Peter Van Buren Writes An Embassy Evacuation Explainer For DipNote No, Reuters

Posted: 01:04 EST

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On February 11, the State Department  suspended US Embassy operations in Yemen and relocated its remaining skeleton staff outside of the country until further notice.  News report says that more than 25 vehicles were taken by Houthi rebels after the American staff departed Sanaa’s airport.  According to WaPo, Abdulmalek al-Ajri, a member of the Houthis’ political bureau, said that the seized vehicles would be returned to local staff at the U.S. Embassy on Wednesday evening, with a U.N. official observing the handover.

Ajri said the U.S. Embassy was being guarded by Yemeni security forces, which have fallen under the Houthis’ control. The security forces have not entered the embassy compound, which is still being managed by the facility’s local Yemeni staff, he said.
[…]
Ajri said he did not know how many embassy vehicles the group had seized at the airport. He claimed that a fight broke out over the vehicles between local embassy staffers, forcing Houthi fighters to intervene and seize them.

We haven’t heard anything about the return of those vehicles to Embassy Sana’a. As to this purported fight between local embassy staffers over the embassy vehicles, that is simply ridiculous — what, like the local employees are fighting over who could take which armored vehicle home? That’s silly.

What is not silly is that we still have local employees at Embassy Sana’a. They, typically, are not evacuated when post suspends operations.  In 2003, Ghulam Sakhi Ahmadzai, the building maintenance supervisor at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul was  the Foreign Service National Employee of the Year. He was recognized for his exceptional efforts in Afghanistan during the 13-year absence of American employees and following the reopening of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul in December 2001. His loyalty to the U.S. government and to maintaining the integrity of the embassy during that absence, despite personal risk, could not be repaid by that one award. No doubt there are other Ghulams in Tripoli and Sana’a and in other posts where we have suspended operations in the past. Please keep them in your thoughts.

Reading the newsclips and the tweets in the lead up to this latest evacuation, one cannot help but note that most folks do not really know what happens in an evacuation. Former FSO Peter Van Buren wrote a helpful explainer about embassy evacuations for Reuters.  This is an explainer that should have been on DipNote.  For folks who might be upset with this evac explainer, go find those anonymous officials who talked about this evacuation while we still had people on the ground.

The mechanics of closing an embassy follow an established process; the only variable is the speed of the evacuation. Sometimes it happens with weeks of preparation, sometimes with just hours.

Every American embassy has standing evacuation procedures, or an Emergency Action Plan. In each embassy’s emergency plan are built-in, highly classified “trip wires,” or specific thresholds that trigger scripted responses. For example, if the rebels advance past the river, take steps “A through C.” Or if the host government’s military is deserting, implement steps “D through E,” and so forth, until the evacuation is complete.

Early steps include moving embassy dependents, such as spouses and children, out of the country on commercial flights. Next is the evacuation of non-essential personnel, like the trade attaché, who won’t be doing much business if a coup is underway. While these departures are underway, the State Department issues a public advisory notifying private American citizens of the threat. The public alert is required by the U.S.’s “No Double Standard” rule, which grew out of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing of a Pan Am flight. In that case, threat info was made available to embassy families, but kept from the general public.

These embassy drawdown steps are seen as low-cost moves, both because they use commercial transportation, and because they usually attract minimal public attention.

Continue reading, Who gets out when a U.S. embassy closes, and who gets left behind?

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US Mission Afghanistan: But … DHS on the Deaths of Civilian Contractors in Herat

On Sunday, July 22, ISAF announced that “An individual wearing an Afghan National Security Force uniform turned his weapon against International Security Assistance Force contracted civilian employees in western Afghanistan today, killing three.  The individual who fired on the ISAF contracted civilian employees was killed during the engagement. The incident is currently under investigation.” ISAF did not release the names of the casualties.

This is getting old. Why don’t they just come out and say “An ANSF soldier killed three contractors hired to help …” And do we ever hear what happen with those investigations?

Reuters, citing NATO numbers reports that there have been 20 green on blue attacks on foreign troops since January in which 27 people have been killed.  It also says that “NATO commanders have downplayed most episodes as the work of disgruntled Afghan soldiers, rather than as evidence of Taliban infiltration of the security forces.”

According to NYT, since the start of 2010, there have been 52 green-on-blue attacks resulting in 82 deaths.  The Reuters report notes that this latest attack is not technically considered to be the 21st green on blue attack this year as the victims were all contractors.

The contractors are still dead. Here is an infographic from the New America Foundation:

Attacks on U.S and NATO Soldiers by Afghan Security Forces
Via www.Newamerica.net  under Creative Commons License

It looks like the US Embassy in Kabul made no statement of this incident, or if it did, the statement is not on its website.  Just the first half of July, the embassy has already condemned the Wedding Hall Suicide Attack (July 14, 2012), Condemns Attack in Kandahar (July 8, 2012) and Condemns the Public Execution of a Woman by the Taliban in Parwan (July 8, 2012).

Does anyone know what comes after condemnation? A drone?

But no condemnation for this, it seems.

On the day of the attack, US Embassy Kabul in Facebook was busy congratulating Romal Hamidi as its 12,000th fan. The next several hours, it posted items on the 2012 London Olympics, Ambassador Crocker hosting a reception for women’s rights leaders, Ambassador Crocker becoming a honorary marine, and something on ramadan.

On the day of the attack, over in the Twitters, @USEmbassyKabul writes:

I liked a @YouTube video http://youtu.be/coP5JlinXiE?a  U.S. Enduring Strategic Partnership Agreement in Force.

The next several hours it mostly tweeted about Ambassador Crocker becoming a honorary marine.

And no mention of the dead.

On July 24, two days after the Herat killings, the DHS Press Office released a statement by DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano:

“It is with great sadness that I learned this weekend of the fatal shooting of three contractors stationed at the Herat Training Center in Herat, Afghanistan. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of former U.S. Border Patrol Agent and retired ICE Agent Benjamin Monsivais, retired CBP Port Director Joseph Perez, and retired Her Majesty’s United Kingdom Revenue and Customs Officer David Chamberlain.

All three individuals were supporting Afghan Border Police training efforts when they came under attack. Their tragic deaths remind us of the dangers facing our men and women overseas, and the many sacrifices they make on our behalf every day.

Two other individuals were wounded in this senseless attack. We pray for the swift recovery and continued safety of former Border Patrol Agent Dana Hampton and language assistant Aimal Formully. We also applaud the tremendous bravery and heroism of the CBP Border Patrol Agent who responded to the attack and prevented the gunman from causing further harm and injury to others.”

Am I the only one who think it is kinda strange that Secretary Napolitano is the person making this statement and that Embassy Kabul and its social media ninjas maintained internet silence over this shooting? The deceased were contractors, two were American citizens.

At least the American Contractors in Iraq is keeping tally of the best kept secret in the warzones, the deaths of civilian contractors;  59 dead so far in the second quarter of 2012; 418 deaths in 2011.  Did you know that?

By the way, the Herat Regional Training Center completed a large-scale expansion project just last year, which reportedly increased its student numbers from 300 to 800 per course. The $4.2 million project added 59 structures to the Afghan National Security Forces training compound including: six two-story barracks which house nearly 600 student, two barracks for about five-dozen faculty, a new 300-person dining facility, latrines and showers, seven two-story classrooms, medical and administrative offices, storage and laundry facilities, and security bunkers.

If you build it, they will come … and they sure did, but they also come bearing arms with bullets bought with our money, and we’re too chicken to acknowledge that.

Domani Spero