Category Archives: War

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.
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The investigators concluded that Blackwater was getting away with such conduct because embassy personnel had gotten too close to the contractor.
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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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U.S. Embassy Iraq: By The Numbers — Still The Post With the Mostest

– Domani Spero

The New Embassy Compound (NEC) in Baghdad was the most expensive construction in the world in 2009.  Although a fixed amount is hard to come by, it is estimated that the construction cost amounted to approximately $700 million.  In 2012, WaPo reported a $115 million embassy upgrade.  If we add that and all other State Department capital projects in Iraq from FY2011, we would have to add approximately $411 million to the cost of the USG footprint in Iraq. Despite the recent rightsizing exercise, it remains the largest, and the most expensive diplomatic mission in the world.

The 104-acre U.S. Embassy in Iraq is the largest embassy in the world not just in terms of size at 420,873 square meters, but also personnel at 5,500 (estimated Jan 2014 headcount) and operational cost at $3.23 billion in FY2012. (Note: It is not the largest site in terms of  diplomatic properties as the Baghdad Diplomatic Support Center (BDSC) compound is located on a 350-acre facility adjacent to Baghdad International Airport).  A quick comparison — one of our smallest embassies, the US Embassy in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea is 1,208 square meters, so 348 US Embassy Malabo NECs would fit into Embassy Baghdad. As well, the New Embassy London is 54,000 square meters, so about 7 1/2 of them would fit into Embassy Baghdad.

It may be that in a couple of years, with the ongoing construction of the New Embassy London and New Embassy Islamabad (each may hit the $1 billion mark), Embassy Baghdad will no longer be the most expensive embassy in the world, but for now, it is still the post with the mostest.

In 2009, the OIG inspectors identified the number of factors that have contributed to the size of this Embassy:

(1) implementation of a civilian assistance program of over $24 billion;
(2) a wide-ranging capacity-building program covering most key ministries in the Iraqi National Government and, through the PRTs, all provincial governments;
(3) the legacy of running the country and then working hand-in-glove with the Iraqis as they assumed more responsibility for funding their own development;
(4) the need to coordinate with the U.S. military in practically all aspects of the Embassy’s responsibilities; and
(5) the inability to have host-country LE staff provide the support and services that they do in almost all other embassies in the world. Also, the fact that employees can take three separate 22-day long rest and recuperation trips (R&Rs) means that staffing has to be larger to ensure full coverage.

One could argue that a combination of the above reasons are also driving the size and growth of our embassies in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

According to the OIG, Embassy Baghdad’s security budget in 2012 was $698 million. It notes that “As long as the staff cannot move safely and independently outside compound walls, maintaining a robust security apparatus and meeting the life support needs of the mission staff will require significantly more financial and personnel resources than at other U.S. missions.”

In 2013, the OIG inspectors warned that the large Iraq footprints, expensive to guard and maintain even after the rightsizing exercise, will strain support for diplomatic facilities worldwide when special appropriations that fund them end.

On June 16, 2014, the President transmitted a report notifying the Congress that up to approximately 275 U.S. military personnel are deploying to Iraq to provide support and security for U.S. personnel and the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. Today, AFPS reports that President Obama announced plans to send up to 300 military advisers to Iraq to help the government in Baghdad combat a rapid advance by Sunni-led insurgents.

Here is Embassy Iraq, by the numbers:

Screen Shot 2014-06-19

#a. Audit 2009: http://oig.state.gov/documents/organization/131069.pdf

#b. US Mission Iraq: Twelve Things You Might Not Know About the Largest Embassy in the World
#c. fedbiz.gov
#d. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Embassy_of_the_United_States,_Baghdad
#e. Malabo:  http://overseasbuildings.state.gov/sites/admin-overseasbuildings.state.gov/files/pdfs/malabo_508.pdf
#f. London: http://overseasbuildings.state.gov/sites/admin-overseasbuildings.state.gov/files/pdfs/london_508.pdf
#g. http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/baghdad-s-fortress-america-us-builds-bunker-of-an-embassy-in-iraq-a-511579.html
#h. OBO Inspection 2008: http://oig.state.gov/documents/organization/109074.pdf
#i.  Embassy Baghdad Inspection 2013: http://oig.state.gov/documents/organization/210403.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Af/Pak, Construction, Diplomatic Security, Foreign Service, Govt Reports/Documents, Iraq, New Embassy Compound, Pakistan, Real Post of the Month, Realities of the FS, Security, Staffing the FS, State Department, U.S. Missions, US Embassy Baghdad, War

Former FSO Candace Faber on Coming Home With the Maladies of War

– Domani Spero

Candace Faber joined the Foreign Service when she was twenty-four. She learned Dari, Polish, and Russian. At twenty-eight, she was off to Afghanistan where she spent a year at a “a tiny, crowded, dysfunctional world—one we could not leave.”  She wrote that she “often fantasized about walking off compound, just like Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl did in Paktika. In my imagination, even the Taliban seemed kinder than my colleagues.”

