The commercialization of military missions

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Due to cuts, tasks such as catering and materials maintenance are increasingly being left to companies in international military missions. That’s cheaper, even if those companies are illuminating the various governments, including the Dutch.

It was not easy, but Massop and Sergeant Major Vankan are challenging. The over five hundred Dutch soldiers who start camp at Camp Castor in early October 2014 get a steamy plate of kale with sausage and a carrot salad. The kale is specially fished from the emergency ration. Dutch stew, in the middle of the desert of Mali. ‘Pure luxury’, finds Massop.

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Afghanistan, November 21, 2008. Match Holland Uruzgan. All the canteen food was served here by the company Supreme. © Jeroen Oerlemans / De Beeldunie

At the kitchen crew, Massop explained that the Dutch want their stew as a “volcano”. “So with a dump of jus in the middle. That will make it happen. “ The kitchen staff needs some explanation because the workers do not come from the Netherlands: the foodmanager is a German, the chefs are from India, Zimbabwe, Nepal and Mali. They are hired staff from the Supreme company, according to Massop’s report, which was two years ago in the Defense magazine Pillar .

The Dutch army has been serving the missions for a long time no longer at all. As with many other tasks, Defense is hiring companies for it. Outsourcing has become increasingly normal under pressure from cuts, with the government assuming that commercial parties are more flexible, working more efficiently and thus cheaper. In particular, logistics, catering and maintenance of vehicles are left on the market. According to the Ministry, these are not essential military tasks. Yet they can be crucial for surgery. “Combat, campaigns and even wars are won and lost by logistics,” Dwight Eisenhower would have said.

Missions in Afghanistan and Mali are complex and dangerous, the infrastructure is bad and the supply lines are long. Only a handful of commercial companies can work under these circumstances and it will take half a year to build a logistics chain. It is therefore almost impossible to switch from a service provider. The discipline of the market remains so little, according to research for this article. Even systematic fraud is no reason for defending a company for Defense.

The 48-year-old Peter van der Molen still knows well. If he decides to become a professional militant in 1991 after his duty of employment, he must go to the Defense College in Haarlem. The cooking and armed forces are still deeply intertwined, the morning apple is taken in cookware. For eight months, Van der Molen learns the tricks of the subject. From dietary cooking to even a butchery course. “Because it can be just that you get a pig once on broadcast, you just have to save yourself with it.”

As a chef, Van der Molen is going to work in Srebrenica. Around 2000 he is in Knesevo, Bosnian Serbia, where he is the commander of the kitchen group. With ten dollars per person per day he has to ensure that the soldiers receive breakfast, lunch and dinner in his group. When he goes to Iraq four years later, Van der Molen is now following the peloton commander and co-responsible for the groups that supply food, fuel and ammunition for the camps. They are no longer the Dutch who take care of the camps, which have been outsourced to Supreme. The company delivers products in Iraq once a week in jingle trucks: brightly colored trucks from often local self-employed drivers who derive their name from the decoration with bubbles.

“In the beginning, it was even chipped with deliveries,” recalls Van der Molen. “The drivers were a kind of zzp’ers, which sometimes made some sense. Or we had ordered a number of containers, and then one missed one. That driver was probably put under pressure, like: we want your load, or else I’ll kill your family. Sometimes they were seen as collaborators because they provided us. “ But the jingle trucks keep driving.

The drivers are so-called contractors: a somewhat confusing term for companies as well as individual temporary workers or zspers who carry out all kinds of military services for NGOs, companies and governments. Some maintain the military vehicles. Others protect persons and transport, using the use of violence. Like the security guard of the infamous US private security company Blackwater, who shot fire unarmed Iraqis on 16 September 2007 during the protection of a convoy in Baghdad. In total, at the beginning of the millennium, 180,000 private service providers in Iraq are estimated to be approximately as many as the number of soldiers. It is a huge increase over previous missions: when Kuwait was liberated in 1991, that ratio was one to fifty.

It is the Americans who lead in this privatization of the war, writes David Isenberg in the book From Mercenaries to Market . This also has to do with technical progress. For example, civilian experts are required to manage computer systems that assemble tactical aerial images, or to process information from unmanned Predator aircraft. Even the interrogation of prisoners in Iraq expended the US. According to Isenberg, several reports indicate that contractors are involved in torture and abuse in Iraqi prison Abu Ghraib.

Not only in Iraq, cooperation with companies is complicated. The ISAF operation in Afghanistan requires much of the logistics organization of the mission, only because of the volumes. All staff present on behalf of all countries for the operation in the area are using an Olympic pool of drinking water every day. Together, they daily consume the weight of 1,750 cows on food, and the tanks and other vehicles consume on one day as much fuel as the entire Dutch army for a whole year.

