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Blackwater presence annoys Peshawarites

Tuesday, September 01, 2009
Javed Aziz Khan

PESHAWAR: While citizens and political parties are protesting against the reported presence and activities of Blackwater, now renamed Xe Services LLC, in Peshawar and other places in Pakistan, very few know about the operations and history of the private security firm that supported the US government in its so-called war on terror.

Though the American and Pakistani authorities have denied the presence of Blackwater or Xe, there have been growing concerns among the public and political ranks over reports of the arrival of a large number of private security guards from USA to Pakistan.

There are reports that a guesthouse and private bungalows in the University Town and a vast piece of land in Warsak, north of the city, have been rented by the company for different purposes.

Foreign security agents are frequently seen providing protection to US diplomats and officials of international bodies in the city. Their presence was deemed necessary after an attack on former principal officer of the US Consulate in Peshawar, Lynn Tracy, and killing of a US aid worker in the University Town.

Once quite secure for foreigners, Peshawar turned violent for a couple of months last year when apart from attack on the two Americans, Iranian and Afghan diplomats were kidnapped after killing of their guards and drivers.

No other attack on any foreign diplomat has taken place this year. However, foreign security personnel were reportedly hired for diplomats and officials of world bodies in the wake of recent attacks.

The main concern among Peshawarites nowadays is the presence of Blackwater or Xe Worldwide LLC, commonly known as Xe since February 13, and infamous for killing and insulting civilians.

Xe is a private military company founded as Blackwater USA in 1997 by a wealthy American, Erik Prince. He purchased about 6,000 acres of the Great Dismal Swamp, on the North Carolina/Virginia border, to establish a training camp.

Based in the US state of North Carolina, Xe operates one of the world’s largest training facilities and trains more than 40,000 people a year, mostly from America or foreign military and police services.

In 2003, Blackwater acquired the Aviation Worldwide Services (AWS), which owns and operates three subsidiaries: STI Aviation Inc, Air Quest Inc and Presidential Airways Inc. It operates several CASA 212 aircraft in addition to a Boeing 767 and several of the MD-530 helicopters.

At least 90 per cent of the company’s revenue comes from government contracts. It provided security services to US government in Iraq on a contractual basis.

Xe was one of several private security firms employed following the US invasion of Afghanistan. It was among over 60 private security firms employed during the Iraq war to guard officials and installations, train Iraq’s new army and police, and provide other support for occupation forces. Some media reports estimated that around 100,000 Blackwater personnel were once deputed in Iraq.

Blackwater’s licence to operate in Iraq was revoked by the Iraqi government on September 17, 2007, resulting from a highly contentious incident in Baghdad that occurred a day earlier during which 17 Iraqis were killed.

In November 2008, the US State Department prepared to issue a multimillion-dollar fine to Blackwater for shipping hundreds of automatic firearms to Iraq without necessary permits.

A book on Blackwater by Jeremy Scahill claimed that the leadership of Blackwater was driven by a Christian agenda deployed by ‘extreme religious zealots’. In Scahill’s account, Erik Prince, Blackwater’s founder and chairman, with his connections to right-wing Catholic groups, believes that Blackwater is an important vehicle for ensuring the central role of Christianity in US foreign policy. However, Prince had always played down any connection between his religion and his business.

In August 2009, Blackwater and its founder Eric Prince were accused of murder and of ‘failing to stop the use of prostitutes, including child prostitutes’ by their men. These accusations were initially exposed by Jeremy Scahill. Erik Prince has also been accused of harbouring hostility towards Islam and Muslims.
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