Mandatory Evacuation On For US Consulate General Basrah in Southern Iraq

In June last year, we blogged about the Tillerson State Department’s plan to close down the U.S. Consulate General in Basrah (see U.S. Consulate General #Basrah, Iraq: Six-Year Old Diplomatic Outpost Faces Closure).

On September 28, the State Department announced Secretary Pompeo’s determination to place the U.S. Consulate General in Basrah on “ordered departure” status. That means post is now under mandatory evacuation. Media reports elsewhere notes post’s “temporary” closure but we could not find a formal announcement for temporary closure, post closure, or suspension of operation.

Per 2 FAM 410, the final decision to open, close, or change the status of a diplomatic mission is made by the President.  The final decision to open, close, or change the status of a consular post, consular agency, branch, or special office is made by the Under Secretary for Management, a position that remains vacant.

A statement from Secretary Pompeo talks about the “temporary relocation of diplomatic personnel“, blames Iran, and cites “increasing and specific threats and incitements to attack our personnel and facilities in Iraq.”

Basrah is located in the southern-most province of Iraq, near the border with Kuwait and Iran and serves the four provinces of the region: Basrah, Muthanna, Dhi Qar, and Maysan.  The U.S Consulate General is adjacent to the Basrah International Airport and the facility, an interim project cost at least $150 million (this includes security and facility upgrades).  Post did not provide visa services or non-emergency American citizen services, both of which are provided by the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.  Its consular services were limited to emergency American citizen issues.

CIA map

An updated Iraq Travel Advisory says:

The U.S. government’s ability to provide routine and emergency services to U.S. citizens in Iraq is extremely limited.  On September 28, 2018, the Department of State ordered the departure of U.S. government personnel from the U.S. Consulate General in Basrah.  The American Citizens Services (ACS) Section at the U.S. Embassy Baghdad will continue to provide consular services to U.S. citizens in Basrah.

A 2013 State/OG report notes the following about Basrah:

The Government of Iraq would like to reclaim the 108-acre compound that houses the U.S. consulate general—a former British forward operating base 12 miles from Basrah on an Iraqi military compound adjacent to the international airport. The embassy is committed to maintain a presence in the south of Iraq, not least because it is the largest source of new oil to market in the world, and many U.S. companies are pursuing commercial opportunities there. The local government supports a U.S. presence, and the Government of Iraq committed in a 2004 bilateral agreement to provide a permanent site for consulate operations. To date, however, there has been no progress identifying a future site. The U.S. Government does not have a land use agreement for the current compound. The consulate general’s hold on the property remains tenuous.

At the time of the inspection, the Department was completing a $150 million interim construction project to provide basic security and infrastructure upgrades, but the facility and its isolated location are not suitable for a diplomatic mission on more than a temporary basis. Employees live in deteriorating containerized housing units; the compound has no central generator grid or access to city power; all supplies, including food, have to be trucked to the compound; and the security support needed to interact with contacts in Basrah City is costly. Operating costs to maintain the current, oversized facility and its hundreds of guards and life support staff are approximately $100 million per year. The Department has not given priority to or identified funding for a purpose-built facility.

Basrah’s ability to sustain operations is fragile under the best of circumstances because of its location at the end of a supply chain beset by shipping delays, security concerns, and the difficulty in recruiting and retaining U.S. direct-hire staff. As long as the consulate general occupies a sprawling compound that requires nearly 1,200 support staff, efforts to reduce costs and develop a long-term diplomatic presence commensurate with U.S. interests will remain on hold. If the Department cannot decide soon on Basrah’s future, it will at the very least have to fund interim upgrades to make facilities livable.

Related posts:

 

Advertisements

US Embassy Senegal Inaugurates New Regional Tactical Training Center

On September 6, the State Department and the Government of Senegal inaugurated a new regional counterterrorism training facility in Thiès, Senegal.

U.S. and Senegalese officials formally dedicated the new Regional Tactical Training Center, which was funded, constructed, and equipped through the Department of State’s Antiterrorism Assistance (ATA) program. The new center is ATA’s first regional training facility in West Africa.

Once fully operational, the training center, part of a pre-existing Senegalese training facility, will reportedly expand ATA’s capacity to train Senegalese and other West African partner nation law enforcement officers at this regional counterterrorism training hub. ATA will provide training in hard skills such as crisis response, explosive incident countermeasures, post-blast investigations, and rural border patrol operations.

Photo via US Embassy Dakar

Below via:

Senegal Regional Tactical Training Center

With the success and subsequent growth of its regional training program in Jordan, ATA determined there was an operational need and an opportunity in Senegal to develop a West African regional training center.

