Contractors’ Next Payday: Commando Logistics For Africa Shadow Wars

Contractors’ Next Payday: Commando Logistics for Africa Shadow Wars (Wired, April 12, 2013):

Here’s how serious the U.S. is about its African war on terror. The Pentagon is preparing to spend millions to create a privatized flying taxi service to fly its commandos everywhere from Libya to Congo.

That’s according to details in a recent solicitation notice for a Defense Department contract worth up to $50 million, expected to be handed over to a private contracting firm in August. Among the two main tasks contractors will be expected to carry out: medical evacuations during “high risk activities” — capable of being launched within a three-hour notice — as well as transporting equipment and commandos from Joint Special Operations Task Force-Trans Sahara (or JSOTF-TS) within the borders of potentially 20 African nations. When you want to keep a U.S. military footprint small, you have to contract out a lot of logistics services.

Based at a secretive military airfield in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, the contractors will be tasked with missions across central and northern Africa, with the most likely destinations being Chad, Libya, Mali, Mauritania and other countries including Algeria, Cameroon and Nigeria. Less likely, but within the contractor’s “primary operating areas,” are the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Sudan and Uganda — all suspected to be likely hiding spots for warlord Joseph Kony.

There’s no shortage of targets. Asisde from Kony to the east, Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb operates just to the north. Drug traffickers are everywhere. In Nigeria, there’s Islamic terror group Boko Haram. Both have fallen under AFRICOM’s hit list.

“Passengers will possibly travel with personal weapons (small arms) and small amounts of ammunition,” the solicitation notes. Among other requirements: the contractor’s plane must be able to carry a minimum of six passengers or 2,500 pounds of equipment and operate up to 1,000 flight hours per year for up to more than four years. The contractors need to be capable of air-dropping both equipment bundles prepared by the U.S. government and conducting “static-line, personnel air drop operations.” (Although, the solicitation clarifies, these drops are to be “used sparingly.”)

Once the contractors are in the air, they need to be able to conduct operations from various FOLs, or “Forward Operating Locations” which can amount to as little as “primitive field accommodations (such as tents),” the solicitation states. And their plane need to be able to carry at least four patients and at least one medic at a time.

Most likely, the plane will be a medium transport Casa 212, which is used by Academi, the mercenary company formerly known as Blackwater. An attached document with questions from industry queried: “It seems the only multi-engine aircraft that can actually (legally) match the performance criteria is the Casa 212.” The questioner also asked what specific plane the Pentagon is looking for. The Pentagon, interestingly, suggested the questioner file a Freedom of Information Act request to its Counter Narcoterrorism Program Office (CNTPO).

CNTPO, you’ll recall, is doling out billions of dollars in counter-drug and counter-terrorism contracts in recent years, including for operations in Africa. Likewise, the U.S. Africa Command has likewise hired contractors to fly surveillance missions from its base in Ouagadougou under a spy program called Creek Sand.

All this is a necessity of trying to keep a small U.S. military footprint in Africa, and conceal what you can’t limit. It’s doable — provided you hire people to perform the inevitable work of transporting gear, troops and medical aid. No wonder the commandos are calling for a Sahara-hopping taxi service.

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