The Guardian, October 8, 2010
Afghanistan’s Reservoir Dogs: security firms criticised over “warlord payments”
British private security company referred to Afghan warlords as 'Mr White' and 'Mr Pink', according to report by US Senate
Ewen MacAskill in Washington
The two Afghan warlords were referred to as "Mr White" and "Mr Pink", the characters from Quentin Tarantino's movie Reservoir Dogs. They were well named, every bit as ruthless and bloody as their namesakes in the 1992 film.
The Senate committee said it found evidence of 'strongmen linked to murder, kidnapping and bribery'. (Photo: Matt Moyer/Getty Images)
Their activities are documented at length in a US Senate committee report, published last night, that provides a rare glimpse into the world of private security companies operating in Afghanistan.
The report, by the Senate armed services committee, is critical of the operations of some of these companies, saying it uncovered "evidence of private security contractors funnelling US taxpayers' dollars to Afghan warlords and strongmen linked to murder, kidnapping, bribery as well as Taliban and other anti-coalition activities".
The report focuses on two companies, one of them a British private security firm, ArmorGroup, which was given the contract to provide protection at a US airbase at Shindand, Herat province, in Afghanistan.
The report says that, on the recommendation of US troops, they contacted the two warlords – Timor Shah, named by ArmourGroup as Mr White, and Nadir Khan as Mr Pink – who between them provided the bulk of the 30 security staff. But Mr White and Mr Pink were rivals. The report leaves hanging whether the conflict involved two mobsters fighting over turf, or whether it was an ideological battle.
The new security staff began work on the base in June 2007. A month later, Mr White was ambushed and shot outside the base. Some of the ArmourGroup staff, armed and loyal to Mr White, attempted to leave their posts, apparently to seek revenge.
Mr White survived, but in December 2007, in a bazaar, Mr Pink and his men shot him three times, killing him. Mr Pink took refuge with the Taliban, according to the report. The company turned to Mr White's brother, Reza Khan, to take over the security job: they named him Mr White2.
In January 2008, ArmorGroup terminated all the guard force who had been recruited by Mr Pink, after information about airport security had allegedly been sent to Mr Pink. In May the same year, US forces identified Mr Pink as a "mid-level Taliban manager" and potential military target.
As well as guarding the airport, ArmorGroup Mine Action secured a contract from the United Nations to conduct mine clearance in Herat province and hired Mr White2 to provide guards and vehicles.
About this time, the US military began to raise doubts about whether Mr White2 was "a supporter of Taliban operations". On 21 August 2008, US and Afghan forces conducted an operation in Azizabad, in Shindand district, to capture Mullah Sadeq, described in the report as "a high-value Taliban". He was killed by a bomb at the home of Mr White2, who was also killed, along with seven others employed by ArmorGroup or ArmourGroup Mine Action. Mr White2 turned out to be Mr Sadeq's uncle.
The US military said it found at the site sketches of Shindand airfield.
ArmourGroup dismissed its guards affiliated with Mr White2, assessing they could no longer be trusted, but ArmourGroup Mine Action kept on Mr White2's men. ArmourGroup Mine Action also did a deal with his brother, Gul Mohammed, named by the company Mr White3, to help provide security. He stayed in the post until the UN contract ended in December 2008.
In its conclusions, the committee criticises failures to vet security staff.
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