US-Taliban Inks Deal, Afghanistan Bolts Over Prisoners Release, Taliban Attacks Resume #72Hours

 

 

NOTE: Right hand photo below is posted on state.gov’s Flickr account here but Taliban negotiator Stanikzai was not identified. Caption only says “Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo participates in a signing ceremony in Doha, Qatar, on February 29, 2020. [State Department photo by Ron Przysucha/ Public Domain]”.

 

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US Ambassador to Afghanistan John Bass Steps Down After a 2-Year Tenure

 

ABC News reported ton January 6, 2020 that the U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan John R. Bass (1964–) was stepping down from his position “after serving in the war-weary country’s capital since December 2017.”  An official reportedly said that his departure was “long-planned and part of the normal rotation cycle, with American ambassadors typically serving in Kabul for only two years.” Also:
The State Department has named Ross Wilson as chargé d’affaires ad interim at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul until a new ambassador is confirmed. Wilson is expected to arrive in Kabul soon, according to the official.
Karen Decker, deputy chief of mission of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, will serve as chargé d’affaires until Wilson’s arrival, the official said.
Ambassador Bass’ immediate predecessor in Kabul was Ambassador Peter Michael McKinley (1954–) who served  from January 6, 2015–December 18, 2016. Previous to Ambassador McKinley was Ambassador James B. Cunningham (1952–) who served from August 13, 2012–December 7, 2014. Ambassador Ryan Clark Crocker (1949–) who was briefly chargé d’affaires ad interim in 2002 returned to served for one year from  July 25, 2011–July 23, 2012. President Obama’s first ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Winfrid Eikenberry (1951–), served from May 21, 2009–July 19, 2011. President George W. Bush’s last ambassador to Afghanistan, William Braucher Wood (1950–) also served a two-year tenure from  April 16, 2007–April 3, 2009.

Afghanistan Papers: A secret history of the war #hardreading

 

 

Foreign Service Posts Mark #16DaysOfActivism #EndGBV

 

@StateDept Cuts $100M Aid to Afghanistan Over “Govt Corruption and Financial Mismanagement”

 

 

@StateDept’s “New Camp Sullivan” in Afghanistan Four Years On: A Lovely $103.2 Million Flat Dirt

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State/OIG’s Office of Evaluation and Special Projects has released its Evaluation of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security’s Aegis Construction Contract at Camp Eggers in Afghanistan (PDF). Well, nothing good to read in this report, but the flat dirt is lovely, and makes us want to pull our hair out in  frustration. We bring you some GIFs to make us all feel better.

Camp Eggers Afghanistan, Photo by State/OIG

Things of note excerpted from the IG report:
The Department awarded Task Order 10 in July 2011 to Aegis (GardaWorld)  to provide and manage an armed and unarmed guard force known as the Kabul Embassy Security Force (KESF) for Embassy Kabul and other U.S. diplomatic facilities within Kabul, Afghanistan. On September 30, 2014, the Department modified Task Order 10 held by Aegis to allow for the renovation of Camp Eggers in its entirety and to erect a new facility known as the “New Camp Sullivan.” […]Modification 43 was issued to Aegis under a firm fixed price for the design-build of the Camp Eggers construction project. The task order modification was valued at about $173.2 million with an estimated completion date of March 31, 2016.
[…] An Aegis official told OIG he did not believe the company had undertaken any construction projects other than building a shooting range at Camp Sullivan. An OBO official noted that Aegis lacked the “institutional expertise” to build to OBO standards, and several Department officials told OIG that they had doubts about Aegis’s ability to carry out major construction work.

 

On January 10, 2014, AQM awarded a contract to the management consulting firm, Markon, on behalf of DS to perform professional engineering services.[..] Markon […] warned the Department in August 2014—a month before the task order was modified—that the project would not likely be finished on time or on budget. The Department nonetheless chose to move forward with this fundamentally unsuitable construction mechanism because of what it viewed as exigent need and a lack of alternatives.

