Just when I thought that all the angles for killing were covered, the New York Times exposes a type of killing force we haven’t seen or heard from before. We have seen there are CIA teams in Afghanistan and Pakistan; there are Afghan special forces operating outside Afghan military command; there are foreign special forces including German ones, Canadian ones and Australian ones; there are unofficial tribal militias; etc. etc. Now this.

It’s a bizarre and intriguing tale:

Contractors Tied to Effort to Track and Kill Militants
By Dexter Filkins and Mark Mazzetti

KABUL, Mar 15 (NYT) – 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, according to military officials and businessmen in Afghanistan and the United States.

The official, Michael D. Furlong, hired contractors from private security companies that employed former C.I.A. and Special Forces operatives. The contractors, 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…

[S]ome American officials say they became troubled that Mr. Furlong seemed to be running an off-the-books spy operation. The officials say they are not sure who condoned and supervised his work.

It is generally considered illegal for the military to hire contractors to act as covert spies. Officials said Mr. Furlong’s secret network might have been improperly financed by diverting money from a program designed to merely gather information about the region.

Moreover, in Pakistan, where Qaeda and Taliban leaders are believed to be hiding, the secret use of private contractors may be seen as an attempt to get around the Pakistani government’s prohibition of American military personnel’s operating in the country.

Officials say Mr. Furlong’s operation seems to have been shut down, and he now is the subject of a criminal investigation…

Robert Young Pelton, an author who writes extensively about war zones, said that the government hired him to gather information about Afghanistan and that Mr. Furlong improperly used his work. “We were providing information so they could better understand the situation in Afghanistan, and it was being used to kill people,” Mr. Pelton said…

Mr. Pelton said he had been told by Afghan colleagues that video images that he posted on the Web site had been used for an American strike in the South Waziristan region of Pakistan… (link)

Robert Young Pelton, mentioned in story, is co-author of alternative travel guide The World’s Most Dangerous Places. The website he set up for the contract was an open source project at www.afpax.com, and it is still online.

Dave Markland

Dave Markland

Dave Markland lives in Vancouver where he organizes with Stopwar.ca and regularly blogs for rabble.ca.