U.S. Embassies Warns of Threats to American Residences in Pakistan, Potential Targets in Afghanistan, Mali, Ethiopia

– Domani Spero

 

On December 19, the State Department issued a Worldwide Travel Alert concerning potential threats during the holiday period.

The lone wolf attack in Sydney, Australia on December 15, 2014, resulting in the deaths of two hostages, is a reminder that U.S. citizens should be extra cautious, maintain a very high level of vigilance, and take appropriate steps to enhance their personal security.  This Travel Alert expires on March 19, 2015.

An analysis of past attacks and threat reporting strongly suggests a focus by terrorists not only on the targeting of U.S. government facilities but also on hotels, shopping areas, places of worship, and schools, among other targets, during or coinciding with this holiday period. ­U.S. citizens abroad should be mindful that terrorist groups and those inspired by them can pose unpredictable threats in public venues.  U.S. citizens should remain alert to local conditions and for signs of danger.

Meanwhile the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan on December 19 is also warning of terrorist threats to American residences by groups that may be purporting to be service providers to gain access to the properties:

The Embassy has been informed of plans by terror groups to gain access to U.S. citizen  residences through visits by construction, maintenance, or utility companies, as well as other technical service providers. U.S. citizens should be extremely cautious about granting access to their residences, even to established companies, for the immediate future. Recent terror attacks in Peshawar and the resulting Pakistan Government response may raise the possibility for future threats.[…] The U.S. Embassy in Pakistan urges U.S. citizens to vary their times and routes when traveling anywhere in Pakistan, and to avoid travel patterns to such locations that would allow other persons to predict when and where they will be. Depending on ongoing security assessments, and as part of routine operational security measures, the U.S. Mission occasionally places areas such as hotels, markets, airports, and/or restaurants off limits to official personnel.

 

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul, meanwhile is  warning of potential attacks on western NGOs in Kabul:

As of early December 2014, militants were planning to attack a Western, possibly American, non-government organization (NGO) in Kabul City, Afghanistan. Surveillance had been completed and the attack was likely to take place within 2-4 weeks. The NGO office was possibly located close to the Ministry of Interior and the Afghan Passport Authority in Kabul City. There was no further information regarding the timing, targets, or methods of the attack.

The U.S. Embassy in Bamako, Mali issued a security message for places typically visited by Westerners:

The U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia also issued a security reminder for U.S. citizens to be vigilant during the season and of the continued threat of potential terrorist attacks in the country.  The targets for these attacks, according to the message, could include large gatherings at hotels, restaurants, nightclubs, shopping malls, and places of worship.

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Senate Confirmations: P. Michael McKinley (Afghanistan), Richard Verma (India)

– Domani Spero

 

On December 9, the U.S. Senate slowly winding its business in town, confirmed the ambassadorial nominees for Afghanistan and India. There’s still a long list of nominees awaiting confirmation, but  the candle is growing short here; we don’t think many more will make it through this Congress. But here are the nominees who made it through the confirmation obstacle course on December 9:

 

Deputy Ambassador Michael McKinley traveled to Bagram Airfield today to help administer the Oath of Citizenship to 11 Service Members in the United States Armed Forces. (Via US Embassy Kabul/FB)

Deputy Ambassador Michael McKinley traveled to Bagram Airfield today to help administer the Oath of Citizenship to 11 Service Members in the United States Armed Forces. (Via US Embassy Kabul/FB)

Ambassador McKinley is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, class of Minister-Counselor, currently serves as Deputy Ambassador, U.S. Embassy Kabul, Afghanistan. A two-time Ambassador and four-time Deputy Chief of Mission, he is known for his gifted leadership and management abilities. A consensus builder with demonstrated interpersonal skills, broad expertise in high-level foreign policy negotiations and detailed knowledge of the region, he will bring essential skills to the task of furthering bilateral relations with the Government of Afghanistan, a nation of unsurpassed foreign policy importance to the United States Government in a critical region of the world.

