Thais in Afghanistan and other Very Bad Things
Hi I’m El Fugitivo, you may remember me from such submissions as “Never Trust a Big Butt and a Smile” (Troy McLure voice)…well as promised, a piece about the Thais that I encountered while working in Afghanistan. As the drama with my wife unfolds I’ll continue to keep you guys posted, until then on to a lighter topic.
Since the topic of Thais in Afghanistan may not make the 800-word requirement, I’ll also discuss the wacky TCNs (Third Country Nationals), and expats that I encountered there. I was there from 2011-2013 and it was an interesting experience to say
the least, but it was worth it because for the first time in my life I was earning 6-figures. It was my first, and hopefully not last, taste of success. I am a middle class guy from Middle America so the bar isn’t too high; despite
my love of hookers and my other faults I’ve managed to avoid death, prison, and most of the other major pitfalls of modern life so give me a break.
And now for the ground rules: (1) I will alter names, locations, dates, and nationalities to protect anonymity….and to avoid prison since I signed numerous non-disclosure agreements. (2) I won’t get too detailed – again this is to protect people who may still be there and to avoid disclosing anything that may get me arrested. I don’t want to wind up like Snowden living in Moscow airport, or Manning getting ass-raped in Leavenworth. (3) Finally, I won’t discuss sources, methods, or anything that may be detrimental to operational security – after all there are still friendlies in Afghanistan and I want to keep my security clearance.
I worked for a US PMC (Private Military Company), the company wasn’t known for providing intelligence support services and this was its first foray in to that field. They specialize in canine detection, UXO / EOD (demining), and armed security-including executive protection / PSD. I am no “stud”. I was in the Army (a regular unit) and after Iraq I had the chance to get a new job and study a very “hot” foreign language. I never “wasted” anyone-but I know what it is to be afraid. I’m not wealthy, and I can’t bench 800 lbs. I am just a regular guy that did a job that is in reality a lot less cool than how outsiders perceive it. On an unrelated note, I love some of the self-aggrandizing submissions that begin along the lines of “Let me say right away that I am a self-made man that founded a Fortune 500 firm and made a bazillion dollars before I was 16. I own several Ferraris; I am married to a Thai-Chinese mermaid and I have a Ukrainian supermodel mia noi. I am also a Kung-Fu master with a meter-long dick. And when not wiping my ass with $100 bills I find time to write lengthy articles about whoring in Third World countries.” Guys, I LOVE those articles, please keep them coming as I enjoy good fiction. If you want a “techno-thriller” story then go buy a Tom Clancy book; if you want a sophisticated “cloak-and-dagger” yarn check out John Le Carre or Graham Greene. I am done with that line of work and now I am trying to adjust to civilian life here in the US.
My job was to vet (screen) Local Nationals (Afghans) and TCNs (any person that is from a non-NATO / ISAF nation); I also talked to “expats”-civilians from NATO / ISAF nations (sometimes they thought that we were the complaint department). Basically we were doing three things during our interviews. First of all we were looking for security issues and / or deception during the interview. Secondly we were trying to determine whether or not a subject was of intelligence value to either HUMINT / CI or Law Enforcement. Finally we would recommend what kind of badge a subject received; would they require an escort, would they be allowed to possess electronic items, etc. Actually some of us had one other objective to accomplish during our interviews…that was to work in song lyrics during the interview. Some weeks were “Classic Rock”, others were “Gangster Rap”. Anyone up for some Journey…in Hindi? How about some Ice Cube…in Pashto? Needless to say that our interpreters hated us. For the most part I worked in and around Kandahar Airfield (KAF), occasionally I would have to travel to smaller bases in the area, usually to assist in vetting Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF)-this was when the “green-on-blue” attacks were a big problem.
