Tuesday, September 4, 2007

KBR Cover-up Continues

Civilian Convoy Hit Hard in 2004, Six Die
REMF Dismisses Case in 2006

U.S. Dist. Judge Gray H. Miller appointed by President George W. Bush in 2006, dismissed the case by the families and survivors of a slaughtered civilian convoy moving on Army orders.

Judge Gray said, "Is it wise to use civilian contractors in a war zone? Was it wise to send the convoy along the route [to Baghdad airport] on April 9, 2004?" Miller wrote. "Answering either question and the many questions in between would require the court to examine the policies of the executive branch during wartime, a step the court declines to take."

Defense contractor KBR's job was to supply fuel and other critical supplies to the US Army, then engaged in active combat. The problem? KBR's trucks aren't combat rated. Their drivers are civilians. And the highway between their depot and the airport -- death on a stick. Squared.

On the day in question the road had been opened and closed repeatedly. The KBR manager who'd been in control of operations for damn near forever had threatened to resign if his drivers were ordered to push a load through. Yet after a while, there the order came... push through.

LA Times

"[I] think we will get people injured or killed tomorrow," warned KBR regional security chief George Seagle, citing "tons of intel." But in an e-mail sent a day before the convoy was dispatched, he also acknowledged: "Big politics and contract issues involved."

KBR was under intense pressure from the military to deliver on its multibillion-dollar contract to transport food, fuel and other vital supplies to U.S. soldiers. At Baghdad's airport, a shortage of jet fuel threatened to ground some units.

After consulting with military commanders, KBR's top managers decided to keep the convoys rolling. "If the [Army] pushes, then we push, too," wrote an aide to Craig Peterson, KBR's top official in Iraq.

One KBR management official threatened to resign when superiors ordered truckers to continue driving. "I cannot consciously sit back and allow unarmed civilians to get picked apart," wrote Keith Richard, chief of the trucking operation.

Six American truck drivers and two U.S. soldiers were killed when the convoy rumbled into a five-mile gauntlet of weapons fire on April 9, 2004, making an emergency delivery of jet fuel to the airport. One soldier and a seventh trucker remain missing.

Recriminations began the same day.

"Can anyone explain to me why we put civilians in the middle of known ambush sites?" demanded one security advisor in an e-mail. "Maybe we should put body bags on the packing list for our drivers."

Another wrote, "I cannot believe this has happened; the ones responsible should be held accountable for this."

The previously undisclosed documents raise new questions about the U.S. military's growing reliance on civilian contractors to help fight wars.

Selected e-mails, some of them excerpts, were cited in a May 22 letter to the Justice Department by lawyers suing the Houston-based giant on behalf of the dead drivers' families. The families and most of the survivors of the convoy seek a federal criminal probe of KBR's role in the episode.

[Much more at LA Times]
The Army refused to let a full investigation be completed.

Last fall Federal Judge Gray Miller (thanks GWB for the nomination to the Bench) ordered the lawsuit shut down, records sealed. Covered up. The case is on appeal. The families wait.

The mess in Iraq is the result of Donald Rumsfeld's active incompetence and arrogance. His determination to move into Iraq with less troops -- Thomas Friedman of the NY Times calls The Rumsfeld Doctrine "just enough troops to lose" -- specifically with about half as many combat and support troops as previously thought necessary, resulted in Theater Commanders having to rely on civilian contractors for necessary supplies, not just for routine operations but for combat critical needs in the heat of battle. This caused trouble. Got people killed.

To contrast (with how it should work), during the Battle of the Bulge, General Patton disengaged his Third Army, turned it 90 degrees and moved two divisions 100 miles through a blizzard, attacking on the line with troops and tanks, all their ammunition and fuel. Patton could do this because he understood as Rumsfeld does not, that war is first a matter of logistics.

By screwing over his combat commanders with not enough combat support personal and supplies, Rumsfeld left them no choice but to hand over logistical control of fuel and ammunition to civilians. I'd rather go into combat with less shooters than give up logistical control. If you can't control your supply chain, you really are fucked.

The Army tried to treat KBR like soldiers. To the credit of KBR's drivers, they responded like soldiers and pushed out. To the discredit of KBR's managers, they're not soldiers and failed to say "no", which would have protected their drivers who shouldn't have been put on the line absent an absolutely secure road. No secure road, no supplies.

As a medic I've let people die many times while I waited two blocks away for the scene to be secured. The first rule is come home alive at the end of your shift. Same for drivers. Their managers failed them and so did the Army.

One of the reasons we are failing today in Iraq is because the Army still depends on civilian logistics. Till we go back to old-school Army control of our own combat support, we remain vulnerable in the worst way, not just to civilian casualties but to failure of mission. The kind of failure that leaves a division without beans, fuel or bullets and buried in the shit.

Reason #213 why we need to leave Iraq: War is a matter of logistics. We don't control ours.