 

Multiple Department officials, as well as an Aegis official, told OIG that they viewed the initial 18-month project timeline as unreasonable. An official from AQM expressed skepticism that such an extensive project could ever be completed so quickly in a construction environment as logistically complex as Afghanistan.[…]The renovation of Camp Eggers entailed extensive demolition and redevelopment, including [snip] the construction of new facilities. The “New Camp Sullivan” facility was intended to become a self-supporting, multi-use facility, which included life support for up to 900 personnel (expandable to house up to 1,500 personnel) all within a secure perimeter.

 

Aegis, through its subcontractor, CWI, purchased materials costing approximately $19.4 million for Camp Eggers. However, roughly 23 percent of these materials ($4.5 million) were obtained without submitting proper documentation or receiving proper Department approval.[…]The materials had to be stored due to numerous project delays, which prevented CWI from using the materials as they were delivered. The storage continued throughout the life of the contract until all of the materials were disposed of by May 2018. Over the life of the task order, the Department wasted about $22 million on materials that were never used and then paid to store them

 

Although Aegis continuously missed project milestones and failed to adhere to contract requirements, the Department still did not take meaningful corrective action against Aegis beyond issuing LOCs. As noted, these were primarily issued by DS. The Department also held a number of meetings with Aegis personnel to discuss the lack of progress made on the project, but no further corrective action was taken.

 

The Department reached a settlement with Aegis in March 2019 whereby the Department agreed to pay Aegis a total of $94.6 million. Based on this figure, in addition to three separate contracts with Markon Solutions, Incorporated for professional engineering and design review services, OIG identified a total of $103.2 million in questioned costs related to the Camp Eggers project.[…] the “New Camp Sullivan” remained flat dirt after more than four years of effort. The Department estimated that approximately 10 percent of the construction work was completed, and the 100 percent design—the final design—remained unfinished.

After the termination of the Camp Eggers project, the Department transferred materials stored in Kabul to fill other U.S. Government needs in the area. Regarding the materials in Dubai, Red Sea Housing Services Company FZE (Red Sea), the company with whom the Department ordered CHUs, reached a final termination settlement valued at about $2.5 million with Aegis and the Department under which Red Sea would keep all the materials and equipment they procured on behalf of the Department. The remaining materials in Sterling, VA were disposed of through the General Services Administration’s excess property program and some were scrapped.

Via reactiongif.com

 

OIG’s conclusion: [T]he Department’s sense of urgency, the selection of a non-construction contractor, the assignment of officials inexperienced in construction to oversee the project, and the failure to hold the contractor accountable for particular instances of poor performance led to the expenditure of more than $100 million without any discernible benefit to the Department or the people it intended to protect. OIG also notes that, more generally, this project illustrates many of the broader concerns that arise when the Department pursues construction projects in contingency or otherwise challenging environments. The Camp Eggers project again highlights the importance of making well-informed, thoughtful choices regarding the most appropriate contract vehicle; careful, consistent oversight; and development of a process for construction work in contingency zones that is sufficiently nimble to address urgent security needs but also considers the resources and capabilities of all relevant Department bureaus.

U.S. Ambassador John Bass Learns to Play Cricket in Kabul, Will Keep His Day Job

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US Embassy Kabul via FB says that the U.S. Ambassador to Kabul John R. Bass put aside the American pastime of baseball for a day to learn how to play the sport that has made Afghanistan famous around the world.  So he got to “play”  cricket  with members of the Afghan National Cricket Team who apparently took some time from their busy training schedule to help the Ambassador learn how to pitch and bat along.

The Embassy want to know, “how do you think he did?.” Er … we think he already knew that he’ll keep his day job there.  The video with Pashto subtitles is available to watch here: https://youtu.be/S6EXDJqsqaU

OBO’s Fire Protection Judgments and @StateDept’s Black Hole of Bureaucratic Shrugger-Swagger

 

We blogged previously about the State/OIG Management Assistance Report sounding the alarm over the fire alarm system at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul (see  U.S. Embassy Kabul: Fire Alarm System Needs Prompt Attention or #MustHaveNoFireBeforeMarch2019

We received a reaction about the OIG report basically saying “hey, I agree with all the violations listed by the OIG”. Our correspondent also thought the “funniest thing” included in the report is that OBO challenged the OIG qualifications. There appears to be serious concerns that sound fire protection engineering judgements are being overridden “on a regular basis.” There are also some questions/allegations about the qualifications of OBO folks making decisions concerning fire protection engineering — that if true, could potentially have serious consequences.

