News & Current Affairs
02 March 2015
DFAT spends quarter of a billion guarding foreign embassies
Mercenaries don't come cheap. The Australian government has spent more than a quarter of a billion dollars on private military contractors to protect high risk diplomatic posts, and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade plans to spend much more, according to official documents.
Two private military companies have earned more than $237 million dollars for guarding the Australian embassies in Afghanistan and Iraq and providing "close personal protection" for Australian diplomats in the two war-torn countries over the past five years. Another $26 million has been committed to security and guarding services over 2014-16 for the Australian High Commission in crime plagued Port Moresby.
Australia's embassy in Kabul is currently protected by former British and Australian special forces personnel employed by Chelsea Holdings, a major British owned, Dubai-based, private military company formerly known as Hart Security. Contract records show the company's services in Kabul have cost the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) more than $143 million since 2010. Despite this DFAT says the location of the embassy "cannot be publicly disclosed for security reasons," unlike the addresses of other Western diplomatic missions in Kabul.
Established in 1999 by former British special forces officer Lord Westbury, Chelsea Holdings employs more than 8,000 personnel worldwide with an annual turnover of around A$640 million. The company's operations have attracted occasional controversy, including in 2004 after it emerged that a former Hart employee had run a "special operations unit" in Zimbabwe in the 1980s for the apartheid-era South African government including carrying out a bombing attack against members of the African National Congress.
Contract records show security services at Australia's embassy in Baghdad have cost a further $95 million since 2010 with guarding and personal protection being provided by the Unity Resources Group, an Australian owned private military company also headquartered in Dubai.
Established in 2000 by former Australian special forces officer Gordon Conroy, Unity Resources Group also employs former Australian and British special forces personnel and has also attracted controversy with personnel being involved in two shooting incidents in Baghdad in 2006-07 that resulted in the deaths of unarmed civilians.
Unity Resources has also provided logistic services to the Defence Department as well as "a bespoke ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] platform" which, according to Mr Conroy, "ranks as the gGroup's most profitable and successful project."
Former Australian Army officer and analyst at the the Lowy Institute for International Affairs James Brown said one of the main reasons DFAT employed private security companies was "to outsource much of the risk associated with running a large team prepared to use lethal force against a local attack".
"Security contractors are responsible for their own insurance, and if a contractor is injured it is the company and not DFAT that bears the responsibility of providing medical aid, evacuation and ongoing rehabilitation," Mr Brown said.
DFAT argued that private security contractors had "high quality and contemporary skill-sets, invaluable in-country knowledge, and experience in specific operating environments".
Estimates of the growing global market for security services provided by private military companies in 2015 range between US$13 and US$20 billion.
In anticipation of the expiry of current contacts, DFAT is examining new tenders from a number of private military companies for upgraded security at Australia's embassies in Kabul, Baghdad and Jakarta with contractors required to "take such action necessary to protect the lives of those being guarded, while using a reasonable and proportionate amount of force."
Draft contract documents show that DFAT requires close personal protection for diplomatic, static guarding of embassies and "situational awareness services" including security analysis and "low profile intelligence gathering and reconnaissance."
Former Australian intelligence personnel have confirmed that private military contractors in Afghanistan and Iraq have provided intelligence to the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, especially on Afghan and Iraqi government military and security capabilities.
In Kabul the planned security force exceeds 200 personnel including an expatriate leadership team, 40 expatriate close protection personnel and more than 150 locally-recruited security guards. Security contractors are to "not engage in any offensive combat operations, alone or in conjunction with any other private entity, Afghan or other state agency or with the Afghan security or military forces."
Personnel requirements in Baghdad include 30 close personal protection officers and more than 50 static security guards.
In Jakarta expatriate security contractors will be responsible for supervision of "a large contracted local national static security guard force" as well as liaison with the Indonesian National Police which provide personal protection for the Australian ambassador.
DFAT anticipates that the current tender evaluation process will be completed by April.