Last Sunday night I got the sort of text message that everyone one in this business dreads. "Incident in Kabul. One of ours down. Details to follow."
A message like that sets off several hours of frantic activity trying to trace the course of events, determine the casualties and sort out the next step. The Ops Manager, the Duty Officer, myself and the Deputy President all traded calls and texts for the next two hours until we pieced together the story.
A kidnap attempt of a local national in Kabul had resulted in one of our guys being shot, and his protectee snatched by four men in a dark SUV. The puzzling thing was that the name of the protectee was not on our list of clients. WTF? What was our PSD doing with a high-risk target when we didn't even have a contract or an agreement to provide the service? And what exactly is the fallout when someone you are protecting is snatched when you weren't supposed to be protecting him in the first place?
Turns out that one of actual clients, the president of an Afghan construction company, had contracted with us for static security at his office and a PSD team to cover his movements. Nothing unusual there. Where it gets strange is that this client had decided that his brother, the president of another separate Afghan construction company, ought to have protection as well. Rather than recommend that he contact us and write a proper contract, he simply phoned The Rug Merchant and asked if his brother could "borrow" one of our CPOs from time to time.*
*CPO= Close Protection Officer, i.e. a bodyguard; PSD= Personal Security Detail, i.e. a team of bodyguards.
Now the obvious answer to a request like this is "Uhhhhh........no."
Upon reflection, one might say, "Hell no."
But, The Rug Merchant, renowned across two continents for his limited mental capacity, said, "Sure, why not?" And then didn't bother to inform Operations, or anyone else in the chain of command. Just one Afghan doing a favor for another, no reason to make it formal.
The problem arises because a PSD team is calibrated and staffed to account for the anticipated threat and the likely movements of the client. Most importantly, there's more than one guy on a typcial PSD team, both to provide backup and to allow for downtime. In this case, the client's PSD team consisted of three guards, two of whom were with the client whenever he moved outside his office or residence.
Last Sunday, the client decided to stay at home and give two of the CPOs the night off. The third he loaned out to his brother for the night, failing to consider that one CPO is rarely sufficient if there's trouble. And, as I said, he had verbal approval for this from The Rug Merchant himself.*
*It's not the client's job to understand the risks and tactical situation. Our job is to protect them and tell them when they're being stupid. A task that The Rug Merchant failed at spectacularly.
So, the client's brother (whom I suspect is a deeply nefarious character with lots of enemies) goes off for a night on the town. His only protection is a CPO who has been loaned out without notice on his night off, has never met the protectee or his driver before, and has no idea of the destination or the schedule. Pretty much a recipe for disaster.
Plan for disaster, you generally get disaster. On a side street in Sherpur, their car was blocked by a pair of SUVs and four armed men rapidly surrounded the car. One of them smashed the passenger-side window and stuck the barrel of an AK-47 in my guy's face. Unable to bring his own weapon to bear, the CPO simply grabbed the barrel and pushed it down, trying to get the muzzle away from his face.
Generally, kidnap of locals in Kabul is a non-violent affair. The gangs who pull it off are usually experienced criminals and the last thing they want is shots fired in the middle of the night. They're also not used to being resisted and they certainly don't like it when someone grabs their weapon. In this case, I suspect that the kidnapper simply panicked, surprised that anyone would dare to argue with him. Unfortunately, his Kalashnikov was set to full-auto and in his surprise and anger he squeezed the trigger and put a burst into our CPO at a range of about ten inches.
Because the CPO had pushed the muzzle downward away from his face, he took five rounds between the chest and the knees. Needless to say, he stopped resisting at that point (as one does with five bullets embedded in your soft tissue) and the kidnappers bustled the protectee into one of their vehicles and tore out of there before the cops could arrive.
Despite several faults, the AK-47 is an effective weapon. The 7.62 x 39mm round is a powerful one (roughly equivalent to .30 caliber) and usually one is enough to put someone down, two is almost always fatal. Taking five, at point blank range, into the chest, stomach and upper thighs, is an invitation to Allah. Amazingly, not only did the CPO survive, but the doctors at the local hospital tell us that he'll make a full recovery. I've come close to death from a particularly bad hangover, and this guys gets punctured through his vitals by five bullets traveling over 2000 feet per second, and he's going to be fine, albeit after a long recovery. I'm told that his name in English means "strong" or "powerful" and now I don't doubt that it's appropriate.
Now we're stuck with the fallout, including a lot of uncomfortable questions from the Ministry of Interior as to why were providing an armed escort to someone without a contract. As to the fate of the "protectee," I confess that I don't much care. He's not one of my clients, he's obviously a moron and he nearly got one of my people killed. His family will probably pay the ransom, but they better not come to me for donations.