A commission investigating waste and fraud in wartime spending has found serious deficiencies in training and equipment for hundreds of Ugandan guards hired to protect U.S. military bases in Iraq, The Associated Press has learned.
The problems at Forward Operating Bases Delta and Hammer include a lack of vehicles used to properly protect the two posts, a shortage of weapons and night vision gear, and poorly trained guards. Both bases house several thousand U.S. military personnel.
Concerned the shortages leave the bases vulnerable, the Commission on Wartime Contracting alerted military officials in Iraq and at U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Fla.
"Incidents such as this are a concern in their own right, but they are a particular concern to the commission if they prove to be indicators of broader, systemic problems that impede the delivery of critical services to American military forces in a war zone," said Bob Dickson, the commission's executive director.
Army Lt. Col. Brian Maka, a spokesman for Multi-National Force-Iraq, said contracting officials have taken the commission's findings seriously. "Security contractors at both sites have corrected or are in the process of correcting deficiencies," he said Saturday.
The military relies on hired guards at bases in Iraq so troops are available for combat duties. Overall, there are five companies providing security at bases in Iraq under contracts with an estimated value of $250 million.
A majority of the guards are from Uganda and other East African countries. Guard salaries are about $700 a month on average.
Triple Canopy of Herndon, Va., holds the $35 million security contract at Base Delta. Sabre International Security, based in Baghdad, has a $42 million contract to provide security at Base Hammer. Under the terms of both contracts, awarded in September 2007, the companies are required to provide all labor, weapons and other equipment that the guards need.
U.S. officers at Base Hammer said they did not feel secure due to the inadequate qualifications and training of the guards, according to information the commission has sent to military authorities, members of Congress and the State Department. The officers at Hammer required the Sabre guards to take a 40-hour course on security operations before they could begin working.
Sabre representatives could not be reached for comment. The company's Web site does not list a telephone number. An e-mail message was not immediately returned.
At Base Delta, Triple Canopy has not provided guards with enough vehicles to cover the facility's perimeter, the commission found. As a result, the guards frequently rely on the military for transportation. Basic personal gear, such as gloves, is often scarce.
Houston-based KBR Inc., which has a separate contract to provide food, transportation and housing for U.S. forces, has had to assist both Sabre and Triple Canopy, the commission said.
"Triple Canopy is completely contract compliant at FOB Delta," said Jayanti Menches, a spokeswoman for Triple Canopy.
The commission also voiced alarm at the abrupt exit from Iraq of Triple Canopy's on-site manager at Base Delta, John Wayne Nash. Dickson and other commission staff on a fact-finding trip to Iraq met with Nash on April 5 and he confirmed the problems existed.
A day later, they learned from an officer at Base Delta that Nash had been told by his superiors to leave the country.
Commission staff said it appeared that Nash had been fired for talking to the commission. "We talked with him one day and he was leaving the country five days later," Dickson said.
Reached at his home in Jacksonville, N.C., Nash, a retired Marine Corps master gunnery sergeant, referred questions to his lawyer in Washington. In a brief note to the AP, the lawyer, Thomas Fay, would only say that he is representing Nash "in connection with the circumstances surrounding his departure from Iraq as an employee of Triple Canopy."
Menches, Triple Canopy's spokeswoman, said Nash is still employed by the company and is currently home on a regular rotation.
Sen. James Webb, D-Va., a co-sponsor of the legislation establishing the Wartime Contracting Commission, said it would be "unacceptable" if any contractor employees were terminated for cooperating with the commission.
"An employee of a government-contracted firm does not contract away his or her obligation — not right — to talk forthrightly with properly constructed government inquiries," Webb said in a statement to the AP.
Triple Canopy's government business is growing dramatically. The company last month won a State Department contract worth $977 million over five years to protect U.S. diplomats on the ground in Iraq.
As of February, there were more than 9,200 contract security personnel in Iraq and more than 7,000 of those were not Americans or Iraqis, according to the Defense Department.