OPM says  that all Professional Engineering positions require a basic degree in engineering or a combination of education and experience — college-level education, training, and/or technical experience that furnished (1) a thorough knowledge of the physical and mathematical sciences underlying engineering, and (2) a good understanding, both theoretical and practical, of the engineering sciences and techniques and their applications to one of the branches of engineering. Also that the adequacy of such background must be demonstrated by one of the following: 1) Professional registration or licensure — Current registration as an Engineer Intern (EI), Engineer in Training (EIT)1, or licensure as a Professional Engineer (PE) by any State, the District of Columbia, Guam, or Puerto Rico. 2) Written Test — Evidence of having successfully passed the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE)2 examination or any other written test required for professional registration by an engineering licensure board in the various States, the District of Columbia, Guam, and Puerto Rico. Read more here.

In any case, you know that State/PA refused to respond to us during Tillerson’s watch but with Pompeo’s new guards in, we thought we should try asking questions again from its media professionals, coz, why not, hey?

We did receive a PA response months ago that says “we’ll look into it but may not have anything over the weekend”.  Lordy, short weekends and long weekends have come and gone and we have not heard anything back via email, fax, sign language, or telephatic signal.  Our follow-up email appeared to have also ended up in a black hole of bureaucratic shrugger-swagger.

In any case, we’ve addressed the same questions to State/OIG, and those folks reliably read and respond to email inquiries, and we received the following:

Ensuring the safety and security of Department personnel is paramount for the OIG. We give careful consideration to allegations relating to safety and security issues, including the one involving the Office of Fire Protection. Additionally, if anyone becomes aware of something that jeopardizes the safety and security of Department employees, they should report it immediately to the OIG hotline at OIG.state.gov/HOTLINE or at 1-800-409-9926.

About that report, here are a couple of examples that we understand, requires some folks to wear brown paper bags over their heads when reading:

OBO’s Technical Comment 10 | OBO disagreed with OIG’s statement: “According to PAE, a secondary loop was installed. However, rather than being routed separately, the existing fiber optic cables run in a parallel path. Because the fiber optic cables run in the same direction (as opposed to opposite directions representing a redundant circuit), damage to one part of the network can render sections of the network inoperable.” OBO stated that “it is perfectly acceptable for cables to run in the same direction. They cannot run in the same conduit. Additionally, the secondary loop is, in fact, a redundant circuit since there are two paths of travel one from the original loop and one from the secondary loop.”

OIG’s Reply | OIG agrees that cables can run in the same direction but cannot run in the same conduit. OIG found, however, that a number of the runs currently installed at Embassy Kabul did, in fact, have fiber optic cables bundled together in the same conduit. The photo below shows the current configuration at Embassy Kabul in which fiber optic cables are bundled together in the same conduit. This is contrary to NFPA standards for a redundant path. OIG made no changes to the report on the basis of this comment.

TA-DAA! Somebody stop these wild cables from running in the same conduit!

 

OBO’s Technical Comment 13 | OBO disagreed with OIG’s conclusion that “the improper installation of key components of Embassy Kabul’s fire alarm system needs immediate attention because of the potential safety risk to personnel and property.” OBO stated that it disagreed with OIG’s underlying assumptions and that OIG’s scope contained flaws.

OIG’s Reply | As set forth in this report, OBO is not in compliance with NFPA 72 regarding the requirement for a redundant path. In addition, a number of the runs currently installed at Embassy Kabul have fiber optic cables bundled together in the same conduit, which similarly fails to comply with NFPA 72. The NFPA codes and standards are designed to minimize the risk and effects of fire by establishing criteria for building, processing, design, service, and installation around the world. Failure to adhere to these requirements thus presents potential risk to embassy personnel and property. Therefore, the improper installation of key components of Embassy Kabul’s fire alarm system requires immediate attention. OIG made no changes to the report on the basis of this comment.