ATA conducted a site survey in March 2015 at the pre-existing Tactical Training Center in Zone 7 (CET-7) in Thiès, Senegal. In January 2018, officials from both nations laid the cornerstone to begin construction of the new facility.

The new construction combined with the tactical capabilities of the pre-existing facility provide a modern regional training hub capable of conducting up to four ATA training programs simultaneously and in a more cost-efficient manner.

The RTTC includes a 100-person-capacity conference room, two classrooms, and an adjacent 900-square-foot warehouse with a secured armory, storage and staging rooms, a workshop area, and office space. A modular shoot-house with movable and interchangeable walls, an observation catwalk, and roof is planned for completion by September 2019.

The location of the new training center at the CET-7 affords ATA the use of the pre-existing, on-site tactical training and life-support facilities, including a simulated urban village, pistol and rifle ranges, more than 25 kilometers of terrain for land navigation and tracking, and a demolition range.

#

 

 

 

 

 

UNGA Crowd Laughs Out Loud at POTUS

 

#

Secretary Pompeo Saves $2Billion Weapons Sales From Jeopardy

 

AND NOW THIS, the English version though the original one requires no translation:

#

U.S. Embassy Antananarivo: Diplomat Found Dead After Apparent Attack in Residence

 

On September 24, the State Department issued a statement on the death of a U.S. diplomat assigned at the American Embassy in Antananarivo, Madagascar:

We are deeply saddened to confirm that a U.S. Foreign Service Officer was found dead in their residence in the overnight hours of Friday, September 21. Our deepest sympathies go out to the family and the U.S. Embassy Antananarivo community. U.S. investigators have opened an investigation into the matter as have the local Malagasy authorities, and a suspect is currently in custody. Out of respect for the family of the deceased as well as the ongoing investigative process, the Department does not have any additional comments at this time.

According to AFP,  the diplomat was found dead after an apparent attack in his residence in Madagascar’s capital and that the suspect had been arrested. “In the early hours of Sunday morning “after receiving a call from neighbours and private security guards, the gendarmerie night patrol found an American diplomat dead at his home,” police spokesperson Herilalatiana Andrianarisaona told AFP.”

A State/OIG report from May 2015 notes that US Embassy Antananarivo has a total staff of 296, with 57 U.S. direct-hire positions. A previous report dated February 2010 notes that there were 305 locally employed staff, and 275 contract guards.

In April 2010, the embassy occupied a new embassy compound (site acquisition was $3.6 million, and construction was $102.3 million), consisting of a chancery, a warehouse/shops facility, a Marine security guard quarters, and a swimming pool. Embassy housing consists of 38 leased and 2 government-owned residences, 1 of which is the Ambassador’s residence.

The Key Officers List dated September 14 indicates that post does not have a chief of mission and is currently headed by Chargé d’Affaires a.i. Stuart R. Wilson who was originally assigned as DCM to Antananarivo in August 2017.

On August 1, a Travel Alert was issued for Madagascar indicating a change to Level 2 Exercise Increased Caution category due to civil unrest and crime.

#

 

FSJ: MED’s Focus on Clearances and Restricting Access to SNEA #NotSupportForFamilies

We’ve blogged previously about the problems encountered by Foreign Service families with the State Department’s Bureau of Medical Services (see StateDept’s MED Services Drive Employees with Special Needs #FSKids Nuts; Also @StateDept’s Blackhole of Pain Inside the Bureau of Medical Services (MED). The latest issue of the Foreign Service Journal features a piece by James Brush who previously worked as a child psychologist at the State Department.

Via FSJ: James Brush, Ph.D., is a child and adolescent psychologist in private practice in Washington, D.C. He worked at the State Department as a child psychologist with the Child and Family Program division of MED Mental Health from January 2013 through March 2016. Prior to his work at State, he had a private practice in Cincinnati, Ohio, for 26 years. A past president of the Ohio Psychological Association, he continues to be involved as a committee chair. 

Below is an excerpt from The Demise of MED’s Child and Family Program (FSJ)

The Child and Family Program within the Bureau of Medical Services’ Mental Health program was constituted in 2013, when the full team was finally in place after years of planning. I was brought onto the team as one of two child psychologists. By March, we had on board a child psychiatrist director, two child psychologists and three clinical social workers who had experience in treating and managing the needs of children and adolescents.

