Are Diplomatic Security Forces Ready For a More Offensive Role in the Middle East?
At a Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hearing Wednesday afternoon, a Government Accountability Office official expressed concerns that the State Department’s diplomatic security operations may not be prepared for new challenges that will come as troops withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan.
In support of President Obama’s plans to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said that now what’s needed is a “diplomatic surge .” But as more civilians are deployed to conflict zones and other high threat areas, the need for adequately trained Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) personnel increases as well. The planned troop withdrawal – 10,000 from Afghanistan by the end of this year – will leave many roles currently filled by U.S. troops to diplomatic security. Nintey percent of the DS workforce are private security contractors. It’s possible that in the near future, combat-type missions could be coming to private security contractors as their responsibilities increase to include tasks like recovering downed aircraft, IED evaluation, and rocket and mortar countermeasures.
At a Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hearing Wednesday afternoon, a Government Accountability Office (GAO) official expressed concerns that the State Department’s diplomatic security operations may not be ready for the challenge. GAO suggestions on training shortfalls, given in a 2009 report on the state of diplomatic security, have not been acted on, and DS lacks a system to evaluate the overall effectiveness or keep track of individual training, Jess T. Ford, director, International Affairs and Trade Issues, GAO, said at the hearing.
Eric J. Boswell, assistant secretary of State for diplomatic security acknowledged that the bureau was strained, but said substantial progress was being made toward preparing DS for a heightened role as the withdrawal progressed. “The scope and scale of our responsibilities have grown immensely in response to threats…. We now operate in places where in the past we would have closed the post and evacuated personnel,” he said. Boswell said DS would be dramatically increasing the number of security personnel at posts and increasing the use of contractors to function in capacity in roles that are “not mainstream Department of State functions.”
What DS lacks many military capabilities, like intelligence collection and deterrence, he hopes will be supplied by local contractors and security forces. “We are not an offensive unit…. As Iraq stabilizes as a nation we’re going to rely on the Iraqi police for these functions to the maximum extent that we can,” he said. Boswell noted that DS personnel have been providing security to their posts in Baghdad for more than a year without U.S. military help.
In 2009, GAO recommendations mainly addressed management of DS saying the bureau's growth had been more reactive than it was strategic and needed to come up with an effective management plan.
Two years later and the concerns are somewhat the same. DS training facilities are highly decentralized and “many are substandard and have a number of inadequacies,” Ford said. Often they share facilities with other agencies who don’t share the same priorities. DS has to rotate portions of their firearms training around Marine training at a facility in Quantico, for example. Ford said that during research for the most recent GAO report, structures weren’t adequate to provide realistic training to staff. A building entry exercise took place in a facility that didn’t have walls, for example. Tape on the floor was used to simulate where a wall would be, he said.
DS was provided $136 million to build a consolidated training center, but they still haven’t found an adequate location to break ground.
Boswell noted that some improvements have been made since the last the last report. In 2009, GAO said it would be beneficial for DS to make sure more personnel were trained in the languages of countries they operated. In 2009, only 47 percent of posts had language proficient personnel. That number is now 60 percent, Boswell said.
GAO recommendations this time around include developing a process the evaluate training through participant evaluations, developing a process to track individual training requirements, and increasing the number of personnel completing Foreign Affairs Counter Threat training .
photo by isafmedia from flickr