Previously, Mr. McKinley served in the Department of State as Ambassador, U.S. Embassy Bogota, Colombia (2010-2013), Ambassador, U.S. Embassy Lima, Peru (2007-2010), Deputy Chief of Mission, United States Mission to the European Union, Brussels, Belgium (2004-2007), Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, Washington, D.C. (2001-2004), Deputy Chief of Mission, U.S. Embassy Brussels, Belgium (2000-2001), Deputy Chief of Mission, U.S. Embassy Kampala, Uganda (1997-2000), Deputy Chief of Mission, U.S. Embassy Maputo, Mozambique (1994-1997), Political Officer, U.S. Embassy London, United Kingdom (1990-1994), Special Assistant, Office of the Under Secretary for Political Affairs, Washington, D.C. (1989-1990), Political Officer, Office of Southern African Affairs, Washington, D.C. (1987-1989), Political Officer, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Washington, D.C. (1985-1987) and Consular and General Services Officer, U.S. Embassy La Paz, Bolivia (1983-1985).

Mr. McKinley earned a MPhil and DPhil from Oxford University, Oxford, United Kingdom (1975-1982), and a B.A. from Southampton University, South Hampton, United Kingdom (1971-1975). He is the recipient of numerous awards from the Department of State, including a Presidential Meritorious Service Award (2011), 12 Senior Foreign Service Performance Awards, six Superior Honor Awards and two Meritorious Honor Awards. He speaks Spanish, Portuguese and French. via state.gov-McKinley, Michael P. – Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – September 2014

 

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Richard Rahul Verma serves as Senior Counselor to the global law firm of Steptoe & Johnson LLP, as well as to the Albright Stonebridge Group in Washington, DC.  His practice focuses on international law and regulatory issues, with a specialization in Asia and emerging markets.  Mr. Verma also serves as a Senior National Security Fellow at the Center for American Progress, where he directs their “India 2020” initiative.  Known as a talented leader and manager, he is recognized for his many years of experience working on high-level policy in the federal government, in the private sector and with non-governmental organizations, especially on matters relating to the affairs of South Asia and India, including political-military relations.  His knowledge and ability to set the agenda will enable him to strengthen bilateral relations with India, a pivotal nation of critical global importance to the U.S.

Previously, in Washington, D.C., he served as Assistant Secretary of State (Legislative Affairs), Department of State (2009-2011), Partner, Steptoe and Johnson LLP (2007-2009), Senior National Security Advisor, Office of the Senate Majority Leader (2006-2007), Senior National Security Advisor, Office of the Senate Minority Leader (2004-2006), Senior Counsel, Office of the Senate Democratic Whip (2003-2004), Foreign Policy Advisor, Office of Senator Reid (2002-2003) and Associate, Steptoe and Johnson (1998-2002).  Mr. Verma served on active duty as a First Lieutenant and Captain in the U.S. Air Force at Holloman, Air Force Base, New Mexico and Fort Meade, Maryland (1994-1998).  He was also Field Representative, National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, Bucharest, Romania (1993-1994) and Staff Assistant, Congressman John P. Murtha (1991-1992).

 Mr. Verma earned a B.S. at Lehigh University, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania in 1990, a J.D., cum laude, at American University in 1993 and a LL.M, with distinction, at Georgetown University Law Center in 1998.  He is the recipient of a Distinguished Service Medal from the Department of State, the International Affairs Fellowship from the Council on Foreign Relations and a Meritorious Service Medal, a Commendation Medal and a National Defense Service Medal from the U.S. Air Force.  via state.gov-Verma, Richard R. – Republic of India – September 2014

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Embassies Kabul and Bangkok Issue Security Message on Potential CIA Report Fallout

– Domani Spero

 

Below is a follow-up to out blogpost last night (see Impending Release of CIA Torture Report Prompts Embassy Security Review (Again). As of 7:15 am PST, Embassy Kabul appears to be the only post carrying this security message per updates via OSAC:

U.S. citizens in Afghanistan should be aware that release of declassified versions of the executive summary, findings, and conclusions of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s study on the CIA’s Rendition, Detention, and Interrogation program could prompt anti-U.S. protests and violence against U.S. interests, including private U.S. citizens. U.S. citizens should pay attention to their surroundings and take appropriate safety precautions, including avoiding demonstrations or confrontational situations.