I was on the ground floor of this program, and our mission was both exciting and challenging. This was the first extensive effort within the State Department to support the specific mental health and developmental needs of children, adolescents and their families living abroad.
[…]
By 2015, three of the psychiatrists who were opposed to the CFP functioning as a comprehensive support program ended up having leadership roles in MED. Dr. Stephen Young took over as the director of mental health. Dr. Kathy Gallardo took over as deputy director of mental health, and Dr. Aleen Grabow was brought in as a child psychiatric consultant. Together, they worked toward limiting the scope of the CFP, limiting the SNEA program and reducing the opportunities for families with disabled children through more restrictive use of child mental health clearances.

Within a year of their tenure in leadership, we lost our child psychiatrist director, the two child psychologists and one clinical social worker. I and the other providers left because Drs. Young and Gallardo changed the mission and scope of the CFP. It became an unpleasant place in which to work, with the emphasis being on clearances and restricting access to SNEA. Support for families was no longer the focus. Rather, support services were being cut and the clearance process was being used to restrict the opportunities of those with disabled children.

The program is now a skeleton of what it was previously, with only one social worker, one child psychologist and one retired Foreign Service psychiatrist. Telemedicine is forbidden. The program now basically performs an administrative function, processing clearances and SNEA requests.

Read the entire piece here.

We understand that State/OIG is aware of some allegations related to the special needs education allowance (SNEA) and is doing “exploratory work”. Well, Dr. Brush’s account should be instructive.  This is not one of the employees battling the bureaucracy on behalf of their children, this is one of the people who used to work at MED.

While we might be tempted to think that the troubling response could be some form of retaliation for blowing this issue up in the media, it is hard to imagine that MED’s policy and focus on restricting access to SNEA and the medical clearance do not have the full blessings of the State Department leadership all the way to the 7th Floor. After all, if State really wanted to resolve these cases, it would have worked with these FS families to accommodate their needs, avoid forcing people into taking loans to pay/repay for special ed needs expenses, and it would have afforded families an appeals process (IT. DOESN’T).

And they certainly would not/not have threatened people who pursue this issue, right? RIGHT?

Perhaps, this is what they mean when they talk about the new Department of Swagger? Take it or leave?

(Thought bubble: How long before the proponents of this policy get promotions, Superior Honor Awards or Presidential Rank Awards?)

While the State Department has lifted the hiring freeze, and the A-100 classes are no longer on a hit and miss schedule, it is not clear to us what the new secretary of state’s position on the previously planned 8% shrinkage of the agency workforce. If that was a WH imperative as opposed to Tillerson’s, it would be hard to imagine Secretary Pompeo going against it.

The CRS report on the Department of State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs: FY2019 Budget and Appropriations dated April 18, 2018 and updated on August 9, 2018 notes the following:

The Department of State released guidance in May 2018 lifting the hiring freeze and allowing the department to increase staffing to December 31, 2017, levels. Subsequent press reports indicate that the department intends to hire 454 new employees beyond end of year 2017 levels but also suggest that hiring must be circumscribed by previous commitments former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made to reduce its workforce by 8%.

So this brings us to the “take it or leave” scenario for FS employees with special needs children. Since these kids are given limited medical clearances with no appeals (which precludes most if not all overseas assignments), Foreign Service families will be forced to serve either in domestic assignments in order to stay together; serve separately with employees going overseas, while their families stay in the United States, or employees may opt to pay everything out of pocket and not ask for SNEA to avoid getting snared in MED’s clutches.

Begs the questions: 1) How many career employees would stay on when their employer talk the talk about supporting FS families but know it’s just a gum chewing exercise? And 2)  Is this what a slow walk to 8% looks like??

By the way, if there’s an alternate reasonable explanation for all this that does not require our relocation to the parallel universe, Earth, Too, send us an email, we’d love a good chat.

 

Related items:

 

 

ADST-DACOR Book Launch: Amb. Prudence Bushnell’s Account of the 1998 U.S. Embassy Bombings

Ambassador Prudence Bushnell’s book, Terrorism, Betrayal, and Resilience: My Story of the 1998 U.S. Embassy Bombings will be available on October 1. On October 2, ADST-DACOR will hold a book launch at the DACOR Bacon House. This is the 65th volume in the ADST-DACOR Diplomats and Diplomacy Series.

Date: October 2
Time: 6:00 pm – 7:30 pm
To RSVP please email: programs@dacorbacon.org if you plan to attend the reception (free of charge)

Via Amazon: On August 7, 1998, three years before President George W. Bush declared the War on Terror, the radical Islamist group al-Qaeda bombed the American embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, where Prudence Bushnell was serving as U.S. ambassador. Terrorism, Betrayal, and Resilience is her account of what happened, how it happened, and its impact twenty years later.