The first incident in which I encountered Afghanistan’s Thai community was….you guessed…prostitution-related! Who would’ve seen that coming? Thais and the military….Vietnam Part 2. There was a barber shop on one of the bases that also offered massages and an adjacent Thai food stall. Sure enough there was more on the “menu” than Pad Thai. Hookers servicing Allied troops is no longer considered “innocent fun” by the Department of Defense (DoD) like it once was. The DoD (and State Department) folks are really serious about cracking down on human trafficking, and what was happening here was without a doubt human trafficking. [DoD is serious when sex is involved, but the war is only possible due to the efforts of the TCN indentured servants who are deep in debt to the agents that got them their shitty jobs-that DoD doesn’t seem to notice. God knows that my colleagues and I have tried to get them to notice, but to no avail.]. The operation that closed this place down was beautiful, no matter how slick a Thai (or anyone for that matter) thinks they are, their own greed will always lead to their downfall. The Thai owner brought several “service providers” over to work in their enterprise by luring them with promises of big money. Sure enough, once the ladies got there, papasan / mamasan took their passports and demanded that the ladies refund them the cost of their travel from Bangkok to Afghanistan. The girls were given just food and toiletries, and since they were TCNs and their jobs didn’t require them to have cellphone or laptop privileges they were isolated from calling anyone for help. The fact that they hardly spoke English also impeded them. The cellphone prohibition is a sore-point with many expats that supervise TCNs…too fxxxing bad. How loyal do you think a TCN making $500 USD a month is going to be? Do you want Pakistanis and Egyptians running around our bases calling who knows who? The story had a happy ending (pun intended) and the girls got to go home, chalk one up for the good guys. Not quite.
TCN status is a double-edged sword. It requires a subject to undergo invasive interviews with jerks like me and it limits a subject’s ability to use / possess electronics. The advantage is that it is also a form of legal immunity. When a TCN is caught violating regulations, or committing a crime, there are no consequences – they are only detained in the most serious cases. Once a guy from the Balkans stabbed his expat boss due to an argument over internet access, and all that happened was that he was sent home. There is no Status of Forces agreement covering these folks, in some cases they are actually breaking their home nation’s laws by even being in Afghanistan (Filipinos, and South Africans working in some professions). My colleagues and I used to joke that all our TCN problems started with “P”-Pilipinos (sic) and Pakistanis! I give it to the Filipinos, they are hard workers and they speak passable English – and their scams are brilliant in some cases. A few of the girls were even hot, but I can never go to the PI since I am personally responsible for many of them being removed and banned from Afghanistan. As they say…”in Asia don’t fxxx with someone else’s rice bowl”…or something like that. Bottom line is that I am sure there is a contract out on me the second I show up in Pampanga!
Back to the Thais. The next time that I encountered Thais was when two wheeler-dealer TCNs (non-Thais) decided to open a Thai food stand. One of the partners was a TCN involved in several dirty business ventures with Afghan firms; he had a proper wife and was from a fairly conservative culture. He also held residence permits for two First World countries-in other words he had a lot to lose. This wannabe Donald Trump also had a Thai mia noi. She was a first-class twat, an obvious bargirl trying to pass herself off as “hi so”. She was no keeper either, short and wiry, and dark as could be. So our Donald Trump and his bitch decide to go in to the restaurant biz and she brings a few Thai ladies over to work as cooks. I interviewed these ladies, they hardly spoke any English so it was Yellow Badge (no leaving the work area without an escort) – they were definitely not bargirls. And despite the fact that my Thai (and their English) was minimal, I got a “warm and fuzzy” feeling about them (no deception, no threat noted). The girls get there and right off the bat they have to live in the restaurant because Mr. Trump and mia noi can’t afford (or won’t pay) for proper accommodations on base. The girls can’t live in the kitchen since there are obviously hygiene issues so the US Air Force stepped in and closed the place for a while.