***

The U.S. Embassy in Bangkok has now released a similar message:

U.S. citizens in Thailand should be aware that release of declassified versions of the executive summary, findings, and conclusions of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s report of the CIA’s Rendition, Detention and Interrogation program could prompt anti-U.S. protests and violence against U.S. interests, including private U.S. citizens. U.S. citizens should pay attention to their surroundings and take appropriate safety precautions, including avoiding demonstrations or confrontational situations.

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U.S. Consulate Herat Officially Relocates From 5-Star Hotel to ISAF’s Camp Arena

– Domani Spero

 

In December 2009, then U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry signed the lease for the 5-Star Hotel property in Herat, Afghanistan, identified as the site of the future U.S. Consulate in Herat, the post that would  cover the four provinces of western Afghanistan bordering Iran and Turkmenistan: Herat, Badghis, Ghor, and Farah.

Two and a half years after that lease signing, the U.S. Consulate in Herat officially opened. Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns attended the opening ceremony on June 13, 2012. He made the following remarks:

And so we are here to celebrate the opening of the consulate — this remarkable refurbished facility, leased from the Municipality of Herat. This was truly a community effort – we purchased local products to use in the refurbishment, some of which you can see on display in the waiting room next door. World-class quality, Chesht-e-Sharif marble now graces some of the floors. Every week, on average, more than 70 Afghans contributed their time and skills to the consulate’s construction. One expert carpenter turned plain packing crates into beautifully carved room dividers. And artwork produced by students from Herat University is displayed on the walls of the consulate.
[…]
This consulate, built with so many Afghan hands and so much Afghan talent, is a small reminder of what the people of Herat can accomplish. And it gives us hope for the greater effort facing Afghans—which is not merely the building of a single structure, but the building of an entire nation that deserves a future better than its recent past. Let this building stand as a sign of our commitment: As you build this future, one day at a time, you can count on the steadfast support and friendship of the United States of America.

Related posts:

 

This past September, we’ve blogged about the 2014 OIG report on Mission Afghanistan noting the rebuilding of the Consulate Herat building following the September 2013 attack:

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.

We have yet to confirm if  the rebuilding was completed this past summer (see * below).

However, on October 20, 2014, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul released a statement of its official notification to the Government of Afghanistan that it is consolidating the State Department operations in Herat at ISAF’s Camp Arena effective October 23:

On October 18, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul informed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan that the United States intends to move its diplomatic and consular presence from its current location on Qol-e-Urdu Road to Camp Arena of the International Security Assistance Force effective on October 23, 2014.  Following the September 13, 2013 attack on the U.S. Consulate building in Herat, the staff has been working from Camp Arena, and due to operational considerations, we have decided to continue to operate from Camp Arena.  The U.S. Consulate Herat staff remains committed to engaging with the Afghan people.

Camp Arena, the main Italian base near the city of Herat is home to 2,000 Italian soldiers and 400 Spanish troops (2012 numbers).

So.  That’s where we are right now. * Word on the corridors is that this $10 million refurbished/repaired/hardened building will be a returned to the municipality and will be treated as a write-off. We anticipate that Consulate Herat will be operating out of an ISAF base for the foreseeable future but we don’t know at this time how many of these bases will remain in Afghanistan when troops are reduced to 9,800 after this year and cut in half at the end of 2015.  The reduction of forces in Afghanistan only calls for “a small military presence at the U.S. Embassy” at the end of 2016.

With that in mind, the big question is — where would this plan leave the U.S. Consulate in Herat, currently located in Camp Arena and U.S. Consulate Mazar e-Sharif, currently located in Camp Marmal?

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Congressional Service Reports and Briefs — September 2014

– Domani Spero

 

Note that most of the docs below via state.gov are in pdf format:

-09/25/14   The United Arab Emirates (UAE): Issues for U.S. Policy  [440 Kb]
-09/24/14   Japan – U.S. Relations: Issues for Congress  [716 Kb]
-09/24/14   The “Khorasan Group” in Syria – CRS Insights  [55 Kb]
-09/24/14   Unaccompanied Alien Children: Demographics in Brief  [307 Kb]
-09/22/14   Climate Summit 2014: Warm-Up for 2015 – CRS Insights  [60 Kb]
-09/19/14   American Foreign Fighters and the Islamic State: Broad Challenges for Federal Law Enforcement – CRS Insights  [57 Kb]
-09/18/14   Energy Policy: 113th Congress Issues  [242 Kb]
-09/18/14   Russia’s Compliance with the INF Treaty – CRS Insights  [55 Kb]
-09/17/14   Afghanistan: Politics, Elections, and Government Performance  [670 Kb]
-09/17/14   Armed Conflict in Syria: Overview and U.S. Response  [880 Kb]
-09/16/14   Proposed Train and Equip Authorities for Syria: In Brief  [288 Kb]
-09/16/14   The U.S.-South Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA): Provisions and Implementation  [589 Kb]
-09/15/14   Instances of Use of United States Armed Forces Abroad, 1798-2014  [484 Kb]
-09/15/14   Iraq: Politics, Governance, and Human Rights  [499 Kb]
-09/15/14   Man Without a Country? Expatriation of U.S. Citizen “Foreign Fighters”  [58 Kb]
-09/12/14   Iraqi and Afghan Special Immigrant Visa Programs  [340 Kb]
-09/10/14   Armed Conflict in Syria: Overview and U.S. Response  [647 Kb]
-09/10/14   Diplomatic and Embassy Security Funding Before and After the Benghazi Attacks [413 Kb]
-09/10/14   The “Islamic State” Crisis and U.S. Policy  [562 Kb]
-09/10/14   U.S. Foreign Assistance to Latin America and the Caribbean: Recent Trends and FY2015 Appropriations  [368 Kb]
-09/09/14   Considerations for Possible Authorization for Use of Military Force Against the Islamic State – CRS Insights  [56 Kb]
-09/09/14   U.S. Military Action Against the Islamic State: Answers to Frequently Asked Legal Questions  [355 Kb]
-09/08/14   Armed Conflict in Syria: Overview and U.S. Response  [633 Kb]
-09/08/14   Libya: Transition and U.S. Policy  [737 Kb]
-09/05/14   China’s Leaders Quash Hong Kong’s Hopes for Democratic Election Reforms – CRS Insights  [57 Kb]
-09/05/14   Defense Surplus Equipment Disposal, Including the Law Enforcement 1033 Program [272 Kb]
-09/05/14   Protection of Trade Secrets: Overview of Current Law and Legislation  [433 Kb]
-09/05/14   U.S. Strategic Nuclear Forces: Background, Developments, and Issues  [512 Kb]
-09/04/14   Ukraine: Current Issues and U.S. Policy  [365 Kb]
-09/03/14   Pakistan Political Unrest: In Brief  [250 Kb]

 

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Short and boring lives of the G222 Planes in Kabul — from $486M to scrap at 6 cents a pound!

– Domani Spero

 

We’re late on this, but last week, SIGAR released two letters to Secretary Hagel and to Air Force Secretary Deborah L. James concerning the  failed G222 aircraft program for the Afghan Air Force.

Starting in 2008, DOD apparently initiated a program to provide 20 of these Italian-made aircraft to the Afghan Air Force.   The Defense Department spent $486 million for these airplanes, which according to the SIGAR, “could not meet operational requirements in Afghanistan.” Sixteen of these aircraft were recently destroyed at Kabul International Airport,  scrapped by the Defense Logistics Agency, and the remains were sold to an Afghan construction company for about $32,000 total.  SIGAR calculates that the scrap was sold at roughly 6 cents a pound. The remaining four airplanes are reportedly stored at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, presumably to help fight the Taliban at some later date?

Here are the $486 million airplanes you paid for:

Photo via SIGAR

Photo via SIGAR

 Here are the scrapped beauties at 6 cents a pound:

Screen Shot 2014-10-15

Photo via SIGAR

Screen Shot 2014-10-15

Here are the links to the letters:
http://www.sigar.mil/pdf/special%20projects/SIGAR-15-04-SP_IL_G222%20Disposition%20Notf%20Req_03Oct2014_Redacted.pdf

http://www.sigar.mil/pdf/special%20projects/SIGAR-15-02-SP_IL_Scrapping%20of%20G222%20Fleet_03Oct2014_amd_Redacted.pdf

According to Defense Industry Daily:

The G.222/C-27A was not known as an easy aircraft to maintain, but it does feature outstanding short runway performance, and offers proven performance in hot weather and high altitudes. That seemed to make it well-suited for work in Afghanistan. Was it well suited to the Afghans?

