Last month, CBC’s Judy Trinh filed a story on the efforts of ex-special forces David Lavery to get dozens of people out of Kabul before the Taliban seized power. A founding member of Joint Task Force 2, an elite branch of the Canadian Armed Forces primarily tasked with counter-terrorism, Lavery coordinated with veterans to help more than a hundred Canadian-documented people flee the South Central Asian nation.
The story reads like a made-for-TV action movie. Beneath the made-up heroism lies a far more disturbing tale of the Wild West of private security profiteering. It’s a story that mainstream Canadian media refuses to publicize.
Throughout the disastrous twenty-year war in Afghanistan, Canada relied heavily on private security companies (PSCs) to support the war effort. Despite the prevalence of CSPs in the operations of the North American nation in Afghanistan, their presence has received little media attention. Canadians are largely unaware of this controversial element of foreign occupation.
Media accounts of Lavery mentioned that he ran the PSC Raven Rae consultancy services, which employed about 50 Afghan nationals. News outlets, however, refrained from focusing on Lavery’s business with the same level of attention they applied to his heroic deeds.
According to its site, Raven Rae began operations in Afghanistan in 2010. It was one of thousands of PSCs that entered Afghanistan during the US and NATO occupation. Private security researcher Anna Powles went so far as to to say that Afghanistan “has been a sauce for the global private security industry for the past two decades”.
PSCs were such an integral part of the day-to-day management of military operations in Afghanistan that a former senior US commander remark that their departure “led to the erosion of the capabilities of the Afghan Air Force”. In the same interview, the unnamed former military official added that without the “ultimate security” of the army, these private armies had no choice but to withdraw.
At the height of Canada’s thirteen-year military mission in Afghanistan, Saladin, DynCorp and other PSCs had more gunmen than most NATO countries occupying the country. In 2008, Canadian Brigadier-General Denis Thompson Explain:
Without private security companies, it would be impossible to achieve what we do here. There are many aspects of the mission here in Afghanistan, many security aspects that are carried out by private security companies that, if left to the military, would make our job impossible. We just don’t have the numbers to do it all.
The federal government spent tens of millions of dollars in CSP. They paid $10 million for private security to protect Canada’s flagship $50 million aid project – the repair of the Dahla Dam in Kandahar province. The federal government also hired Saladin to protect its embassy in Kabul. Saladin was the same company that helped secured Prime Minister Stephen Harper during a visit in 2007 and was tasked with protecting forward operating bases in Kandahar province.
Saladin has the story this should worry anyone concerned about the dangers of private armies. Its predecessor, Keenie Meenie Services, qualified and possibly equipped Islamic insurgents fighting Russian forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s. This was also implied in covert operations in Nicaragua as part of the Iran-Contra affair.
Private security companies in Afghanistan are poorly regulated. The large number of armed men from different regions makes the inhabitants insecure. This is partly because many Afghans believe the SSPs have been involved in crimes.
Locals Recount researchers from the Swiss Foundation for Peace that the CSP behaved like a “cowboy”. After a Canadian officer was killed by a PSC employee in August 2008, Canadian Major Corey Frederickson dismissed the episode, explaining than “normal contact exercise [for PSCs] is that as soon as they are touched by something, it is. . . open up to anything that moves.
Many former Canadian soldiers owned or worked for PSCs in Afghanistan. For example, the Tundra group, based “in the mid-2000s by Canadian military veterans”, protected forward operating bases in Afghanistan. Toronto-based Globe Risk Holdings had desks in Kabul and Kandahar. It hired former Canadian soldiers, as did Canpro Global of Vancouver, which also had a Office in Afghanistan.
The invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq helped propel Montreal-based company GardaWorld into the world’s largest CSP. These last weeks, hundreds employees of the Montreal company were evacuated from Afghanistan. With more than one hundred thousand employees worldwide, Garda regularly advertises in Esprit de corps, to call the magazine’s Canadian Forces readership to “turn your military skills into a GardaWorld career”.
The upper echelons of Garda team up with former Canadian officers. Garda’s Chief of Afghan Operations, Daniel Ménard, previously commanded Canadian Forces operations in Afghanistan. Menard was court-martialed for having sex with a subordinate in Afghanistan and recklessly discharging his weapon. Ménard’s work for Garda in Afghanistan earned him a reputation as a controversial figure. In 2014 he was imprisoned for allegedly contraband weapons. Two years earlier, two other Garda employees in Afghanistan had been caught with dozens of unlicensed AK-47 rifles and imprisoned for three months.
Garda has been involved in numerous violent incidents in Afghanistan. In 2019, three children were part of a dozen dead when a minibus packed with explosives rammed a Garda SUV carrying foreign nationals in Kabul. That same year, the Taliban attack the complex where the Garda offices were located in an incident that left thirty people dead. the Kathmandu Post reported that Garda illegally cheated the family of a Nepali employee killed in the attack.
Due to the lack of regulations limiting the international operations of Canadian PSEs, their conduct is almost never challenged. Experts in international law have Noted that, unlike the United States and South Africa,
Canada does not have legislation to regulate the services provided by Canadian PMSCs [private military security companies] outside of Canada or the conduct of Canadian citizens working for foreign PMSCs.
Ottawa did not sign the International Convention against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries. In addition, he has had little involvement with the UN Human Rights Council working group on the use of mercenaries.
Foreign military withdrawal and the Taliban’s capture of Kabul have decimated Afghanistan’s large PSC industry. Most Afghans are probably happy to see the end of the private mercenary forces and mercenaries that dominate their country. In Canada, however, the negative features of the deployment of CSP in the country have been largely glossed over by the media. The CBC — among other news outlets — owes Canadians a discussion of the role that private security forces have played in Afghanistan.