When the bombs went off in Kenya and neighboring Tanzania that day, Congress was in recess and the White House, along with the entire country, was focused on the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Congress held no hearings about the bombings, the national security community held no after-action reviews, and the mandatory Accountability Review Board focused on narrow security issues. Then on September 11, 2001, al-Qaeda attacked the U.S. homeland and the East Africa bombings became little more than an historical footnote.

Terrorism, Betrayal, and Resilience is Bushnell’s account of her quest to understand how these bombings could have happened given the scrutiny bin Laden and his cell in Nairobi had been getting since 1996 from special groups in the National Security Council, the FBI, the CIA, and the NSA. Bushnell tracks national security strategies and assumptions about terrorism and the Muslim world that failed to keep us safe in 1998 and continue unchallenged today. In this hard-hitting, no-holds-barred account she reveals what led to poor decisions in Washington and demonstrates how diplomacy and leadership going forward will be our country’s most potent defense.

“Ambassador Prudence Bushnell is a true professional with the toughness, grit, courage, and compassion that marks the kind of superb leader you want in charge during a crisis. I witnessed her remarkable composure, even when personally injured, and her take-command leadership style. This book is important for many reasons. It vividly presents a profile in courage; an understanding rarely appreciated about our foreign service men and women working in difficult assignments; a set of valuable lessons learned; and a case study in leadership during crisis. Every American should read this book.”—Gen. Anthony C. Zinni, U.S. Marine Corps (Ret.)

#

 

Swagger talk about POTUS (in a parallel universe) makes regular folks react with feelings

 

#

@StateDeptSpox: “State is among the most diverse of government agencies …”

TPM reports that the State Department spokesperson argued on Twitter that “The assertion that @StateDept is ‘racist’ is disgusting and false—a brazen attempt to create division for domestic political gain,” an apparent reaction to a letter from House Democrats and a CNN editorial arguing that a senior department official had improperly worked to remove anti-racism rhetoric from a UN document.

Also ICYMI: Former Senior Diplomat Uzra Zeya Blasts @StateDept’s Diversity Slide, and More

Now, Ms. Nauert claimed that “State is among the most diverse of government agencies, employing a workforce from every part of America and every region of the globe.” First, it’s really nice to see that local employees from around the globe are considered employees when necessary but not really when it comes to EEO regulations (see Baloun v. Kerry: U.S. Equal Employment Protection Do Not Cover Foreign Employees of U.S. Embassies). Second, the official word is (since it’s from the spox) that the State Department is among the most diverse of government agencies. Yo, is it? Really, really, really?

CRS report dated May 2018 states that “senior officials at the Department of State, some Members of Congress, and others have long maintained that the demographic makeup of the Foreign Service is not sufficiently representative of the American people with respect to race, gender, socioeconomic background, and regional origin.” That report also notes that Secretary Pompeo has not commented on former Secretary Tillerson’s diversity-related priorities or indicated what diversity-related priorities he may pursue.110

CRS  report R45168 dated August 2018 on State Ops and FY2019 Budget and Appropriations notes the following about diversity at State:

Former Secretary Tillerson prioritized efforts to promote diversity in the Foreign Service.16 Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who replaced Tillerson in April 2018, has commented that “the State Department’s work force must be diverse … in every sense of the word” and indicated that he will be engaged on diversity matters.17

The Human Resources funding category within D&CP provides funding for the Charles B. Rangel International Affairs and Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs fellowship programs to promote greater diversity in the Foreign Service, as authorized by Section 47 of the Department of State Basic Authorities Act (P.L. 84-885). While Congress required the State Department to expand the number of fellows participating in the Rangel and Pickering programs by 10 apiece pursuant to Section 706 of the Department of State Authorities Act, 2017 (P.L. 114-323), it has provided the department the discretion to fund these programs at levels it deems appropriate from monies appropriated for Human Resources. The House and Senate committee bills would continue to provide such discretion. The House committee report indicates support for department efforts to increase diversity in hiring, including through the Rangel and Pickering programs. It also encourages the Secretary of State to explore more opportunities to further the goal of increasing workforce diversity.18 The Senate committee report recommends the continued expansion of the department’s workforce diversity programs and directs that qualified graduates of the Rangel and Pickering programs shall be inducted into the Foreign Service.19

Take a look at the agency’s diversity stats as of June 30, 2018 below (the original document is available here via state.gov).

Department of State-Diversity Statistics Full-Time Permanent Workforce | As of 06/30/18

#

 

@StateDeptPM’s Tina Kaidanow Heads to DOD as Director of International Cooperation

 

#