That would depend on whether the Afghans could keep them in the air. The USAF tried to address the spares and maintenance issue through the program’s structure, paying for extensive training through the US military, an initial spare parts inventory, ground support equipment, technical publications in English and Dari, and 3 years worth of contractor logistics support.

But it didn’t work.

These are not the only aircraft DOD purchased for the Afghan Air Force. Defense Industry Daily has a rundown of the timeline and the contracts here.

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State Dept Seeks Security Protective Specialists: 45K+, Limited Non-Career Appointments

– Domani Spero

 

Via usajobs.gov:

On October 6, the State Department opened the application period for Security Protective Specialists (SPS).

The Department of State, Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) is seeking highly qualified and motivated men and women with extensive experience in protective security operations to serve in the Foreign Service at certain U.S. embassies, consulates and regional offices abroad.

This workforce will be deployed to Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Libya, Yemen and North and South Sudan and other high threat posts to supplement DS Special Agents in the supervision of contractor personnel and the provision of personal protection for Department employees. As members of a diplomatic team, Security Protective Specialists not only help to accomplish the mission of the Department of State, but also represent the United States to the people of other nations.

Screen Shot 2014-10-08

 

All assignments will be at the needs of the service. After the initial tour, SPSs may be transferred to other high threat posts overseas for two consecutive 2-year tours of duty.

There is no provision for election of post of assignment.

A limited, non-career appointment to the Foreign Service involves uncommon commitments and occasional hardships along with unique rewards and opportunities. A decision to accept such an appointment must involve unusual motivation and a firm dedication to public service. The overseas posts to which SPSs will be assigned may expose the employee to harsh climates, health hazards, and other discomforts and where American-style amenities may be unavailable. Assignments to Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, are particularly challenging and may result in bodily injury and/or death. However, a limited appointment to the Foreign Service offers special rewards, including the pride and satisfaction of representing the United States and protecting U. S. interests at home and abroad.

Job Details:

Security Protective Specialists must perform duties in the field that are physically demanding. SPSs must be willing and able to meet these physical demands in high-stress, life and death situations. The SPS’s life and the lives of others may depend upon his/her physical capabilities and conditioning. Candidates must pass a thorough medical examination to include Supplemental Physical Qualification Standards. A qualified candidate may not have a medical condition which, particularly in light of the fact that medical treatment facilities may be lacking or nonexistent in certain overseas environments, would constitute a direct threat to the health or safety of the individual or others, or would prevent the individual from performing the duties of the job.

Security Protective Specialists are required to perform protective security assignments with physical demands that may include, but are not limited to, intermittent and prolonged periods of running, walking, standing, sitting, squatting, kneeling, climbing stairs, quickly entering and exiting various vehicles, enduring inclement weather which may include excessive heat, as well as carrying and using firearms.

Security Protective Specialists perform other functions that may require jumping, dodging, lying prone, as well as wrestling, restraining and subduing attackers, or detainees. SPSs must be able, if necessary, to conduct security inspections that may require crawling under vehicles and other low clearances or in tight spaces such as attics and crawl spaces.

Sometimes it may be necessary for a SPS to assist with installing or maintaining security countermeasures, which might involve lifting heavy objects and working on ladders or rooftops. SPSs must be skilled at driving and maneuvering a motor vehicle defensively or evasively in a variety of situations and at various speeds.

Security Protective Specialist candidates are expected to already possess many of the skills discussed in previous paragraphs but all will receive identical training to insure consistency. This training will include firearms training, defensive tactics, restraining an attacker and specialized driving techniques. SPS candidates must be able to participate in and complete all aspects of their training.

Candidates must be willing and able to travel extensively throughout the world. Traveling and assignments abroad may involve working in remote areas where traditional comforts and medical facilities are limited. SPSs may be required to travel to locations of civil unrest where conditions are potentially hostile and where performance of duties is conducted under hazardous circumstances.

No felony convictions:

Applicants for the Security Protective Specialist position must not have been convicted of any felony charge. In accordance with the Lautenberg Amendment to the Gun Control Act, a person convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence may not possess a firearm. Applicants must be able to certify that they have not been convicted of any such violation and that they are not otherwise prohibited from possessing firearms.

