Working for an all-Afghan company (except myself, of course), one of the most common questions I get from clients and potential clients is, “How do you screen your guards so that you’re sure none of them are Taliban?”
The short answer is that we screen them carefully, conduct background checks with the government and insist upon at least three letters of recommendation from reliable sources.*
*Letters of recommendation may not sound like much to Westerners, but Afghans take it very seriously. An example of the power of the written word in a mostly illiterate society, I suppose. That, and the fact that if there is a problem later with a recruit, Afghans will actually track down the people who recommended him and give him a beat-down.
All of that however, doesn't always work perfectly. Sometimes you just have to sit down with someone and get an idea of their personal history.
Recently, one of my supervisors offered his friend for a position as a PSD (i.e. bodyguard). This friend, according to my supervisor, had lots of military experience, was very tough and spoke several languages, including Turkish, Russian, and Arabic. Sounds perfect, right? Except that bit about the languages was setting off alarm bells in my head. Lots of older Afghans speak some Russian, some percentage speak Turkish, and a small few speak some Arabic. But all three? Where did this guy learn all these languages? Certainly not in Afghanistan’s decrepit school system.
Turns out, upon further investigation, that he learned all these languages by traveling extensively as a young man to various parts of the Middle East, Central Asia and Europe. Unusual, but not unheard of. Other than the Afghans who have more or less permanently relocated to Pakistan, there aren’t that many in Western countries, and the proportion of those that can afford to travel freely is pretty small. So initially I was impressed and eager to interview this guy.*
*Which would require a ‘terp, since in all of his travels he hadn’t learned English. Later on I realized that should have been the first indication that not everything was as it seemed.
The kicker came when my supervisor casually mentioned that his friend also spoke some Yugoslavian* and that’s when the picture began to come together. Further investigation was definitely in order.
*Yugoslavian is not actually a language. Serbo-Croatian is the language of the countries of the former Yugoslavia, but since this supervisor wasn’t even completely sure where Yugoslavia was, I figured it was understandable that he didn’t realize his mistake. In fact, he thought Yugoslavia was somewhere near France. Um…….no, not exactly.
Question: What do you have when you find a well-traveled Afghan with “combat experience” who speaks Arabic, Russian, Turkish and a little bit of Serbo-Croatian?
Answer: A very bad guy.
That’s right, you’ve got a full-fledged, card-carrying member of the “international jihadist movement.” In other words, not somebody I want anything to do with. Interview cancelled. Interviewee escorted out. Don’t want to know his name or where he lives (in case the NDS/FBI/CIA come asking about him later).
I learned later that this guy learned his Arabic in a Pakistani madrassa under the tutelage of “foreign instructors”* back in the 1990s, Russian from his time fighting alongside Chechens against the Red Army and the Serbo-Croatia from his stint fighting with the Bosnians in Yugoslavia. The Turkish came from an extended stay as a “guest” of the Turkish state security when he was picked up trying to pass through Istanbul on a fake passport.
*One guess who the “foreign instructors” were. Here’s a hint: some of them were probably business associates of this guy.
Needless to say, he accumulated his combat experience along the way. Basically, he had first-hand experience in most of the conflicts of the 1990s, all of it as a foreign volunteer helping out his Muslim brothers. Bosnia, Chechnya, Kosovo, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, he was involved in all of them. I think it’s safe to assume that he wasn’t a Red Cross volunteer.
Now I have to wonder about the supervisor who brought me this guy.
Exactly how is he choosing his "friends?"