The much maligned Blackwater International (rebranded as Xe Services after earning public scorn and several lawsuits from its deeds in Iraq) is back in the news. The Pentagon has hired a subsidiary of the mercenary firm, US Training Center Inc. (USTC) to help fight its raging Afgan drug war. This, in spite of probes by both the State and Defense Departments regarding misconduct by Xe officials within Afghanistan for, among other things, defrauding the State Department and reportedly misappropriating government weaponry.
Xe CEO Ted Wright says the new contract reaffirms his company's ability to provide “all-source intelligence expertise.” Officially, Xe mercenaries will be delivering “intelligence analyst support and material procurement” for NATO in its “counter-narcoterrorism activities in Afghanistan.” In other words, they will be helping NATO stabilize poppy production in the world's largest opium producing nation.
Meanwhile in Afghanistan, suicide bombers struck a NATO supply depot at Kandahar airfield Wednesday, killing four security contractors and injuring eight others. The Taliban took credit for the attack. That same day, an unmanned U.S. drone collided with a C-130, causing minor damage to the cargo plane and raising concerns about the safety of using drones in crowded airspace.
On the subject of drones, former CIA Director and current Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta issued statements at a National Defense University event on Tuesday defending the largely clandestine and unilateral bombing campaigns over Pakistan and Afghanistan. For Panetta, “we're defending our country,” but for many firsthand witnesses and on-the-ground researchers of the drone-war, we are fueling a perpetual cycle of violence by killing innocent civilians. For instance, researcher Noor Behram insists that “for every 10 to 15 people killed, maybe they get one militant.” A recent Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) report reinforced this statement when it revealed that at least 168 children have been killed by drones in Pakistan alone. Panetta disagrees and says all killed have been terrorists. Without a defined enemy and Due Process, we shall never know how accurate Panetta's stance is.
On Wednesday, the Pentagon Chief commented via the Defense Department's website that the U.S. Has “invested a lot of blood in [Iraq]” and that because of this, Iraq now entertains a “relatively stable democracy.” Panetta insists this in spite of heavy and sustained violence in the country, including attacks this month that have proven to be among the deadliest of the year. He further announced that the U.S. would have a “long-term” relationship with Iraq no matter what, reiterating a call for Iraq to request a continued U.S. troop presence – an idea that Iraqi officials are now souring to.