The job page includes a new section on reasonable accommodation (most probably steaming from the recent EEOC ruling):

The Department of State provides reasonable accommodation to applicants with disabilities. Applicants requiring reasonable accommodations for any part of the application or hiring process should so advise the Department at ReasonableAccommodations@state.gov within one week of receiving their invitation. Decisions for granting reasonable accommodations are made on a case-by-case basis.

Read the entire announcement here.

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State Department on PTSD Workers’ Comp Claims: How Well Is This Working?

– Domani Spero

 

We received a note recently from a reader who is deeply concerned about his/her State Department friend diagnosed with PTSD from an assignment in a war-torncountry. The condition is allegedly aggravated by the lack of understanding on the part of the officer’s superiors who “pressured” the employee to return to another “very stressful/high pressure work duties.”

“My friend was not shot, raped, tortured or maimed by explosive devices. No single, well-defined, event happened. That said, s/he/it now lives a life far more constrained by physiological barriers due to time spent in dangerous climes.”

That got us looking at what resources are available to State Department employees suffering from PTSD.  We found the following information on state.gov.

Employees working in high threat environments such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Libya and Yemen may develop symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a result of their performance of duty.

PTSD may be basis for a workers’ compensation claim under the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act (FECA). The FECA is administered by the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP). If an OWCP claim is accepted, benefits may include payment of medical expenses and disability compensation for wage loss.

When an employee develops any mental health symptoms, including symptoms of PTSD, he/she is encouraged to make a confidential appointment with a counselor in the Office of Medical Services (MED)’s Employee Consultation Services (ECS) office. If the initial evaluation indicates symptoms suggestive of PTSD, ECS will refer the employee to MED’s Deployment Stress Management Program (DSMP) for further evaluation. A psychiatrist designated by DSMP will document the initial symptoms for the OWCP claim form (CA-2) and CA-20 (Attending Physician’s Statement). If the employee requires assistance in completing the OWCP claims package, HR’s Office of Casualty Assistance (OCA) will help the employee gather the required documentation, complete the necessary paperwork, and submit the claims package.

OWCP has advised the Department that PTSD claims will be handled expeditiously. PTSD claims from Department employees have been successfully adjudicated by OWCP in the past. The Office of Employee Relations (HR/ER) will remain the point of contact with OWCP. HR/ER will provide consultation, advice and guidance on the OWCP process and on issues regarding the employee’s use of leave (annual, sick, and use of FMLA), disability accommodation options, and benefits. HR/ER will manage the employee’s claim after OWCP receives it and continue in its liaison role with OWCP to meet the employee’s needs.

Some PTSD patients may require treatment by a specialist outside of the Department of State. For such cases, MED/DSMP may refer the employee to an outside provider. MED will cover the initial cost of treatment until OWCP accepts the claim, submitted by the employee through HR, and OWCP will reimburse MED once the claim is accepted. If OWCP does not accept the case as work-related, the employee should submit the medical bills to his/her insurance carrier to reimburse MED for the initial treatment costs. Subsequent treatment costs will be the responsibility of the employee’s health insurance provider.

Throughout this process, the Office of Casualty Assistance (OCA) will assist the employee and his/her family as they adjust to the employee’s medical condition and explore various options affecting their career with the Department. OCA’s role is to assist the employee with paperwork and coordinate with other Department offices as appropriate.

Workers’ Comp Resources: (* = Intranet Website)

DoL Workers’ Compensation Program Website
OWCP Forms: CA-2 CA-2a CA-20 (pdf)
DoL’s Publication CA-801

DoS Office of Casualty Assistance (OCA)* Tel: 202-736-4302
DoS Office of Employee Relations (HR/ER)*

Email: HRWorkersCompensation@state.gov

 

Frankly, the Office of Casualty Assistance (OCA) has not been terribly impressive. So we’d like to know how responsive is OCA at State when it comes to offering assistance to employees with PTSD who had to deal with worker’s comp?

And how well is DOL’s Workers’ Comp program working if you have PTSD?

