 80 U.S. Marines evacuated the American embassy in Tripoli, Libya.” A variation of those two numbers have been widely reported in the media. The US Embassy in Tripoli had a skeleton crew prior to the evacuation, so “158 U.S. diplomats” evacuated from Tripoli is a questionable number.  Perhaps the only  one who got closest to the number evacuated is Reuters, reporting that “the eight or so U.S. diplomats who had been in Libya and a security staff numbering 200 or more drove out of the country on Saturday under a heavy escort….”

In any case, the last time the State Department suspended its operation in Libya was in February 2011. (See State Dept Suspends US Embassy Operations in #Libya, Withdraws All Personnel). It was subsequently reopened in September 2011. Following the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, the State Department ordered the departure of all non-emergency U.S. government personnel from Libya on September 12, 2012 but did not appear to suspend operations then (if it did, we missed it). See our related Libya posts here.

The current suspension of embassy operations follows the temporary withdrawal of  the United Nations Support Mission (UNSMIL) staff from Libya last July 14. That UN convoy reportedly left Tripoli by road headed for the Tunisian border, 170 kilometres (110 miles) to the west.  Yesterday, July 25, the Turkish Foreign Ministry also announced the suspension of its mission’s operations in Tripoli for security reasons and the evacuation of more than 500 Turkish nationals similarly via Tunisia.

The State Department’s media note this morning :

This relocation was done over land, with our personnel arriving in Tunisia this morning, and traveling onward from there. We are grateful to the Government of Tunisia for its cooperation and support.

Something else to note about an evacuation unfolding in the age of social media.  During the evac, Libyan tweeps reported “3 convoys with total of 27 cars +1  lorry were leaving the US embassy in airport rd. Marines on foot and planes above.”  Other tweets of note:

 

According to Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby, the U.S. military assisted in the relocation of personnel from the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, Libya on Saturday, July 26 at the request of the Department of State.  The operation lasted five hours without incident:

At the request of the Department of State, the U.S. military assisted in the relocation of personnel from the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, Libya on Saturday, July 26. All embassy personnel were relocated, including the Marine security guards who were providing security at the embassy and during the movement. The embassy staff was driven in vehicles to Tunisia. During movement, F-16’s, ISR assets and an Airborne Response Force with MV-22 Ospreys provided security. The mission was conducted without incident, and the entire operation lasted approximately five hours.

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U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv: Rafah Border Crossing Open For U.S. Passport Holders on July 14

– Domani Spero

 

Today Haaretz reports that Israel’s operation entered its sixth day as the death toll in Gaza mounted to more than 160 Palestinians and as the international community stepped up pressures to reach a cease-fire (live updates here).  However, the NYT notes that Israel and Hamas seemed to signal little public interest in international appeals for a cease-fire as they continued their barrages. “More than 130 rockets were fired out of Gaza into Israel on Sunday, with 22 intercepted, the Israeli Army said, while Palestinians expressed anger over the previous day’s Israeli strikes on a center for people with disabilities and on a home in an attack that killed 17 members of one extended family.”

Last week, Egypt opened the Rafah border crossing with the Gaza Strip.  Egyptian authorities have reportedly opened the crossing specifically to allow in wounded Palestinians for treatment in Egyptian hospitals. According to the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, the Rafah border crossing will re-open again tomorrow, July 14, and would allow entry of U.S. passport holders into Egypt although no assistance will be available from US Embassy Cairo at the crossing.  Below is the embassy statement:

The Department of State has received information from the Government of Egypt that the Rafah border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt will open for United States Citizen passport holders on Monday, July 14, 2014, starting from 09:00 and closing at 15:00. U.S. citizens under the age of 16 can be escorted by one non-U.S. citizen parent only. At this time U.S. Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs) cannot use the Rafah border crossing.

Please be advised that no U.S. Embassy Cairo personnel will be present at the Rafah border crossing or in the northern Sinai region, as this area is off limits to U.S. Embassy Cairo personnel due to security concerns. United States Citizens who travel through the Rafah border crossing into Egypt do so at their own risk.

On July 11, Embassy Tel Aviv also announced the relocation of its personnel out of Be’er Sheva due to ongoing hostilities:

Due to ongoing hostilities and the continuing rocket attacks throughout Israel, U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv has relocated Embassy personnel assigned to Be’er Sheva north to Herzliya.  The Embassy and its annexes continue to operate at minimal staffing.  The Consular Section will continue to provide only emergency services.  Embassy personnel are not permitted to travel south of greater Tel Aviv without prior approval.  Embassy families living in Tel Aviv and greater Tel Aviv, such as Herzliya, are being advised to remain in close communication with one another.

The Embassy continues to closely monitor the security situation and advises U.S. citizens to visit the website of the Government of Israel’s Home Front Command for further emergency preparedness guidance.

Recent events underscore the importance of situational awareness. We remind you to be aware of your surroundings at all times, to monitor the media, and to follow directions of emergency responders.

Read more here.