All food and fuel must be transported through dangerous areas to the remote camps of all participating countries via a limited number of roads. Afghanistan is not at sea, which makes the supply even more complicated. Flying is expensive, road transport takes a long time. Trucks from Karachi harbor in Pakistan leave in Kandahar for about five days. The trip on the way from Kabul to, for example, the European shipment point for supply in Tallinn, Estonia, will soon take seventy days. A total of 51 countries, not all members of the NATO, must jointly regulate this supply.

The originally American Supreme company sees its opportunity clean. The caterer has 72 companies worldwide and provides services in remote areas around the world. In 2005, the company enters into the contract to provide the US Army in Afghanistan with food and water. Perishable goods buy Supreme locally. The food saves it in a giant storehouse with huge refrigeration plants, in the middle of the desert in Helmand. “A sort of mini-map was that, with its own security. And from there they provided a number of units in southern Afghanistan, “Colonel Master Joop Voetelink told in his office at the Faculty of Military Sciences in Breda.

The company begins a complicated fraud plan, according to US court reports. One month after the contract is concluded, the owners target a company in the United Arab Emirates: Jafco, an abbreviation of Jamal Ahli Foods Company. Supreme tries to keep the relationship with the new company hidden for the rest of the world. The company does not report the new company to the US government, one of the reasons that the judge would call a “conspiracy to fraud” later on.

“If you have a problem in time of war, you can not call: you’ll be in two months’

Jafco buys in Afghanistan for the local price of fruit and vegetables and sells it for a higher price to the Supreme. This increased price then presents it to the US government as purchase costs. In addition, the company receives a further fee for the services provided. The US OM describes how the money ends in Supreme’s bags: Jafco receives an invoice every month, exactly according to the amount currently in its account.

As Supreme rolls out its fraud plan, the Cabinet Balkenende II decided in early 2006 that the Netherlands will take part in the Isaf mission in Uruzgan in southern Afghanistan. For the country’s force, it is the largest logistics operation since World War II. The ministry wants to hand over military tasks. One year after the Americans, therefore, The Hague also has a contract with Supreme. Although the Netherlands has little experience with military contractors, the pursuit of a company like Supreme does not fall out of the air. The years before the mission in Uruzgan have been greatly reduced to Defense. “The use of contractors offered the ability to maintain the capabilities of the armed forces without exceeding the set budgets,” says Voetelink.

The kitchen capacity has already been shrunk. First, the cooking groups of all armed forces were brought together in 2004 in Paresto, a ‘purple’ government company: the color you get according to Defense when you mix ‘navy blue, magic green and air force gray’. Then, within one and a half years 587 of the about 18th functions disappeared.

“Ideally, you would like to do everything yourself. But Defense had to be a small organization. Then you will cut on those things that do not relate to essential tasks. “ Cda-chamber member Raymond Knops is a former occupational officer at the Royal Air Force. In 2004, he temporarily resigned his job as an elder to serve as a backup officer for more than three months in Iraq. “You depend on others and that’s not ideal,” he acknowledges. “But if Defense would like a similar capacity itself, it would be more expensive for many times.”

In addition to catering, other jobs are also in the hands of contractors. ‘Outsourcing and privatization of military tasks are becoming increasingly common’, states the 2007 Advisory Council on International Issues ( aiv ). At the request of the government, the council has bent on the hiring of private military companies. The inventory that provides this is incomplete by partial confidentiality, but already generates a nice list of hired companies.

For example, PANH Russia and Safair arrange local air transport by helicopter, Antonov or Hercules aircraft. The maintenance of vehicles, the cleaning and the laundry are also outsourced. The American company Dyncorp helps in training local security services. Shell transports the fuel from Pakistan to the base in Uruzgan, Supreme supplies the food for the Dutch army. That transport is very dangerous and trucks are regularly attacked by stunts or the Taliban. Because the Dutch army can not easily capture and protect the commercial vehicles’ trucks, Shell and Supreme will hire their armed security. In addition, 290 individually hired armed Afghans protect the outer rings of the camps in Deh Rawod and Tarin Kowt, and run on patrols. Ideally, the army would do it himself, Knops assists, but the hiring was born out of necessity. “Your own security expends you so that your high-skilled soldiers can be sent outside the gate for special operations.”

