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Kenyan mercenaries in Iraq decry insecurity

By | March 10th 2012

By John Oywa

They were secretly recruited and flown out of the country in an operation akin to the Second World War, when thousands of young Africans were enlisted to fight well-established armies in the West.

With promises of hefty salaries and good life, the 250 Kenyans – all former military and police officers – bid farewell to their families as they embarked on a journey that would take them across the Middle East and finally to war-torn Iraq and Afghanistan.

These Kenyans, The Standard On Saturday has learnt, are part of a massive civilian army being assembled by private international security firms to guard US installations and embassies in Iraq and Afghanistan after President Barack Obama ordered the withdrawal of his troops from the two countries.

But what promised to be an avenue to quick riches is quickly turning into a nightmare for the Kenyans after they discovered that the jobs have more thorns than roses.

Only weeks after undergoing rigorous commando training at one of the world’s top military colleges – the King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Centre in Amman, Jordan, many of the Kenyans are back in the country and are considering terminating contracts with their employers allegedly due to risks involved in working in Iraq and Afghanistan.

After training in Israel and Jordan, the Kenyans alongside others from other African countries were flown to Iraq and Afghanistan to start sentry duties.

They were however early this year given 40 days leave to see their families after they complained of the insecurity in the two countries.

Reluctant to return

Now, they are back home and many are reluctant to return to the Middle East and are instead looking for jobs in the country.

They are expected to return by March 20.

Sources confirmed that out of the 250 recruits, 70 were sent back home late last year after failing the energy-sapping trainings.

One of the recruits who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals from his employer said they are shocked because they were made to believe they would be employed to work at US embassies in their home countries.

"We knew we were to be posted back in Kenya after training but we were shocked when upon graduation, were flown to guard the US embassy in Iraq," said the recruit.

He added: "I was very scared because a few days after I reported on duty, a suicide bomber killed 13 people just near my work place. There is just too much insecurity here."

Although no Kenyan was hurt, three other guards died in the bombing. Investigations by The Standard On Saturday showed that about five of the Kenyan recruits have landed jobs as security managers at two leading parastatals and guards to senior politicians.

Loss of millions

"My wife and children do not want me to return to Iraq but I am weighing my options because I desperately need a job.

Nowhere is safe. One can even be killed here in Kenya," said a former police officer.

If the African recruits fail to return to their work stations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the recruiting agents stand to lose millions of shillings already spent in training in Israel and Jordan and in airfare.

Documents show that the training that included drill in the use of some of the deadliest firearms in the world was organised by the Training and Services division of the O’Gara Group – one of the largest security –training firms in the United States.

Qualification course

The certificate of completion to the recruits is dated January 27, 2012 and is signed by the group’s director of Training Vincent T. May and the Vice President of Training and Operations, Bob Merkle.

The certificate shows the recruits had undergone an 80-hour approved Guard Force Basic Course and a 40-hour firearms qualification course that involved the handling of over 13 different types of guns that included the menacing M4 carbine and the AK-47.

After the training, the recruits were also given a document titled: Bureau of Diplomatic Security Goals for the Worldwide Protective Services by the US embassy in Baghdad.

Officials of the Ministries of Labour and Foreign affairs said this was not the first time private security agents were recruiting Kenyans to work in Iraq and Afghanistan as guards.

The head of public communications at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Beatrice Kung’u said the ministry was aware of Kenyans working in foreign countries but said Ministry of Labour could provide figures.

"We only come to know about them once they register with our embassies in that country," said Ms Kungu.

A senior official at the Labour Ministry who asked not to be named said they had no figures of the number of Kenyans recruited to work in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"What we have is the register of employment agencies that recruit the Kenyans.

But we don’t know how many they have taken to the two countries," said the official.

He added: "We have accredited 130 recruiting agencies but there are so many others who are not registered."

Most of the agents advertise the vacancies on-line and insist on former police officers with a clean discharge record.

"The recruits undergo thorough vetting and screening. One has to have no criminal record, a certificate of discharge from the forces and a certificate of good conduct.

Those successful are treated very well with salaries of up to more than Sh100,000," said a recruit.

Awarding tenders

The US State Department has been awarding tenders worth millions of dollars to private security firms to build a private army in Iraq to protect its diplomats and key installations.

In September 2007, Blackwater guards working for the US State Department killed 17 Iraqis during an attack at Baghdad’s Nisour Square.

But the question now, is whether the highly trained Kenyans will return to Iraq and Afghanistan to take over the jobs.

Hundreds of Ugandans, South Sudanese and Tanzanians are already working in the two countries as private guards.

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