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U.S. Embassy Kabul Construction Bulge: From $625M to $773M, Est. Completion Now Moved to 2016

– Domani Spero

 

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently evaluated the construction of U.S. Embassy Kabul due to “broad congressional interest” in the oversight and accountability of U.S. funds used in Afghanistan. The GAO wanted to see what contracts State put in place to construct new U.S. embassy facilities in Kabul starting in 2009; the extent to which construction requirements, cost, or schedule have changed, and the reasons for the changes; and the extent to which the present expansion matches projected needs.

The GAO reports that contract costs for construction have increased by nearly 24 percent, from $625.4 million to $773.9 million as of May 2014.  The original construction completion was to be the end of  summer 2014; the contractual delivery date for all permanent facilities is now anticipated for July 2016.

With the withdrawal of U.S. troops in the horizon, SIGAR recently said that “constraint on oversight of US-funded Afghan reconstruction will only worsen as more US coalition bases close” and that the “ability to monitor, manage & oversee reconstruction programs in Afghanistan will only become more difficult.”

And yet, Embassy Kabul’s permanent facilities—both older and newly-constructed office and apartment buildings—will eventually contain 1,487 desks and 819 beds.  The projected embassy staffing for 2015 is approximately 600 U.S. direct hires and 1,100 locally employed staff.  Without the military support, State would once more end up with potentially contracting its own security and life-support contractors as it did in Iraq.

Excerpt from the GAO report:

From 2002 through 2009, State took several actions to expand the U.S. embassy compound in Kabul. Initially, OBO refurbished the existing office building, built in the 1960s. Additionally, OBO completed the construction of a new chancery office building, staff apartments, and support facilities. As staffing increases continued, the embassy acquired hundreds of shipping containers for temporary offices and housing. The embassy also compressed office space by putting more desks in the new chancery and old existing office building. Today the Kabul embassy compound consists of the original compound on the west side of Great Massoud Road, referred to as the West Compound, and an expansion compound on the east side of Great Massoud Road, referred to as the East Compound.
[...]

Since the two contracts were awarded in 2009 and 2010, construction requirements have changed, costs have increased, and schedules have been extended. OBO’s original construction requirements have changed. In December 2009, OBO added two stories to planned office annex A. In September 2011, after the U.S. and Afghan governments did not reach agreement to transfer the Afghan Ministry of Public Health site to the U.S. government, OBO removed the parking facilities from Contractor 2’s contract. The embassy also requested that OBO reconfigure the existing office building’s second floor. In March 2012 and September 2013, new security upgrades to perimeter walls and guard towers were added. Because of the building alterations, OBO is building space for more desks and beds than originally planned. The new office annexes under construction are to contain 1,237 desks, a nearly 60 percent increase over the 778 desks originally planned. OBO is also building space for 661 beds, about 50 more than originally planned. 

Contract costs for construction have increased by nearly 24 percent, from $625.4 million to $773.9 million as of May 2014. (See table 1 on page 20 of the enclosure.) This $148.5 million cost increase is the result of multiple contract modifications to change construction requirements, including the transfer of construction requirements from the 1st contract to the 2nd contract.1 

The overall project schedule has also been extended. OBO had originally planned to complete all construction on the compound by the end of summer 2014; the contractual delivery date for all permanent facilities is currently July 2016. 
[...]

Factors affecting the project include: 

    • Increases in numbers and changes in composition of embassy staffing requirements. 
    • Risks introduced by State during planning, such as awarding contracts before the Afghan Ministry of Public Health site was fully acquired and tightly sequencing the work of two contractors on one construction site. 
    • Constructing new facilities on an occupied compound in a conflict environment. 
    • Contractor performance delays and transfer of construction requirements from one contract to another. 
    • Delays and changes to shipping routes of building materials due to difficulties with shipments transiting through Pakistan. 
Via GAO

Via GAO

We’ve seen this before, haven’t we?

It is difficult to determine whether current projects and existing facilities will meet future embassy needs. Long-term construction has been occurring in an unpredictable political and security environment characterized by dramatic changes in U.S. staff levels. Additionally, as the U.S. military draws down its presence in Afghanistan, State will have to decide whether to close its facilities in the field or engage support contractors to replace life-support services currently provided by the military, such as food, water, fuel, and medical services. Such changes may affect embassy staffing and operations. Future composition of U.S. agencies, staffing levels, and embassy facility needs continue to be subject to change.

Once current contracts are completed, the Kabul embassy’s permanent facilities—both older and newly-constructed office and apartment buildings—are to contain 1,487 desks and 819 beds. These totals do not include any desks or beds within temporary offices and housing that State expects to demolish. Furthermore, the desk totals assume that compressed office areas in currently crowded office buildings will be alleviated as some staff move out of those areas and into the newly completed office annexes. 

Projected embassy staffing for 2015 is approximately 600 U.S. direct hires and 1,100 locally employed staff. State is working to identify its and other agencies’ desk positions (both U.S. direct hires and locally employed staff) that will occupy the new office space. State is also examining how to accommodate new support contractors—either on or off compound—that may be used to provide needed services after the U.S. military departs Afghanistan. 