Defense also handed out the maintenance of medical equipment in Afghanistan, told trade unionist Louis Schipper, but returned later. With the acquisition of new operating rooms, Defense also purchased maintenance contracts in Afghanistan. The army’s specialists were no longer needed. “It took about a year and a half,” says Schipper. “Then they got back on broadcast: that company is fixing it, but in some circumstances you can not help it. If you have a problem in time of war, you can not call: you’ll be in two months. “

It is striking that the government only applies for the advice of the AIV after a lot of military tasks have already been outsourced by the Netherlands. The council has nothing but more to put in place the policies implemented. The main questions to answer: “Which services can in principle be contracted or not, and what conditions should the Dutch government take into account?”

Both the AIV and the government draw an important border with the sword force: the idea that the monopoly must be on state violence. ‘Companies provide all conceivable services. However, war law does not really mean the use of mercenaries, “said Minister of Defense Eimert van Middelkoop in his advisory application to the aiv . But practice does not appear black and white. He continues: “There is a gray area in which variants are conceivable, such as mechanics and security companies that can occur in the back area or near the front line.”

The exact terms are therefore not public. “In principle, I’m in the contract: pick up at a and turn it off at B,” Knops says. “But because it’s citizens, and as long as there are no Dutch soldiers involved, that’s not a matter of defense anymore.” He compares it with glass washers. “If I hire a company that is running the windows, I will hold that company responsible for compliance with the rules of the labor market. You can not be responsible for the behavior of the contractors. But I assume that the Defense is looking forward to it. “

This attitude is risky, according to research conducted by the US Senate Committee on Armed Services in 2010 to hire military service providers. For the protection of fuel and food transportation, Supreme trusted the security company Compass. This subcontractor did not take it so closely with the rules, according to the report. For example, hired security officers did not show up regularly. For example, in October 2007, only half of the hired men appeared to protect a transport from Herat to Kandahar. On the way to the job, they would have attacked a gas station. Sometimes even nobody showed up, so that the year the Supreme convoys were forced to drive without protection.

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An employee of the private company Compass was severely injured in securing a NATO supply convoy attacked by the Taliban. July 17, 2010 © Christoph Bangert / LAIF / HH

In June 2009, Compass suddenly discovered that manpower failed to protect Supreme’s delivery to British troops between Kandahar and Ghazni. The company decided to send 40 untrained men to it. According to the company’s director, transport nevertheless went smoothly. But reports show that the transport was attacked by insurgents that day. A firefight of over one and a half hours followed, and the convoy could only be liberated by helping Isaf troops to help.

The Navo found out that Supreme charged too many seven hundred million dollars too much

The US commission points to another problem that involves these types of private parties: they undermine an important mission of the mission. Security companies recruit active personnel at the Afghan National Army ( ANA ) and the National Police ( ANP ). That’s not difficult, because with the commercial security system, the Afghans sometimes earn four times as much. The build-up of Afghan troops, an important priority, is thus disturbed by a constant outflow of trained military personnel. Whether Supreme knew the behavior of their security officers is unclear. In any case, the company nor the commissioning government was able to do anything about it.

Meanwhile, Supreme is deserving of the scams of the Americans. The difference between the increased purchase price and the actual price of the grocery stores in the region begins to attack US Army over time. Milk and juice is, for example, 55 percent more expensive than normal, non-alcoholic beer 125 percent and corn even 525 percent. On water, Supreme also knows how to make a living. For a tray of 24 half-liter bottles, the company charges up to four times the cost. The scam with water would provide the caterer over $ 48 million over the years.

Also in the Netherlands complaints about Supreme’s raised bills are received. What exactly happened to the Defense contract exactly with the company is not clear because these documents are also secret. The fact that the Netherlands in Afghanistan made use of cost-plus contracts is certainly certainly. This is evident from questions posed by the permanent commission for defense in 2008 to van middelkoop. According to the minister, the financial control organization and the Accountant Service Defense ( add ) monitor these contracts.

The audits of the add provide disturbing messages, according to replies to Chamber Questions that the current Minister of Defense Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert recently sent to the Chamber. During the checks, the service sees to be charged over and over again.

Meanwhile, one of the Supreme Divisional Managers in America is out of school about the scams over the US investigation. In 2010, the US government will go to court and four years later, one of the US Supreme Group companies will blame for deliberate fraud and pay $ 434 million to settlements and fines. On May 1, 2013, the Dutch Central Organization Integrity Defense ( Coid ) receives a report of suspected fraud by Supreme. How much fraud would be possible, Minister Hennis does not want to say. This is also “commercially confidential”. Only after the appeal has been made public by both the Green and the ANP , the secret letter in which the Chamber has been kept confidential is disclosed. This shows that the ministry between 2006 and 2009 was at least 2.8 million euros. According to Hennis, Supreme has now refunded the amount of money that has been repaid.

