Monday, September 27, 2010

Mistakes and Mosquitos

Been a crazy couple of weeks here lately, mostly due to internal company problems rather than external factors (i.e. bad guys). In the past month, we've wrapped up two big projects in Uruzgan and Nangarhar, mostly without incident but I'm still sad to see them go.*

*Closing down a project is almost as much work as starting one up, what with accountability lists for weapons and equipment, arranging transport and replacements and the general admin headaches.

The Uruzgan project was a constant nightmare, a combination of poor pricing and a very tough operating environment. Nevertheless, we had finally got it to the point where it was profitable when The Rug Merchant pulled the plug and opted not to take the six-month extension the client was offering. Despite the problems,* we had finally sorted out the operational issues and amortized out the upfront costs. That was the point to sit back and start making decent coin. Alas, it was not to be.

*More on the peculiar joys of Uruzgan Province in a later post.

No sooner had we pulled our people out of Uruzgan then word came down that we would be doing the same on the Nangarhar project. Unlike Uruzgan, Nangarhar is a reasonably safe place.*

*"Safe" is a relative term, of course.

We had been on the job for twelve months and things were humming along nicely. We had excellent support from the US Army, a good site with LSA constructed and paid for, a well-trained crew of expats and locals who were operating like a finely-tuned machine, and no heavy contact for the last six months (and no casualties for the duration). And to top it off, a decent profit every month.

Apparently, all that wasn't enough for the boss, so he pulled the plug. I fought that decision, but never did get a reasonable explanation. The client was left scratching their head, just as puzzled as I was.

So, yesterday we pulled all our people and gear off the site and conducted a Relief in Place with the outfit who was taking over. The managers from the new outfit were all smug smiles, knowing as they did the gold mine they'd stumbled into. I suspect that in 30 days, when the income stops rolling in, The Rug Merchant will regret that decision, but there's nothing I can do about that now.

Although I can't confirm it, I think the decisions to cut and run from Uruzgan and Nangarhar was a result of Karzai's latest brain cramp in which he announced his intention to close all PSCs by the end of the year. A couple of the big Western outfits have been raided and temporarily shut down, and I suspect that the boss wants to "fly under the radar" until the heat from MoI cools off. Last man standing after the bloodbath kind of thing. We'll see if that works. I have my doubts.

Back in Kabul now, dodging the last of the summer's mosquitos. Normally the flies are the most prevalent and annoying pest, but two of the people in my villa and three of my guards have gone down with malaria in the past few weeks, so I've become somewhat obsessive about the nasty little buggers. Malaria is treatable, but it's still no joke. If not caught in time, it can do serious liver damage, and even kill if it's particularly virulent. And the basic prophylactic treatment is some of the nastiest-tasting pills you'll ever find.

I spend a lot of effort listening for the telltale hum of a hungry mosquito, and keeping a can of industrial-stength bug killer handy.


Michael Hawkins said...

Would it be beyond the rug merchant to "sell his commission" 18th century style? Maybe he's expecting to get closed down, and wanted the fast cash.

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