She was thirty years old when she resigned from the the FS.

Via Candace Faber on Medium – The Other Veterans:

[S]eeing them take this woman’s very real suffering so lightly, dismissing both her service and her fears as a woman, did more than hurt. It invalidated my own experience.

If a military veteran on a PRT had no right to struggle with readjustment, then by comparison, my year at the U.S. embassy compound in Kabul was a joke. My closest brush with terrorism was a distribution of children’s books I attended in Logar Province, pulling schoolchildren, government officials, and journalists together in a single building. The next day, that building was attacked by a vehicle-borne IED, and two of my colleagues were injured. I was shaken, but I wasn’t there. I also wasn’t there during the September 10 attacks, a fact that only seemed to invalidate my experience further.

In my mind and that of my colleagues, neither that woman nor I had the right to struggle with our transition. There was no excuse save PTSD, and I didn’t have that. I couldn’t have it. I wasn’t a veteran.
[...]
It has been a hard journey, as everyone close to me can attest. Resignation has also had financial consequences. But money matters very little compared to having my mental health back. As of today, I have not had an anxiety attack in months. I credit psychotherapy for my recovery. The only question in my mind is why it took so long for me to get help—and why no one in the Department of State, not even when I announced my intention to resign, suggested the option. Instead, I suffered alone for a year and a half, convinced that I was simply a broken person who could never be put back together again. All of that could have been avoided.

 

Ms. Faber notes that “the paper-based screening” given to her in Kabul was very limited.   “This seems like more of a way to shield the Foreign Service from liability than a good faith effort to support its corps.” She suggested that this should be replaced with in-person screening at appropriate intervals.

Once more, we’re hearing about the security clearance process; she writes, “the federal security clearance process must get rid of its prejudice against mental health treatment, which deters people from seeking the care they need. There is a double standard here: If you are physically wounded in action, you are a hero. But if you come back from a theater of war psychologically broken, wired to treat everyone as a threat, and angry at the world, you cannot seek help without risking your security clearance—and with it, your job.”

Read in full here.

Below are some of our previous blog posts on mental health, PTSD, security clearance and the State Department’s programs:

 

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The U.S. Foreign Service Turns 90, What Will It Be Like in 50 Years?

– Domani Spero

There was a big do in Foggy Bottom last night celebrating the 90th anniversary of the modern Foreign Service founded on May 24, 1924 when the Diplomatic and Consular Services were unified under the Rogers Act (named for Representative John Jacob Rogers of Massachusetts). Former Secretary Colin Powell and former Senator Lugar, as well as other friends of the Service were in attendance.  Secretary Kerry, the 68th Secretary of State and the son of former Foreign Service officer, Richard John Kerrydelivered the remarks. Excerpt:

Ninety years ago the Foreign Service was just absolutely unrecognizable compared to what it is today. Back then we had fewer than 700 Foreign Service officers and now we have more than 13,000. Back then we had no female chiefs of mission – none. Now we have more than 40. And I’m proud to tell you that right now in this Department five out of six of our regional Assistant Secretaries are women; four out of six of our Under Secretaries are women; and we are joined tonight – since we have two Deputy Secretaries of State, 50 percent are women, and one of them is here. Heather Higginbottom, sitting right over here. So I think that’s a great record. 

