Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Mag Describes Blackwater's Fight Against Heroin Trafficking

With so much attention focused on Blackwater's private security contracting work for the State Department, it's understandable that few people know about the company's other activity - including its leading role in fighting heroin and opium production and trafficking in Afghanistan.
Faced with out-of-control narcotics production in Afghanistan, NATO and the United States have relied on several contractors - especially DynCorp, Lockheed Martin and Blackwater - to make the fight more effective. The US Army photo above illustrates how civilian contractors work directly with the military and with Afghan civilians. Blackwater is working for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the US military, according to a cover story in the March-April issue of the industry magazine Serviam.

The magazine describes a "five-pillar" counternarcotics strategy for the country, and shows how Blackwater helped set up Afghanistan's elite Narcotics Interdiction Unit (NIU).

“We’re involved on DoD side,” Jeff Gibson, vice president for international training at Blackwater, tells Serviam. “We interdict. The NIU surgically goes after shipments going to Iran or Pakistan. We provide training to set up roadblocks, identify where drug lords are, and act so as not to impact the community.”

The article is long and contains several sidebars, so it's worth visiting the original piece for the full story. Here's a representative snippet:

NIU police cover a cross-section of Afghan society. Their faces reflect the diverse racial and cultural makeup of the country. About 10 to 15 percent of NIU personnel are women: a cultural step forward in local terms, as the women work side-by-side with the men. While the women wear traditional scarves to cover their heads, they do not cover their faces unless wearing black balaclava masks to shield their identities while on an operation, or voluntarily wearing burqas to go undercover.

Once out in the field, the NIU graduates show the same determination they displayed in their training.

“About a year and a half ago they lost two officers in an ambush,” Gibson says. “They got intelligence on a drug lab outside of Kabul. Two officers went out to verify the source, but it was a setup and they were ambushed and killed.

“We believed that this unit was becoming more effective and that the ambush was a backlash. We were concerned that the Afghans would say, ‘Screw this, we’re not going to do it any more.’ But they got energized and they became stronger, and much more proud of what they were doing. It steeled their determination,” the Blackwater
international training chief says. “I thought guys would quit or not show up, but instead they put more purpose behind it.”

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