Saturday, March 21, 2009

Cast of Characters

It occurs to me that I’m going to be referring to a lot of people repeatedly on this blog, and it would help to have some sort of system for identifying them. Obviously, since this is anonymous for OpSec* and professional reasons, I have to be somewhat circumspect in how I name people. Thus, I’ve devised the following cast of characters to guide readers through the swamp that is the Kabul private security industry. I’ll have to add to this later on as my list of associates and contacts grows, but here it is for now:

*That’s Operational Security for those of you who were wondering. Admittedly not as big a concern for me as it would be for a soldier or Marine out in the field, but better safe than sorry. I'm also doing it this way to protect the essential anonymity for professional reasons.

For those of you who think that using the actual names or pseudonyms instead of entirely fake nicknames would be easier, it might help to realize that there are six or eight very popular male names in Afghanistan, so any list of actual names would be highly redundant. Sometimes it seems that every third guy here is named Massoud. Confusingly, many Afghans go by only one name, which only adds to the difficulty.

The Rug Merchant (aka The Boss): In any other part of the world, this guy would be considered shady. In Afghanistan, he’s connected. Hyperactive to the point of mania, always carries at least three phones, one of which is usually ringing. Has not grasped the concept that talking fast and loud is not synonymous with communicating effectively.
The Godfather: One of the Western backers of this venture. A retired banker, experienced in finance and business, and a true gentleman in every sense of the word. Unfortunately only appears in Kabul every few months and only stays for a few days. Also the guy who got me this job, so my opinion of him is dependent on what kind of day I’m having.
The Doctor: An actual medical doctor and the Deputy President of The Company. Good English skills, lots of experience and very easy to work with. My time here would be a lot more trying if it wasn’t for his patience and dedication.
The General: A former Afghan army officer (probably not actually a general), in charge of overseeing the training and deployment of the guards. Not the brightest bulb in the box, and speaks not a word of English, but we get along great after I gave him some of my imported cigarettes. Now we’re blood brothers apparently. Has a staff of three NCOs who conduct the drills and instruct new recruits. Also known as “Saddam” for his eerie resemblance to the former Iraqi dictator.
Smiley: One of the General’s many assistants, apparently his responsibilities are limited to drilling the new recruits in Afghan/Soviet style marching, which is pretty comical to anyone familiar with Western methods of drill. Always cheerful and eager to talk; somewhat hampered by the fact that he only speaks four words of English, which are repeated incessantly with a broad smile.
Hazmat (short for Hazardous Materials): Personal bodyguard and batman to The Rug Merchant. Always wears a cheap three-piece suit with a bright pastel shirt, and carries a slung AK-47 with him everywhere he goes. Earned his nickname because one can see in his eyes that something is broken in his head. Has a nasty streak and is overly impressed with his own importance, but is probably capable of even worse stuff given half a chance.
Frankie Avalon: A dead-ringer for the singer (circa 1962), without the singing voice, but a competent dancer. Works as the “intelligence chief” for The Company, which is a bit of a euphemism. His job consists of sitting in a small room watching three TVs and monitoring the internet for current events. Sends out half a dozen emails a day with morbid announcements like “Two killed by IED in Helmand” or “Aid worker shot in Kunduz.” A real bundle of joy, but his English is better than most so I talk to him a lot.
Mad Max: The best driver in the company, which is an extremely valuable skill in a place like Kabul. Given the option, I always choose him to be my driver. Able to find his way around Kabul traffic with surprising alacrity and is friendly and pleasant to boot. Carries a pistol under his jacket.
Hound Dog and the Pack: Hound Dog is my personal favorite among the PSDs (Personal Security Detachment, aka bodyguards). He would probably be insulted to be called “dog” but he reminds me of an old hunting dog that has been kicked once too often. Always looks a little downtrodden, but has excellent situational awareness and takes his job very seriously. Like the aforesaid dog, there’s something about him that makes one think he’ll bite back if pressed. The Pack is my generic name for the rest of the PSD team (since I don’t know their real names). Most of them are solicitous and professional, although sometimes a little slow off the mark. Tactical initiative is not a well-developed Afghan trait.
Mutt and Jeff: Two of The Boss’s assistants, exact job description unknown. They meddle in training, admin, pricing and general business decisions. Since I don’t know what they’re saying, I don’t know if they’re useful or not. Mutt speaks some English, at least enough to ask “How you this day, sir?” Jeff speaks none at all, but that doesn’t stop him from trying to talk to me. Both smoke heavily (my cigarettes if they can get them).
The Prince: So-called because his real name is the same as a prominent Gulf sheikh, Prince is the designated interpreter for The Company. Unfortunately, he never seems to be around when I need him and not all that much when I don’t.
Mr. Greensleeves: Unsure as to what he does exactly (or even generally). Most of all he seems to hang around the compound wearing bright pastel jackets (usually green- hence the name), joking with the rest of the staff. The best dancer in The Company, as proven at a traditional Afghan wedding.
The Player: Another of the admin staff of indeterminate purpose, he always wears faded designer jeans, colorful T-shirts and RayBans (full disclosure: I wear my Oakleys as often as possible, to project the necessary degree of authority and anonymity).
Eli: The finance guy who apparently is still learning how to use Excel (maybe they don’t have Dari language user guides). Good with numbers, but follows The Rug Merchant's lead to closely (i.e. anything to increase gross revenue, regardless of net profit).
Bear: So-named because of his great bulk, hirsute appearance and massive paws. Bear is euphemistically referred to as the Facilities Manager, which means he is in charge of the logistics here, including maintenance and provisions. If the current conditions in the compound are any indication, a man woefully out of his depth.
Jeeves: My recently-assigned assistant for all-things-not-covered-by-someone-else, Jeeves is the guy who makes sure I have sufficient tea and food at all hours of the day and night. Pleasant to the point of deferential, has some limited English and is happy to talk politics when we can find the right words.

There will be more later, but those are the main players for now.

Update: New personnel will be added below as they join the company.

The Lion: Doesn't actually look or act like a lion, but he's Tajik, like Ahmad Shah Massoud, the Lion of the Panshijr Valley and one of my personal heroes. (More on Massood here). The Lion joined us after several years with the ANP's elite counter-narcotics commando battalion. He's quiet and reserved, but highly competent and professional. The Lion serves as our senior instructor. I had to personally insist to The Boss that we hire him and for that he is unfailingly loyal. If I had five hundred men like him, I'd own this country.

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