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks at an event celebrating the 90th Anniversary of the United States Foreign Service at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on May 22, 2014. The modern Foreign Service was created on May 24, 1924, with the passage of the Rogers Act establishing the current merit-based, professional Foreign Service. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks at an event celebrating the 90th Anniversary of the United States Foreign Service at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on May 22, 2014. The modern Foreign Service was created on May 24, 1924, with the passage of the Rogers Act establishing the current merit-based, professional Foreign Service. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

Former Secretary Colin Powell and former Senator Richard Lugar listen as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks at an event celebrating the 90th Anniversary of the United States Foreign Service at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on May 22, 2014. The modern Foreign Service was created on May 24, 1924, with the passage of the Rogers Act establishing the current merit-based, professional Foreign Service. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

Former Secretary Colin Powell and former Senator Richard Lugar listen as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks at an event celebrating the 90th Anniversary of the United States Foreign Service at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on May 22, 2014. The modern Foreign Service was created on May 24, 1924, with the passage of the Rogers Act establishing the current merit-based, professional Foreign Service. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

Back then, when it started, we had only one African American Foreign Service officer. One. A man named Clifton Wharton. I happened to know of him way back when because my dad actually worked for him way back in those early days. Now we have nearly a thousand African American Foreign Service officers following in his footsteps.
[...]
And in 1924, House Resolution 6357 passed Congress and it gave birth to the modern Foreign Service. Now to quote Rogers: “The promise of good diplomacy is the greatest protector of peace.” And our hope is that people will recognize that 90 years from that moment, that is exactly what the Foreign Service has done. 

See the full Remarks at the 90th Anniversary of the United States Foreign Service.

The U.S. Foreign Service has more than 90 years of history, of course. According to the State Department historian, from 1789 until 1924, the Diplomatic Service, which staffed U.S. Legations and Embassies, and the Consular Service, which was primarily responsible for promoting American commerce and assisting distressed American sailors, developed separately.  

The first Act of Congress providing for U.S. consuls abroad was passed on April 14, 1792. Except for the consuls appointed to the Barbary States of North Africa (who enjoyed quasi-diplomatic status when Muslim countries did not maintain permanent missions abroad), U.S. consuls received no salary and were expected to earn their livings from private trade or from fees charged for official services. Some of these officials did not start getting paid until 1856 when Congress established a salary between $1,000 and $7,500 per year.

In 1781, we had 4 diplomatic posts and 3 consular posts.  By 2010, we had 168 diplomatic and 89 consular posts. In 1781, the State Department also had 4 domestic and 10 overseas personnel. By 1940, this grew to 1,128 domestic personnel and 840 staff overseas. The largest bump in staffing occurred in the 1950s when domestic personnel expanded to 8,609 employees and the Foreign Service grew to 7,710 overseas staff.    By the time the Foreign Service Act of 1980 became law, there were 3,438 Civil Service employees and 9,326 Foreign Service.  When USIA was integrated into the State Department, there were 6,958 CS employees and 9,238 FS employees. The Diplomatic Readiness Initiative (DRI) in 2005 boosted the staffing numbers to 8,098 CS employees and 11,238 FS employees. In 2012, there were 13,676 FS employees of 55% of the total agency employees and 10,811 CS employes or 45% of State employees.

The question we have is what will the Foreign Service look like when it turns 100 in 2024? The DRI hires will be in senior management positions in 10 years. How will their experience help them manage a new generation of diplomats?

In the past decade, we have seen an increase in unaccompanied assignments, and in the number of male eligible family members. The number of danger posts, as well, as the number of priority posts have also expanded.  A good number of junior diplomats have started their careers in war zone assignments in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya; some more were sent to restricted assignments in Pakistan, Yemen, and various countries under civil strife. We have Diplomatic Security agents moving from one priority posting to the next priority posting; rinse that and repeat. We don’t how many PTSD cases and non-natural deaths occur among FS members but we know they exist.

These folks will all come “home” one day to a Foreign Service where some have never served in the front line states.  We hope somebody at the State Department is thinking and planning for that day. Or maybe that day is already here since there is already a divide between those perceived to be conducting “real diplomacy” and those who are not; with some considering an assignment in a war zone as not being “actual diplomacy.” There are also folks annoyed that FSOs who serve in war zones get much more money and received favorable treatment on promotions.

Something is happening in the Foreign Service. What will it be like in fifty years?

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Zabul Attack: Spox Says State Dept Did Its Own Review, It’s Classified, and There’s Now a Checklist! 

– Domani Spero

 

As can be expected, the Chicago Tribune report citing an army investigation into the death of FSO Anne Smedinghoff and four others in Zabul, Afghanistan in April 2013 made it to the Daily Press Briefing.

State Spokesperson Jennifer Psaki says that “No State Department officials, civilian personnel were interviewed for the military report.” Since State had concluded its “classified internal review,” how many military personnel did it interview for its report on that Zabul attack?

