Canada's Halliburton? SNC-Lavalin war profiteering in Iraq, Afghanistan

Way back in September 2004, the story broke that the Canadian engineering and construction firm SNC-Lavalin would be manufacturing 300-500 million bullets for the U.S. military through its subsidiary SNC-TEC.

As Chris Spannos put it at the time: "For Canada, long in denial about its active participation in the U.S. war on terror, the SNC Technologies contract should highlight the fact that Canada has not only provided previous military and diplomatic support for the war on terror, but is now literally, without doubt, providing the ammunition to kill Iraqis."

Embarrassed by the negative public relations that ensued in part from the subsequently developed 'campaign against SNC-Lavalin,' in early 2006, the bullet-making division was sold to General Dynamics.

Having steered clear of Iraq since then, earlier this month it was announced that SNC-Lavalin has been short-listed for a $255-million contract to install gas turbines and power stations in Iraq. Approval for the deals could come at any time. Perhaps SNC's attempt to enter the (still-) war-torn country under more benign pretenses will allow them to avoid the negative scrutiny that bullet-riddled Iraqis drew to them at the war's onset.

If SNC-Lavalin's track record as counterinsurgency 'force multiplier' in another war zone, Afghanistan, is any indication, they may just be spared the headaches. In 2002, they procured a ten-year, $400-million(+) contract via the Department of National Defence's 'CANCAP' (Canadian Contractor Augmentation Programme, set to expire in July 2011), making them the largest Canadian private contractor in Afghanistan (with upwards of 300 employees there).

Modeled on the controversial U.S. 'LOGCAP' (Logistics Civil Augmentation Program), SNC-Lavalin PAE performs "tasks such as communications support, transport, materiel management and distribution, accommodation services, and vehicle maintenance support."

As a retired Canadian general, and current consultant to SNC's partner PAE, Inc., put it:

"The strategic intent of CANCAP is to provide the CF with operational flexibility through an enhanced support capacity. The Contractor workforce replaces military personnel of a deployed contingent, thus permitting their re-deployment for other purposes. The use of CANCAP thus frees up military personnel for employment where their military skills are needed most."

In relative terms, this puts SNC-Lavalin in a league with KBR and Halliburton; operating in the same war zones, the company can be seen as an extension of what author Pratap Chatterjee calls "Halliburton's Army." In 2000, Canada's top general called outsourcing to private contractors "the wave of the future." By 2007, The Ottawa Citizen referred to SNC-Lavalin's 'army' in Afghanistan as "an indispensable part of Canada's war effort."

On top of the $400+ million CANCAP contracts, SNC-Lavalin is also performing more counterinsurgency-specific tasks for the Canadian Forces. Earlier this year, they were awarded a $44-million contract to restore the Dahla Dam in Southern Afghanistan, one of Canada "signature" demonstration aid projects designed to win the population over. The "reconstruction centerpiece" has also been featured in the Canadian government's traveling propaganda exhibit, 'Afghanistan360.'

CanWest news reported that SNC-Lavalin will continue on with the Dam project, which is "badly need[ed] to show the coalition's joint military-civil campaign is going better than many critics have said." The Canadian soldiers currently protecting it are to be replaced by U.S. soldiers. Said a Canadian general, "Just because it happens that the headwaters will exist within an American [area of operations] does not mean the project will stop...It will be serviced by Canadian civilians, but some of the prima facie military support will come from Americans.

Opposition to SNC-Lavalin's multi-faceted approach to 21st Century war (and war profiteering) petered out a few years ago. Perhaps their return to Iraq and their soon-to-be 'deep integration' with the U.S. military in Southern Afghanistan might rekindle the flames.


Update: Sept. 19 - SNC-Lavalin and Iraqi-owned URUK Engineering Services have each been awarded an $85 million contract to install gas turbines in Baghdad power stations.

Anthony Fenton is an independent journalist and researcher who covers Canadian and U.S. foreign policy. He can be reached through his website,

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