Afghanistan: Pentagon-backed death squads revealed

Under the cover of a benign government information-gathering program, a Defense Department official set up a network of private contractors in Afghanistan and Pakistan to help track and kill suspected militants, the New York Times reports in a front-page story March 15, based on interview with military officials and business figures in Afghanistan and the US. The official, Michael D. Furlong, hired contractors from private security companies that employed former CIA and Special Forces operatives. The mercenaries, in turn, gathered intelligence on the whereabouts of suspected militants and the location of insurgent camps, and the information was then sent to military units and intelligence officials for possible lethal action in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the officials said.

While it has been widely reported that the CIA and the military are attacking operatives of al-Qaeda and others through remote-controlled drone strikes, some US officials said they became troubled that Furlong appeared to be running an off-the-books spy operation. “While no legitimate intelligence operations got screwed up, it’s generally a bad idea to have freelancers running around a war zone pretending to be James Bond,” one unnamed US official said. The US Strategic Command, which oversees Furlong’s work, refused to comment.

Among the contractors Furlong is said to have used was International Media Ventures, a private “strategic communication” firm run by several former Special Operations officers. Another was American International Security Corporation, a Boston-based company run by Mike Taylor, a former Green Beret. In a phone interview, Taylor told the Times that at one point he had employed Duane “Dewey” Clarridge, a former top CIA official who was deeply implicated in the 1980s Contragate scandal (and later named as a player in the 2002 attempted coup d’etat in Venezuela). In an interview, Clarridge denied that he had worked with Furlong in any operation in Afghanistan or Pakistan. “I don’t know anything about that,” he said. (NYT, March 14)

In related news, an Australia-based security contractor working for a US company has been sentenced to death by an Afghan court for murdering a colleague and then trying to cover up the crime by staging a Taliban ambush. The case marks the first time a foreigner working with the NATO coalition has been sentenced to death in Afghanistan.

The contractor, Robert Langdon, worked for a security company called Four Horsemen International. He was convicted of murder last October and sentenced to death, but the the case was only made public in late January, when an appeals court upheld the sentence and Australia’s Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said his government would ask for clemency.

The victim, who used the single name Karim, was the team leader of a group of Afghan security guards working for Langdon, who was in charge of escorting a coalition supply convoy from Kabul to Ghazni in May 2009. The pseudo-ambush in which Langdon is accused of killing Karim, took place in a remote part of Wardak Province. The “American company” that sub-contracted Langdon was not named. (NYT, Jan. 27)

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