One, two, ten, the entire unit …how many?

We don’t know since the internal review is classified.

According to the Tribune, the army report says that the security platoon already had other missions planned for that day; that the soldiers did not know how many people they were going to escort, making their job harder; also that the civilians were not wearing the proper protective gear.  

What does State’s internal review say about this? We don’t know since the review is classified.

The initial blast was cause by detonation from “a remote-controlled bomb hidden under a pallet that was leaned up against the base’s southern wall.” On PRT Zabul base’s wall. The report also slams the “failure of the State Department team to properly coordinate this trip with military leadership.”

What does State’s internal review say about this? We don’t know since the review is classified.

The report says that the State Department shared too much information with Afghan officials, and the group may have been targeted because specifics on the event’s exact time and who would attend “had leaked out.”

Um….we don’t know since the internal review is classified.

An embassy email referenced to in the report said that Qalat was picked because “we think the visuals would be nice” and it is a “the perfect place for a media tour.”

Months or years from now when the media and the public have forgotten about this — are we going to find out that the U.S. Army conducted its investigation without talking to State Department personnel, and that the State Department, as well, came up with an internal review without interviewing any of the military personnel in Zabul?

The spox brought up two items that made us — whisley-tango-foxtrot!

“Afghanistan is a war zone.”

Because we all need a reminder!

“[P]eople responsible for this tragedy were the extremists.”

Holy moly guacamole! Is that the best response we’ve got every time a sapling falls in a forest?

We have excerpted the exchange below.

QUESTION: So quickly on that Chicago paper report citing the army military unit investigation of the death of Anne Smedinghoff and other injuries there linked to State Department. The report makes a lot of accusations that point back to the State Department. “State says that there was coordination with DOD in advance of the mission.”

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: The Pentagon says Ambassador Addleton was a last-minute addition to the group, that this was a scramble, that while there had been planning in advance, there was a change to the established plan, a late add, and new requirements that required them to bring in additional military resources.

So when State says there was coordination in advance, was there additional coordination after the addition of this higher-level diplomat, Ambassador Addleton?

MS. PSAKI: Well, at every stage in the process, as you know, the decisions about whether movement takes place rests with the military commander at the base. I don’t have the level of detail about the specifics here, but we were closely coordinated at every point in the process. The State Department did our own review of the events that happened, and we have instituted since then a checklist in order to be as coordinated as possible at every step in the process. But from our own looking at the events and our team that was on the ground, we – every step taken, no rules or regulations were broken. Every step that was needed to be taken in that regard was taken.

And let me say first of all too, of course, that regardless of that piece, the attack on – that took the life of Anne Smedinghoff, an Afghan American translator, and three members of the U.S. military and severely injured several others was a terrible tragedy, and one that, as you all know, people across this building and across the world who work at the State Department remember every day. The only people responsible for this tragedy were the extremists opposed to the many brave Afghans and Americans who have sacrificed so much to help build a stronger, more stable Afghanistan. And what they were doing that day was participating in an outreach event that was part of a nationwide public diplomacy initiative highlighting cooperation between the United States and Afghans in a number of areas. And that’s a program that we’ve been proud of and was underway for weeks there.

QUESTION: The Pentagon says that the senior military commander – they agree with you that they were in charge, but say that they did call in additional resources. So when you’re saying that it’s really up to the military to make the call – go or don’t go – what you’re saying is while the commander was choosing to bring in more resources, he shouldn’t have chosen to go ahead with this at all? That’s where the fault lies?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, Margaret, I think where we are – we’re not about placing fault here. We’re about looking at this, as we have, and determining, with any event that happens around the world, what we should do moving forward. We work closely with the Department of Defense, with military commanders on the ground, whether it’s ISAF or otherwise, to make sure we take every step to keep our people safe. That doesn’t mean that tragic events don’t happen. Afghanistan is a war zone and we, of course, can honor the memory of Anne and the others who died that day by not only learning from it and what we do moving forward, but by continuing to do many of the programs that they were undertaking that day.

QUESTION: Can I ask you, now that the military unit on the ground has finished its review, will the State Department reconsider its initial review? Because per the State Department, the investigation of the incident happened immediately afterwards, before the military unit submitted its review and its account of what they saw happen on the ground. So –

MS. PSAKI: Well, just to be clear, Margaret –

QUESTION: And that’s why it didn’t go to an ARB.