We must add that while PTSD is typically associated with assignments to high threat environments such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Libya and Yemen, Foreign Service employees and family members are assigned to over 280 posts around the world.  Some of these assignment are to war-torn countries in Africa that are not priority staffing posts like AIP or are in critical crime posts such as some cities in Mexico, the DRC, and several posts in the Western Hemisphere (looking at Honduras, Guate and El Salvador). Studies show that crime events are also associated with high rates of PTSD.   The focus on PTSD and employees in high threat environments in the state.gov information above excludes a long list of critical crime posts and appears to discount, by omission, crime-related PTSD and post-traumatic experience in posts not located in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Libya and Yemen.

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Media Operations Centers in Afghanistan: $7.2Million Build/Suspend and Demolish Projects

– Domani Spero

 

They’re called MOCs or Media Operations Centers (MOCs). We’re building them in Afghanistan.  One State Department grant was for the construction of one MOC at Balkh University for $3,782,980. A second grant was for the construction of another MOC at Nangarhar University for $3,482,348. The grant awards totaled $7,265,328, and the periods of performance for both grants were October 1, 2013, through December 31, 2014.   According to State/OIG, these grants were executed in Afghanistan by Omran Holding Group (OHG) with two subcontractors, Capitalize Omran—a company based in Washington, DC, responsible for managing the overall project—and TriVision Studios, the firm responsible for outfitting the MOCs with broadcasting equipment. Apparently, the contraction construction related to both grants was suspended in January 2014 and has not resumed. On September 18, State/OIG recommended the immediate termination of the two grant agreements. Why?

Based on preliminary results of the audited sample, OIG identified areas of concern related to two construction grants being executed in Afghanistan by Omran Holding Group (OHG) that require immediate attention. These areas of concern include misuse of Government funds, significant noncompliance with Federal regulations, and inaccurate financial reporting. Additionally, OHG failed to comply with the terms of one grant agreement by beginning construction without required design approval, and also began construction of the building in the wrong location. We therefore recommended, among other actions, that the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs (SCA) immediately terminate grant agreements S-AF200-13-CA-012 and S-AF200-13-CA-014 with OHG, and that the Bureau of Administration’s Office of the Procurement Executive (A/OPE) develop Department guidance regarding the use of Federal assistance funds for overseas construction.

 

So one MOC was constructed without the required design approval:

“The grants required that the recipient develop building designs for the MOCs and that these designs be approved by the Department prior to the commencement of construction. However, OHG “jumped” the construction schedule and began to construct the Balkh University MOC in December 2013, without prior approval from the Department. As a result, certain aspects of the newly constructed structure were not in accordance with the Department’s requirements for the building design.”

The same MOC was constructed in the wrong location, and had to be demolished no later than October 31, 2014.

“OHG began the Balkh University MOC construction in the wrong location, based on the direction of a local Afghan government official who did not have the authority to direct the grantee, resulting in the need to demolish the new structure.” 

How did we end up from design/build to build/demolish?

State/OIG may have an answer:

“OIG also noted concerns related to the Department’s oversight of construction grants, in general. Specifically, the Department had no policies or procedures for awarding or overseeing construction grants, which resulted in ineffective construction grant agreements. For example, the OHG grant agreements lacked details that are normally included in construction contracts, and the terms and conditions were created by the GOR without documented input or approval from Department legal representatives or construction specialists.”

The Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs (SCA) and the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP) concurred with the recommendations with the later noting that the termination letters for each award are currently in the clearance process. A response from the SRAP also notes that the Public Affairs Section (PAS) at embassy Kabul has “obligated more than 975 awards totaling over  $270,000,000  under extraordinarily challenging circumstances.”

Think about that for a moment.

We don’t know how many MOCs have been constructed in Afghanistan, but in January 2013, the State Department announced a $325,000 award for “the completion of the PAS-funded Media Operations Center (MOC) at Herat University”and a maximum award for $200,00 for the  the operation and maintenance of this facility for a period of up to 24 months.  In spring 2013, the US Embassy in Kabul also announced the inauguration of a state-of-the-art Media Operations Center (MOC) at Kabul University.  The Embassy provided a $2.67 million grant to the HUDA Development Organization, to build and equip the Media Operations Center there.

So just to round-up, our precise and active verbs for these Afghanistan projects now include: design, build, suspend,complete, equip, maintain, and demolish. Also terminate.

Although, possibly, terminate is only good until a new grantee can be located to complete these grants.

Read the audit here (pdf) and weep.

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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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