Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Kunar Shakedown

Last week, a Scottish development worker with DAI, Inc. was kidnapped on her way back to Jalalabad from the city of Asadabad in Kunar province.*

*That’s “out east” to those of you unfamiliar with the geography of Afghanistan.

According to reports, her two-car convoy was stopped by armed men on the road south of Asadabad and herself and three Afghans traveling with her were marched into the mountains at gunpoint. The official Taliban spokesman has said, “It wasn’t us,” but that’s really beside the point. If, as seems likely, she was grabbed by a criminal kidnap gang, the Taliban (assuming they want the hostage) will simply buy her off them for a small cash payment.

The ANP immediately rounded up some village elders from the area and asked them to negotiate her release, but they were unsuccessful.*

*According to one of my guys who is related to one of the proposed negotiators, the elders basically said to the ANP, “You want us to go up in those mountains with a police escort and try to save a foreign female infidel. Are you shitting me?”

DAI, Inc. is an “implementation partner” for USAID, which basically means that AID provides the funding and the scope/requirements of the project, and outfits like DAI go out and actually get it done. Or more accurately, they find local companies who can go out and get it done, since a lot of these projects are in unsafe areas (obviously) where Westerners fear to tread. DAI personnel maintain a project management and oversight role, with occasional trips to the project site. Except in this case, it didn’t seem to work out so well.

The missing woman was traveling low-profile, in a couple of Toyota Corollas, with three of her local staff and no security detachment.* Now I’m on record as being a proponent of the low-profile approach, but no security is taking it a little far.

*As opposed to high-profile, which usually means B6 armored SUVs, a scout vehicle and a chase car/gun truck, at a minimum. Basically “guns up” from gate to gate. A big fat rolling target in my opinion.

Perhaps she was in a bind and couldn’t wait for security, or maybe she got some bad advice. There’s even the possibility of some collusion from within the local staff. Either way, she’s gone and no one’s quite sure when/if she’s coming back.

Right on the heels of that news comes word that DAI is under investigation from the Inspector General at USAID concerning roughly $5 million USD that was paid for security on their projects and may have found its way to the Taliban as part of a protection racket.

Let me save the IG some time and a lot of paperwork.


*Although whether they are Taliban, Hezb-islami or just garden-variety scumbags is hard to say.

When you pay cash for security directly to local power brokers in unsafe districts, it almost always ends up in the pocket of somebody you’d rather not know. Think about it. The powerful figures in these districts (every district has at least one) have the influence to pull together fifty or sixty fighters with weapons, and yet the district is still unsafe. That’s because the guys you’re paying for security are the same people who cause the problems that require the security in the first place. Where I come from, it’s called a shakedown.

I wonder if somebody at DAI got wind of the USAID investigation and froze some payment to the local security force. If so, it’s possible that this kidnapping is nothing more than an attempt to collect on some outstanding debts.

In fact, I hope that’s the case, because then it can be solved and this woman returned simply by paying out some cash. If instead she’s being held by hard-core jihadists, then it gets a lot tougher to secure her release.


dmouse said...

Shame she has died. :(

Anonymous said...

The thing about researching Afghanistan is that everyone you read about has about a 50/50 chance of having been murdered...

James G said...

How many times will this happen before these NGO folks realize that “good intentions” will not protect them

~James G

Anonymous said...

It's sad but typical. I've heard a number of stories concerning this... That particular project used to boast on how awesome they were as they spent the least amount on security than any other DAI project... Also heard the company that provides their security.. Edinburgh International will basically hire any local and throw a gun in their hand with very little or no investigation into who they hire... lowest bidder here boys...also heard she just went out because she wanted to go visit the nice people of Afghanistan... any way of the above doesn't mattter, a terrible loss of life

dennis said...

I believe he has gone home.

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