MS. PSAKI: — this was an army field after action report that happened on the ground. And typically, what happens with these is that these reports are done by an investigating officer in the field. We understand that under DOD procedures, this field report would be transmitted through the military chain-of-command to be ratified and modified and further distributed. I’m not aware of that happening at this point. No State Department officials, civilian personnel were interviewed for the military report. We have done – the Department as well, through Embassy Kabul – has done our own review to determine what occurred and whether security procedures required adjustment. That review is classified. But there have been multiple investigations in this case, and we undertook our own review here.

QUESTION: But given that the Army’s review now is done and that they have pointed to fault in this building –

MS. PSAKI: Well, to be clear, again, this is important –

QUESTION: — is it worth reconsidering?

MS. PSAKI: This is important because this is – again, this was a report done by an Army unit, an Army unit field report. It has to work its way through the chain of command. I’m not aware of that happening yet. I would, of course, point to the Department of Defense, and they can all take a look at that when that happens. But we’ve done our own review.

QUESTION: Yeah. They’ve said they’re not probing it further at this point, at the Pentagon level because (inaudible) –

MS. PSAKI: Well, but there’s still a process that it goes through regardless.

QUESTION: And – but at this point, is it fair to say the State Department is not moving ahead since, in Afghanistan and Iraq, they are exempted from going to the ARB level of investigation? And there was a decision not to go to that level because they didn’t have –

MS. PSAKI: Well, but we did our own review regardless –

QUESTION: — when they had the meeting, they decided not to there –

MS. PSAKI: Regardless of that, we did our own review. Yes, Afghanistan is a war zone, so it falls under different requirements, but we still did our own review regardless of that.

QUESTION: But at this point, it is a closed matter? Is that correct?

MS. PSAKI: It’s never a closed matter in the sense that you’re still remembering the memory of the people who lost their lives.

QUESTION: Of course.

MS. PSAKI: And you’re still learning from the experience, and I mentioned a checklist we’ve put in place. And we’ll continue to evaluate on that basis. But again, our efforts now are focused on continuing to coordinate with the military at the operational and tactical level in these situations, and if for some reason the military unit is unable to meet the provisions of our checklist, our personnel will not participate. So you do take what you’ve learned, you adapt it moving forward, and you do everything you can to honor the memory of the lives that have been lost.

But there’s more.

On April 10, 2013, McClatchy  filed a lengthy report: Witness: Anne Smedinghoff, other Americans killed in Afghan bombing were on foot, lost.  Five days later, then State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell denied that Smedinghoff’s party was lost:

“Media reports suggesting that the group was lost are simply incorrect. They were going to a compound across the street from the PRT,” he said in written responses to emailed questions.
[...]

Ventrell said the purpose of what he called the “mission” that led to Smedinghoff’s death was a news conference featuring the senior U.S. official in southern Afghanistan and the Zabul governor to promote a book donation project and the “growth of literacy.”

Ventrell called “highlighting Afghanistan’s ongoing progress for both national and international media” an “integral part of our work.”

“This is what we do, and we believe in it,” he said. “Our diplomats believe in getting out beyond the wire to reach people. In this case we were engaging with the people of Afghanistan AND the local government.”

According to the State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell, reports suggesting that the group was lost are “simply incorrect.”

The Army report now confirmed that the party “had the wrong location for the school.” 

That official word from the State Department was never retracted.

So the Smedinghoff party was not/not lost, but they had the wrong location for the school? What kind of story is this?  Is there another meaning for the word “lost” that we have yet to learn?  We know about “get lost!” so no need to email us.  Mr. Ventrell is now the Director of Communications for the National Security Advisor Susan Rice.
On April 24, 2014, McClatchy’s Mark Seibel writes:

“It’s unclear whether there’s been much soul searching at the State Department. In the Tribune story, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki sounds unrepentant. “The only people responsible for this tragedy were the extremists opposed to the mission,” the Tribune quotes her as saying, then adds that “a classified internal review of the day was conducted, . . . and the department determined no State rules were broken.”

We have folks who complained to us — either that the State Department or Embassy Kabul was thrown under the bus in this army report. Well, we only have the army report to go on.

Army report excepted, we know three things from the State Department: 1) they named a courtyard after Ms. Smedinghoff at Embassy Kabul; 2) there is a new checklist in place; and 3) the internal review of the Zabul incident is still classified.