In the Netherlands nobody goes to court. “The coid has informed the reporter of the possible routes to report himself and has informed that – because it was about established and corrected facts – Defense did not look for further investigation,” writes Hennis. The Netherlands will continue to use Supreme. The Pentagon stops the collaboration.

There are no clear agreements about what happens if companies do not hold contracts, concludes Lieutenant Colonel PBMJ Pijpers in 2013 in the Military Spectator magazine. During the ISAF mission in 2012 he was responsible for the logistical supply of goods as Chief Sustainment. ‘Commitment for non-compliance has a different dimension than hierarchical enforcement,’ he states. A commercial party is not part of the military structure and will always pursue its own purpose, namely a higher operating profit. “The question is, of course, whether outsourcing of military logistics is so wise.” The Lieutenant Colonel is afraid that the Netherlands is dependent on companies. Given the investment in time and money it takes to establish a logistical chain in an operational environment, the civilian contractor has de facto gained a monopoly position. “

On November 1, 2013 , the current government decides that the Netherlands should contribute to the mission in Mali. There will be 368 soldiers to the area to assist in stabilizing the region and combating terrorism by collecting information. In terms of size, it is a modest job, although it is the biggest mission in which the Netherlands is currently participating. Minister Hennis assumes logistical support from the United Nations. In principle, during UN missions, it controls the outsourcing of logistics companies.

But not in Mali. On February 7, 2014, Hennis sends a letter to the Chamber in which she concludes that the United Nations for unclear reasons did not provide the staff where the Netherlands calculated. ‘The UN supplies locally hired interpreters, but some other services are not or not sufficiently sufficient. This includes catering services. As a result, Defense may be forced to employ more military personnel or hire local staff. “ Again, the Supreme is getting the catering cycle. A lot of competition does not have the company. On the basis of tender documents from the Navo, only the Ecolog company appears to be a possible alternative.

But until a new tender, Mali never comes. In 2011, the Netherlands has concluded a framework agreement with Supreme, which provides for a fixed period of time which services or products can be delivered at fixed terms. Third party award would be breach of contract. The ministry knows no reason at all to stop cooperation. Additionally, Defense can not, for practical reasons, be Supreme. ‘A new tender will take six months’, explains a spokesman. “Those soldiers just need that food.”

Supreme can put the good news on Facebook in April 2014. Based on the framework agreement, the company received a so-called agreement for the provision of a mobile kitchen, staffing and storage for the Dutch Camp in Gao, eastern Mali. The mobile kitchens, which were still in Afghanistan until that time, bring Supreme to the United Arab Emirates, after which they are moving to Mali. Before April 1, all staff and equipment in Gao. ‘The client expressed their sincere gratitude and respect to the team.’

Meanwhile, the Navo seems to have become the victim of scams by Supreme. In her recent reply to Kamervragen about the company, Minister Hennis says: “The Navo has found that Supreme Group has also taken too much money under a fuel delivery contract in Afghanistan. Defense, like other Navo partners, has received fuel from Supreme Group through this contract. ‘ How much money and what time it goes, the minister does not say. In December, the company and the Navo were still facing each other in the court in Maastricht. Many details about the case are not public. A senior Navo official informs me that the dispute concerns, among other things, the delivery of 4.6 billion liters of fuel between 2006 and 2014 in Afghanistan. According to a message from Reuters press office in 2015, the Navo found out that the company charged seven hundred million dollars too much. Conversely, Supreme also claims that NATO’s money, according to the Navo official, amounts to about 432 million.

Whether the Netherlands remains operational in the coming years of companies like Supreme seems to depend on the regions to which the next broadcasts will take place and the available budget. “The missions we participate are not so large,” explains Voetelink. “In Iraq we have a handful of trainers. And we have a relatively limited number of people in Jordan. “ There, soldiers can use support from the host state. That will be different when the Netherlands sends military personnel to areas where the infrastructure and support by the host country or the coalition partners are more limited.

For larger missions, catering will be outsourced, as is the expectation. Last Prinsdagdag became clear that Minister Hennis could spend more than two hundred million euros this year on additional personnel, spare parts, maintenance and ammunition supplies. Support services such as catering, transportation and security will not be a priority.

The research

This research has been discussed with soldiers and former soldiers, lawyers, researchers, second-chamber members, Navo staff and representatives of the trade union movement. There are public reports, academic studies, journals, annual reports, Navo databases and room questions. For non-public documents, a Wob request for full or partial disclosure is requested. With the exception of the amount of money paid by the Supreme Court to Supreme, this request has not been approved until now. The Ministry of Defense itself had the opportunity to respond to the article prior to publication.

Supreme is approached for a response, but did not want to comment

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