DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – Some of the foreign contractors who have provided the logistics for America’s “eternal war” in Afghanistan now find themselves stranded in an endless layover in Dubai with no way to get home .
After nearly two decades, the rapid withdrawal of the United States from Afghanistan has turned the lives of thousands of private security contractors in some of the world’s poorest countries – not the mercenaries but the mercenaries who served the effort. American war. For years, they worked behind the scenes as cleaners, cooks, construction workers, waiters, and technicians on sprawling American bases.
During the rushed evacuation, dozens of those foreign workers trying to return home to the Philippines and other countries that have restricted international travel due to the pandemic were left stranded in Dubai hotel limbo.
As the United States pulls in its remaining troops and abandons its bases, experts say the chaotic departure of the Pentagon’s logistics army exposes an uncomfortable truth about a privatized system long likely to be mismanaged – a system largely funded by US taxpayers but outside the scope of US law. .
“This is the same situation that affects foreign entrepreneurs all over the world, people who have little understanding of where they are going and very uncertain relationships once they arrive determining their legal status and where to move,” said Anthony Cordesman, National Security Analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
“The terms of contracts in wartime can really relieve the employer of a major responsibility … even the right of return can be uncertain. “
Although it is not known exactly how many remained stranded abroad after the evacuation, an Associated Press reporter saw at least a dozen Filipino contractors from the engineering and construction company Fluor stranded in the city. Movenpick hotel in Bur Dubai, an older part of the city-state along the Dubai Creek.
Hotel management declined to comment, saying they “do not have the authority to disclose the presence and information of hotel guests or the details of the hotel’s business partners for confidentiality reasons. “.
U.S. Army Central Command declined to comment on private security contractors, referring all questions to their companies. The U.S. Army’s contracts office and the Philippine Consulate in Dubai did not respond to repeated requests for comment on stranded Filipino contractors.
At the beginning of June, 2,491 foreign contract workers remained on American bases across Afghanistan, against 6,399 in April, according to the latest figures from the Special Inspector General for the Reconstruction of Afghanistan.
With the United States set to officially end its military mission at the end of the month, most of these workers have since returned home on flights organized by their employers – the private military behemoths who, over the years of war, won billions of dollars in logistics contracts from the Pentagon in Afghanistan. .
But other employees, first brought to Dubai on their way home after a sudden departure on June 15, were not so fortunate. The Philippines, along with Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka, halted flights to the United Arab Emirates in mid-May over fears of the rapid spread of the delta variant of the coronavirus and have repeatedly renewed the ban travel.
So began a seemingly endless layover that some Filipino workers described to the PA as a time of relentless anxiety and boredom. The entrepreneurs spoke on condition of anonymity, citing the precariousness of their situation.
Attracted to Afghanistan by the promise of stable employment and far higher wages than in the Philippines, several of stranded Fluor contractors spent years working in construction, transporting equipment, processing visas. and other military logistics. Some worked at Bagram Air Base, the country’s largest military complex, and Kandahar Airfield in southern Afghanistan. They had nothing to do with combat operations but nonetheless described rocket attacks and other war risks at the base.
Those who spoke to the AP said they knew of many other entrepreneurs from the Philippines and other countries, including Nepal, stranded in Dubai, but could not provide more specific information.
With their cash flow dwindling during the two-month layover, most said they couldn’t afford anything but to wait. They spend their time watching TV and making video calls with their families in the Philippines from the hotel, where Fluor provides daily meals.
Construction giant Fluor, the Irving, Texas-based company that was Afghanistan’s largest defense contractor, did not respond to repeated requests for comment from the PA. The Defense Ministry has spent $ 3.8 billion on Fluor’s work in Afghanistan since 2015, according to federal records, most of it on logistics services.
With little public knowledge of the process of evacuating contractors from the war, it became increasingly clear that the Pentagon’s long-invisible foreign fleet could remain so.
“Everyone has focused so much on the American troops, but also on the Afghans, the interpreters and others” who could face revenge killings by resurgent Taliban, said John Sifton, director of advocacy for the Asia to Human Rights Watch. “About stranded foreign workers, the Biden administration can say, well, their companies and governments should have moved heaven and earth to get them home.”