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The #PromiseofHashtag Ignites the Net, and the State Dept Spox Gets Roasted

– Domani Spero

In late March, the State Department launched a new phase in diplomacy and roiled the Internet. (see State Dept’s Selfie Diplomacy: #UnitedForUkraine; Now Waiting For Selfie From the Russian Bear …). Yesterday, it moved on to the next phase with #hashtag diplomacy and ignited the Internet once more.

It looks like this started earlier in the day, during the Daily Press Briefing.   AP’s Matt Lee asked for official reaction on Russia apparently stealing the State Department’s #UnitedforUkraine meme:

QUESTION: Very high? Okay. And then in numerous tweets today – that I think this is a new development – the Russian foreign ministry seems to have stolen your #UnitedforUkraine meme. Do you have any reaction to this? They’re putting out their stuff with UnitedforUkraine on it. They seem to have – or could be trying to hijack it. Would you suggest that they get their own, or are you okay with this?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t think they’re living by their hashtag.

 

Here is one of the tweets from the Russian foreign ministry:

 

Later on Thursday, Ms. Psaki returned to the hashtag and tweeted:

 

State/IIP’s Macon Phillips followed with this:

REACTIONS

What Theodore Roosevelt said!

 

THE END

You’re laughing but it’s getting eyeballs. Maybe State is willing to be mocked online as long as it gets people talking about #UnitedforUkraine?

Oh, we must confess — Friday! Dear Friday,thank god you’re here!

# # #

 

 

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Army Report: Poor planning led to FSO Anne Smedinghoff and troops’ death in Afghanistan

– Domani Spero

On April 7, 2014, LAT reported that one year after a 25-year-old diplomat from the Chicago area was killed in a car bombing in southern Afghanistan, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul remembered Anne Smedinghoff  by reading poetry and releasing balloons in a courtyard that was named for her.

“She was a truly remarkable young woman and friend,” U.S. Ambassador James B. Cunningham said in a solemn ceremony on a sun-splashed afternoon in Kabul.

We’ve previously blogged about this here:

On April 23, 2014, Chicago Tribune’s Geoff Ziezulewicz has an exclusive on a scathing Army report concerning Ms. Smedinghoff’s death, the three U.S. soldiers, Staff Sgt. Christopher M. Ward, 24, Spc. Wilbel A. Robles-Santa, 25, Spc. Deflin M. Santos Jr., 24, and an unidentified interpreter in Afghanistan on April 6, 2013.  The report says that the mission deliver books …. was plagued by poor planning that “failed at all levels.”  It also confirmed a tip we received a year ago that a top State Department official, Ambassador Jonathan Addleton, was at the book dropoff with Smedinghoff. The report says the senior official  “may have been the main target, although insurgents were perhaps targeting anyone partaking in the mission. The report also notes that the planning and security that should be afforded such a VIP was not provided in this instance. Addleton’s presence at the event that day had not been previously disclosed.”

The Army report, obtained by the Tribune through the Freedom of Information Act also says that the security platoon already had other missions planned for that day; that the soldiers did not know how many people they were going to escort, making their job harder; also that the civilians were not wearing the proper protective gear.   The book event at the school was reportedly characterized in military briefings as a “Media Extravaganza.” One soldier reportedly wrote in a statement that he described the event as providing “Happy Snaps,” or photo opportunities, for top officials in Kabul. The company supplying the books reportedly desired “more media reporting.”  Scholastic and State Department representatives told the Tribune that the company did not mandate any kind of publicity event.

Ms. Smedinghoff’s father,  Tom Smedinghoff, said that he had not seen the Army investigation before Wednesday, according to the Tribune.  Meanwhile, the State Department spox told the Tribune that a classified internal review of the day was conducted, and that the department determined no State rules were broken.

The Tribune citing the Army report says that planning for the book giveaway began with a U.S. Embassy email on March 18, 2013, to a State Department civilian at the base. It was to take place at a boys’ school just outside the south wall of the base in the city of Qalat and would be covered by Afghan media.

We think that this is the school where the book event was to take place. If this is wrong, please email us with corrections.

