Last month, CBC’s Judy Trinh published an article about ex-special forces David Lavery’s efforts to get dozens of people out of Kabul before the Taliban takeover. A founding member of Joint Task Force 2, an elite branch of the Canadian armed forces primarily tasked with combating terrorism, Lavery coordinated with veterans to help more than 100 people with Canadian papers flee the South Central Asian nation.
The story reads like an action movie made for television. Beneath the made-up heroism hides a far more disturbing tale of the Wild West of private security profiteers. It is a story that the mainstream media in Canada refuse to shed light on.
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 PSCs in the North American nation’s operations in Afghanistan, their presence has received little media attention. Canadians are largely ignorant of this controversial element of foreign occupation.
Media accounts about Lavery mentioned that he operated the PSC Raven Rae counseling service, which employed around 50 Afghan nationals. The media, however, refrained from focusing on Lavery’s business with the same level of attention they gave to his exploits.
According to his site, Raven Rae began operations in Afghanistan in 2010. It was one of thousands of PSCs who entered Afghanistan during the US and NATO occupation. Private security industry researcher Anna Powles went so far as to say that Afghanistan “has been a sauce for the global private security industry for the past two decades.”
The PSCs were such an integral part of the day-to-day management of military operations in Afghanistan that a former senior US commander noted that their departure “has eroded the capabilities of the Afghan Air Force”. In the same interview, the anonymous ex-soldier added that without the “ultimate security” of the military, 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 armed men than most of the NATO occupying the country. In 2008, Canadian Brigadier-General Denis Thompson explained:
Without private security companies it would be impossible to achieve what we are doing here. There are many aspects of the mission here in Afghanistan, many aspects of security that are carried out by private security companies which, if handed over to the military, would make our task impossible. We just don’t have the numbers to do it all.
The federal government has spent tens of millions of dollars on PSCs. They paid $ 10 million for private security to protect Canada’s $ 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 secure Prime Minister Stephen Harper during a visit in 2007 and was tasked with protecting forward operating bases in Kandahar province.
Saladin has a story that should worry anyone concerned with the dangers of the private military. His predecessor, Keenie Meenie Services, trained and possibly equipped Islamic insurgents fighting Russian forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s. He was also involved in covert operations in Nicaragua in connection with the Iran-Contra affair.
Private security companies in Afghanistan are poorly regulated. The large number of armed men from different regions makes the inhabitants feel insecure. Part of the reason is that many Afghans believe that PSCs were involved in the crime.
Locals told researchers at the Swiss Peace Foundation that the PSCs behave in a “cowboy” fashion. After a Canadian officer was killed by a PSC employee in August 2008, Canadian Major Corey Frederickson dismissed the episode, explaining that “the normal contact exercise [for PSCs] is that as soon as they are touched by something, then it is. . . open up to anything that moves.
Many former Canadian soldiers owned or worked for PSCs in Afghanistan. For example, the Tundra Group, founded “in the mid-2000s by Canadian military veterans”, protected forward operating bases in Afghanistan. Toronto-based Globe Risk Holdings had offices in Kabul and Kandahar. It hired former Canadian soldiers, as did Canpro Global of Vancouver, which also had an office in Afghanistan.
The invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq helped propel the Montreal company GardaWorld to the rank of the largest CFP in the world. In recent weeks, hundreds of employees of the Montreal-based company have been evacuated from Afghanistan. With more than one hundred thousand employees worldwide, Garda regularly advertises in Esprit de corps, calling on Canadian Forces readers of the magazine to “translate your military skills into a GardaWorld career”.
The higher echelons of Garda are paired with former Canadian officers. Garda’s chief of Afghan operations, Daniel Ménard, previously commanded Canadian Forces operations in Afghanistan. Ménard was court martialed for having sex with a subordinate in Afghanistan and for recklessly using his weapon. Ménard’s work for Garda in Afghanistan earned him a reputation as a controversial figure. In 2014, he was jailed for alleged gun smuggling. Two years earlier, two other Garda workers in Afghanistan were arrested with dozens of unlicensed AK-47 rifles and jailed for three months.
Garda has been involved in numerous violent incidents in Afghanistan. In 2019, three children among a dozen were killed when a minibus filled with explosives crashed into a Garda SUV carrying foreign nationals in Kabul. That same year, the Taliban attacked the compound where Garda’s offices were located in an incident that left 30 people dead. The Kathmandu Post reported that Garda illegally abused the family of a Nepalese employee killed in the attack.
Due to the absence of regulations limiting the international operations of Canadian PSCs, their conduct is hardly ever challenged. Experts in international law have noted that, unlike the United States and South Africa,
Canada has no legislation designed to regulate the services provided by Canadian PMSCs [private military security companies] operating outside of Canada or the conduct of Canadian citizens working for foreign PMSCs.
Ottawa has not signed the International Convention against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries. In addition, he was little involved in the UN Human Rights Council working group on the use of mercenaries.
The withdrawal of the foreign army and the capture of Kabul by the Taliban have decimated the CFP’s big industry in Afghanistan. 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 characteristics of PSC deployment in the country have largely gone unreported by the media. The CBC – among other media – owes Canadians a discussion on the role played by private security forces in Afghanistan.