State is conducting a master planning study, due in August 2014, to address on-compound facility needs unmet by current construction. That plan may address parking facilities that were removed from the current construction project. State is also considering the continued use of various leased off-compound facilities in the future.

 

Read the full report here (pdf).

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A Blackwater Warning Before the Nisour Square Shooting and the State Dept’s Non-Response

– Domani Spero

 

A James Risen  scoop over in NYT on how a warning on Blackwater in Iraq prior to the 2007 Nisour Square shooting that killed 17 civilians was ignored by the State Department. Quick excerpt:

State Department investigators arrived in Baghdad on Aug. 1, 2007, to begin a monthlong review of Blackwater’s operations, the situation became volatile. Internal State Department documents, which were turned over to plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Blackwater that was unrelated to the Nisour Square shooting, provide details of what happened.

It did not take long for the two-man investigative team — Mr. Richter, a Diplomatic Security special agent, and Donald Thomas Jr., a State Department management analyst — to discover a long list of contract violations by Blackwater.
[...]
The armored vehicles Blackwater used to protect American diplomats were poorly maintained and deteriorating, and the investigators found that four drunk guards had commandeered one heavily armored, $180,000 vehicle to drive to a private party, and crashed into a concrete barrier.
[...]
The investigators concluded that Blackwater was getting away with such conduct because embassy personnel had gotten too close to the contractor.
[...]
The next day, the two men met with Daniel Carroll, Blackwater’s project manager in Iraq, to discuss the investigation, including a complaint over food quality and sanitary conditions at a cafeteria in Blackwater’s compound. Mr. Carroll barked that Mr. Richter could not tell him what to do about his cafeteria, Mr. Richter’s report said. The Blackwater official went on to threaten the agent and say he would not face any consequences, according to Mr. Richter’s later account.

Mr. Carroll said “that he could kill me at that very moment and no one could or would do anything about it as we were in Iraq,” Mr. Richter wrote in a memo to senior State Department officials in Washington. He noted that Mr. Carroll had formerly served with Navy SEAL Team 6, an elite unit.
[...]
On Oct. 5, 2007, just as the State Department and Blackwater were being rocked by scandal in the aftermath of Nisour Square, State Department officials finally responded to Mr. Richter’s August warning about Blackwater. They took statements from Mr. Richter and Mr. Thomas about their accusations of a threat by Mr. Carroll, but took no further action.

Condoleezza Rice, then the secretary of state, named a special panel to examine the Nisour Square episode and recommend reforms, but the panel never interviewed Mr. Richter or Mr. Thomas.

Patrick Kennedy, the State Department official who led the special panel, told reporters on Oct. 23, 2007, that the panel had not found any communications from the embassy in Baghdad before the Nisour Square shooting that raised concerns about contractor conduct.

“We interviewed a large number of individuals,” Mr. Kennedy said. “We did not find any, I think, significant pattern of incidents that had not — that the embassy had suppressed in any way.”

Read in full Mr. Risen’s piece, Before Shooting in Iraq, a Warning on Blackwater.

Click here for text of the teleconference call on October 23, 2007 with then State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack and Ambassador Patrick F. Kennedy on the Report of the Secretary of State’s Panel on Personal Protective Services in Iraq. The Q and A below:

QUESTION: Hi, this is Brian Bennett from Time magazine. I’m wondering in these reviews — why this review wasn’t done earlier, complaints about contractor conduct have been relayed to Ambassador Khalilzad, tocharge d’affaires Margaret Scobey, to Ambassador Crocker. And I’m wondering if in looking into this you had found any communiqus that have gone out of the Embassy into main State in the months prior to the September 16th incident about concerns about contractor conduct and why wasn’t – why it took an event like September 16th for these concerns to be addressed?

AMBASSADOR KENNEDY: We — when you look through the report you’ll see that we interviewed a large number — large number of individuals. We did not find any, I think, significant pattern of incidents that had not — that the Embassy had suppressed in any way. No one told us that they had — that they had made reports to the Embassy that had been suppressed.

 

Also see the  Implementation of Recommendations from the Secretary of State’s Report on Personal Protective Service Details

We found the Panel’s 2007 report (see below).  The Panel was composed of Eric Boswell, George Joulwan, J. Stapleton Roy and Patrick F. Kennedy.  Appended at the end of the report are the list of interviewees, which includes the acting RSO named in the NYT report. It does not, however, include the names of  the Blackwater project manager, or  Jean C. Richter, the Diplomatic Security special agent nor Donald Thomas Jr., the State Department management analyst.  According to the NYT, Mr. Richter and Mr. Thomas declined to comment for its article.

Mr. Richter’s report that the private security firm’s manager there had threatened to kill him, an episode that  occurred just weeks before Blackwater guards shot and killed 17 Iraqi civilians in Nisour Square is available here via NYT.    We note also that Ambassador Kennedy was appointed Under Secretary of State for Management (M)  on November 6, 2007. Prior to assuming his position as “M,” he was Director of the Office of Management Policy, Rightsizing, and Innovation (M/PRI) from May 2007.

Read the Secretary of State’s Report on Personal Protective Service Details from 2007:

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