Spc. Jonathan Smith pulls security outside the Sheik Mati Boys School in Qalat, Afghanistan, while members of Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul assess the school's dining hall and kitchen for future renovations, April 16. Smith is part of PRT Zabul's security force. Photo via DVIDS: Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson 4.16.2011

Spc. Jonathan Smith pulls security outside the Sheik Mati Boys School in Qalat, Afghanistan, while members of Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul assess the school’s dining hall and kitchen for future renovations, April 16. Smith is part of PRT Zabul’s security force.
Photo via DVIDS: Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson
4.16.2011

Below is a quick excerpt from the Tribune’s report: Poor planning led to River Forest diplomat’s death in Afghanistan:

A U.S. mission to deliver books to a school in Afghanistan that ended in the death of a young foreign service officer from River Forest was plagued by poor planning that “failed at all levels,” according to a scathing Army report obtained by the Tribune.

The Army report for the first time criticizes civilian and military leaders for not following security protocols in the lead-up to the mission.
[...]
The email, sent from the special projects coordinator of the embassy’s public affairs section, requested “an event to publicize the distribution of books provided by Scholastic, Inc.,” the report said.

“Scholastic donated quite a lot of books for use in the schools in Afghanistan and it took a very long time for those books to get here,” a copy of the email enclosed in the Army report states. “Scholastic would like to see more media reporting.”

Qalat was chosen because a local official had requested such a visit and “partly because we would like Scholastic to feel as though we are doing something,” the email states. “Because we think the visuals would be nice, we thought that Qalat would be the perfect place for a media tour.”

Apparently,  the State Department’s presence at the base in Zabul ended 12 days after the attack. The Tribune also reported that the Army administratively disciplined two officers after the attack. Do you know what happened internally at State following the Zabul attack?

Read the full report here and weep.

We sent emails asking questions about this incident last year, nothing except one came back. One source in Kabul would not confirm or deny the circumstances surrounding Ms. Smedinghoff’s death.  The individual also declined to provide details of the the attack.  There was a concern then that this could become political given what happened in Benghazi.  But more telling perhaps was what my source pointed out — that Ms. Smedinghoff  would not have had the authority to make the decision about her movements.  No one gets to make those decisions unilaterally at US Mission Afghanistan.

We’d like to see the State Department declassify its internal report on the Zabul attack.  We think the Smedinghoff family should have access to it if it so desire.  The State Department spokesperson said that no State rules were broken. If so, there should not be a problem with releasing that internal review.  It would be in the public interest to see how the agency’s internal review stack up against the Army report.

That said, we do not/not think that State will disclose its internal review unless compelled to do so by court or the Congress. 

Of course, nothing precludes Secretary Kerry from declassifying the internal review and voluntarily releasing it now in light of the Army report. 

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Peter Kaestner: One of World’s Top Birders and Our Man in Northern Afghanistan

– By Domani Spero

We have written previously about the US Consulate in Mazar-e-Sharif in September 2009 (see New US Consulates Opening in Afghanistan), in December 2009 (see US Consulate in Mazar-e-Sharif Moving Forward) and in May 2012 (See US Consulate Mazar-e-Sharif: $80 Million and Wishful Thinking Down the Drain, and Not a Brake Too Soon).

That $80 million did wonders to the Mazar Hotel, but in 2012, WaPo reported that “American officials say they have abandoned their plans, deeming the location for the proposed compound too dangerous.”  We sent an inquiry to US Embassy Kabul concerning plans for the consulate but our email got the loud silent treatment that we’ve come to expect from our public affairs professionals there.  We understand from other inside sources that the US Consulate in Mazar is continuing operation in its interim facility with no clear plans on what happens in 2014 in terms of new location, funding or staffing. For now, it appears that the consulate does not have a building to move into or even a website. It does have a Facebook page here. And we have senior diplomat Peter Kaestner as the State Department’s Senior Civilian Representative to Northern Afghanistan. Correct us if we’re wrong, but if our recollection is right, this position serves as Principal Officer of the consulate in Mazar-e-Sharif and concurrently as Senior Civilian Representative to the International Security Assistance Force’s Northern Regional Command.