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U.S. Embassy Kabul: Fire Alarm System Needs Prompt Attention or #MustHaveNoFireBeforeMarch2019

Posted: 12:45am  ET

 

State/OIG has issued a Management Assistance Report sounding the alarm over the fire alarm system at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. We should hope that no fire breaks out at post before March 2019. But do staffers need to sleep with buckets of sand next to their doors?

During the course of an audit of Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) construction projects at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) was alerted to potential risks to personnel and property due to the improper installation of the embassy’s fire alarm system. OIG concluded that the system was, in fact, improperly installed and did present safety risks. OIG is therefore issuing this Management Assistance Report to prompt immediate action to address the identified deficiencies.

OBO and the Bureau of Administration have undertaken a major office and residential expansion at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. As part of this expansion, in June 2010, the bureaus contracted with Caddell Construction, Inc. (Caddell), to build a number of new facilities at the embassy. These facilities include residential and office buildings, warehouses, parking and vehicle maintenance facilities, power plants, perimeter walls, guard towers, and compound access control facilities. Caddell is required to install fire alarm systems in each of the new buildings throughout the compound as part of its contract.

Fire alarm control panels installed in 23 buildings on the embassy compound are key components of the fire alarm system. Fire alarm control panels monitor and control each fire alarm-initiating and signaling device through microprocessors and system software. Fire alarm control panels are connected throughout the embassy compound via fiber optic cables that transmit data between each building and to Post One, a communications center staffed by Marine Security Guards. The Marine Security Guards at Post One are on duty 7 days a week, 24 hours a day and are responsible for ensuring that communications are routed to appropriate responders during emergencies or security threats. When a fire emergency occurs at any building on the embassy compound, Post One is alerted through the network of fire alarm control panels. Post One, in turn, alerts the embassy fire department and other emergency response personnel.

In July 2017, the embassy’s principal operations and maintenance (O&M) contractor, PAE Government Services (PAE), discovered that underground fiber optic cables on the west side of the embassy compound were accidentally cut by a construction worker. As a consequence of the damage to the fiber optic cables, fire alarm control panels in eight buildings could not transmit data to Post One for more than 6 months. After completion of OIG’s fieldwork in January 2018, OIG shared its findings with OBO officials. In response, embassy facility managers took steps to repair the damaged fiber optic cables and restored connectivity between the affected buildings and Post One.

OIG also found that the existing fiber optic cable network does not have a separate redundant path as required by Section 12.3.7 of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA 72) code.1

According to NFPA, a redundant path helps ensure the network’s continued functionality if one of the cables is damaged. Without a redundant path, damage in one location can render sections of the network inoperable. Additionally, OIG found that seven fire alarm control panels on the east side of the embassy compound are not connected to Post One. Rather, these seven control panels are on a separate network connected to a guard post staffed by contractor security guards on the east side of the compound. Engineers in OBO’s Office of Fire Protection told PAE that this configuration is inconsistent with OBO standards and that ideally all fire alarm control panels on the embassy compound should be connected to the Post One communications center.

According to OBO officials, because the fiber optic cable network is part of a larger project involving the construction of multiple buildings and facilities, there is no requirement to install a redundant path until the end of the entire construction project, which is currently scheduled to be completed in March 2019. Furthermore, according to OBO officials, because the seven fire alarm control panels on the east side of the embassy compound are in temporary structures, there is likewise no requirement that those structures be connected to Post One. Notwithstanding OBO’s position, OIG made two recommendations to Embassy Kabul, in coordination with OBO, to take immediate actions to correct the identified deficiencies because they pose potential risks to the safety of embassy personnel and property.

Read in full here (PDF).

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Senate Confirms Mitchell (EUR), Siberell (Bahrain), Bass (Afghanistan), Huntsman (Russia)

Posted: 12:40 am ET
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On September 28, the U.S. Senate confirmed the nomination for the new Assistant Secretary for State for EUR, and the nominees as chiefs of mission to Bahrain, Afghanistan, and Russia.

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