Peter Kaestner, Senior Civilian Representative to Northern Afghanistan, visited Hairaton bridge on the border with Uzbekistan. During his visit he reviewed the Afghan Border Police barracks that had been renovated with U.S. funding and visited the Afghan side of the bridge to Uzbekistan, which will be renovated with U.S. financial support. (Photo via US Consulate Mazar/FB)

Peter Kaestner, Senior Civilian Representative to Northern Afghanistan, visited Hairaton bridge on the border with Uzbekistan. During his visit he reviewed the Afghan Border Police barracks that had been renovated with U.S. funding and visited the Afghan side of the bridge to Uzbekistan, which will be renovated with U.S. financial support.
(Photo via US Consulate Mazar/FB)

Besides being a diplomat, Mr. Kaestner is also a world-renowned birder. He has been birding since he was a child and now has one of the top ten world bird lists, having seen 8471 different species. He is recognized as the first person to see all the bird families, and he discovered a new species of bird when he was stationed in Colombia.  In Surfbirds World Bird Species Life List, Mr. Kaestner is ranked #8 and is one of only two Americans in the top 10 ranks. Last year, British birder, Tom Gullick, 81, become the first person in the world to officially see 9,000 species of bird.  For the North American Hollywood version of this competition, see The Big Year with Steve MartinJack Black and Owen Wilson.

Mr. Kaestner has not forgotten his birding even in Northern Afghanistan.  US Consulate Mazar’s FB post says that  in addition to his regular duties, Mr. Kaestner has been busy studying the birds around Mazar-e Sharif and sends out an invitation:  In the coming weeks and months, Peter will be sharing information about the birds that he has seen in Afghanistan. If you have any questions about birds you, please send them to us. If you have a photo, he will be able to help identify the species.

Mr. Kaestner made some quick posts on a few birds (bird emoticons used below are from here):

SCR Kaestner’s birding blog: One of the most characteristic birds of Mazar-e Sharif is the Kabooter Safed, or White Pigeon. Like the Blue Mosque where they live, the White Pigeons of Mazar have been associated with the city since the 12th century. Tradition says that the pigeons are white as a reflection of the peace and purity of the mosque – and that the pigeons that live at the Mosque become pure white. This must be true, because I saw a white pigeon near the Mazar Airport that was not pure white! The white pigeon is descended from the Rock Pigeon, a wild bird that lives in the rocky cliffs in the mountains of Balkh Province.

Image via USConsulate Mazar/FB

Image via USConsulate Mazar/FB

SCR Kaestner’s Birding Blog: One of the most attractive birds around Mazar is one that most people have never seen. The Goldfinch is a widespread bird in the Palearctic faunal zone, and very familiar in Europe. The Central Asian form of the Goldfinch lacks black on the head and has a much longer bill. It is possible that some day our Goldfinch will be recognized as a separate species by taxonomists (scientists who study the classification of living things). Birders appreciate when such changes are made, since it means another bird can be added to their bird total.

◎▼◎

CR Kaestner’s Birding blog: Birds that live near people are often characterized by their adaptability. The starling family has several species that have become familiar around human habitation, especially in cities. The Common Myna is an easy bird to identify, with its bare yellow face and large white wing patches. They often feed on the ground, and will eat most anything. A species of Myna in southern Asia, the Hill Myna, can be trained to talk! This forest species has become rare in some areas because they are trapped to be sold as pets. Birders can only count birds in their native environment, not in cages or zoos.

(●∈∋●)

SCR Kaestner’s Birding blog: Another family that does well around humans are the crows. The most common corvid in Mazar is the Eurasian Magpie. It is easily identified by its large size, long tail, and white wing feathers. Magpies are omnivorous, meaning that they eat a variety of things. Members of the crow family are renowned for their intelligence – a trait not usually associated with birds. Indeed, one crow (in New Caledonia) uses tools in nature, and has been shown to solve complex tasks. We’ll discuss crows and ravens later.

ˎ₍•ʚ•₎ˏ

More on Afghanistan birds here and here.  In 2009, researchers for the Wildlife Conservation Society discovered the breeding area of the large-billed reed warbler—dubbed in 2007 as “the world’s least known bird species”—in the remote and rugged Wakhan Corridor of the Pamir Mountains of north-eastern Afghanistan. According to WCS, the first specimen of the large-billed reed warbler was discovered in India in 1867; the next was not spotted until 2006, in Thailand. Isn’t it interesting that the bird that has been spotted just twice previously in over 100 years was found breeding in Afghanistan?

In June this year, BBC News reported that Afghanistan’s Environment Protection Agency, Mustafa Zahir, told a local TV news channel that nearly 5,000 birds are smuggled out of the country every year.  The birds include falcons and Houbara Bustards - the latter apparently, widely prized as quarry by hunters in the Gulf.

For some bird photos, see Afghanistan Birds on Pinterest, that European Bee Eater is  one showy and gorgeous bird!

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