I tried the food there once and sure enough I got sick as hell, the only time I got sick over there. Mr. Trump and Soop-ham Smokes-a-lot-of-pole decided to get accommodation for the women off-base in the “Green Zone” (a term borrowed from Iraq). Now in theory the Green Zone is safe, but remember that it is under Afghan control so anything goes out there. Ms. Smokes-a-lot-of-pole also decides to confiscate the women’s passports. She also stopped paying her workers-that will help to reduce labor costs! So 6 months pass and the girls have to come in for their badge renewal interviews and they broke down in tears during those interviews. I interviewed each of them separately and their stories were remarkably consistent so there was something to it-they all cried hysterically and said that they wanted to go home. Like the previous situation, they hadn’t been able to contact the outside world so nobody knew that they were in distress. Despite the language barrier it was very clear what was going on. Since I had some authority in my job, I confronted Ms. Smokes-a-lot-of-pole and Mr. Trump and told them that they were to arrange air travel to get these girls home. Trump knew that he was busted, but Smokes-a-lot-of-pole was obstinate. It took every fiber of my being from trying out my favorite Thai insults on her. So I suspended their ability to get badges for their workers-for the restaurant and for the dodgy Afghan enterprises that they managed. The equation is simple: no badge = no base access = no workers = no work = lost contract = no money for you! As I was explaining this to her I decided to take a page out of the Thai “cultural” playbook. Despite her temper tantrum I kept smiling and giving idiotic, noncommittal answers to her queries. Throw a gaudy golden Buddha amulet around my neck and call me Somchai Tittyporn but I actually WAS Thai for a minute there. To help convince them I got the Military Police there and that finally did it. The girls got to stay on base (where it is safer) for a few days awaiting their flights to BKK via DXB. While on base you are surrounded by NATO / ISAF troops and security is better than in the Green Zone where security is provided by a former mujahid with a rusty AK-47 and questionable loyalties.
Now karma is a bitch and Mr. Trump and Ms. Smokes-a-lot-a-pole got their comeuppance. Since these two were “project managers” representing shady Afghan firms doing business with NATO / ISAF they had some “interesting” Afghan partners. These two were crooks but they were stupid; it is OK to steal from Afghans, but you don’t do it when you are in their country and at their mercy! A large sum of money had gone missing and one of their former Afghan partners was not happy with these two. Since they resided off-base they were at the mercy of the Afghans. One day these two were driving and were forced off the road by heavily bearded (and armed) Afghans. Now in Afghanistan, any guy in a uniform holding a weapon is ANSF-remember that their ranks are thoroughly infiltrated by Talibs. These guys weren’t Talibs, but they were ANSF that had been rented by the aggrieved Afghan partner. They were taken into the big city and grilled by Afghan ‘gators (interrogators) and in a great twist of fate-their passports were confiscated and held! The Afghans made them sign a confession and they would not release them until some of the money was returned. They returned a portion of the money, but their passports were held until the full sum was recovered. Sure enough they came to us for help-fat chance, but it made for an interesting interview…and a long report. The most interesting part was that Mr. Trump was terrified to report the incident to his home nation; his nation has a diplomatic facility in the area…a dodgy guy indeed. Remember that his passport contained visas to two First World countries so he was fxxxed. Last I heard he was still in a lurch…what the hell did he spend the rest of the missing money on? I wonder if his proper and traditional wife will ever find out about his mia noi Ms. Smokes-a-lot-of-pole?
The TCNs would run all kinds of scams, and why not when the only legal consequence is a flight home? Fuel theft was a huge problem. They would siphon it, sell it to Afghans, sell it to other businesses, etc. We were able to put a dent in some of it but the company that runs the fuel effort considers losing 100,000 liters a day an “acceptable loss”. The fuel racket reminded me of the “skim” that the Chicago mob used to run in Las Vegas. They would skim actual fuel; they’d fudge the numbers, etc. After I got back to the US, Syria was heating up. If we invaded Syria I resolved that I would fxxxing walk there if I had to so as to get in on the ground floor. Because if you are going to steal and skim in a war zone contracting the best time to do it is before things settle down and it becomes a “mature theater”. By the time I got to Afghanistan there were several Federal Task Forces dealing with these issues, but it was too little too late. Some of you bleeding hearts will try to excuse the thievery of the TCNs because of their poverty, remember this though…they are stealing your tax dollars (or Euros, or Pounds). I don’t care what your views on the war are but if someone is stealing your money you should be angry. If you aren’t let me know where you live so I can rob your dumbass next time I’m in LOS.
The Filipinos would crack me up, some of the ladies tried their hands at prostitution but most were hideous and their customers were only “lower caste” expats. They would screw in unoccupied tents – filthy. When expats would outprocess they had to have an interview with us…LOTS of LOS visas in those US and UK passports…good to know that DynCorp and KBR are rife with fellow mongers! Usually expats considered us the complaint department – and that is understandable because some of the DynCorp guys lived in Third World conditions along with their Third World TCN employees. I had it good, I lived close to most of my work areas and I lived in a “wet” CHU (Container Housing Unit). This was a modified trailer (the kind 18-wheelers haul) with a bathroom (sink, shower, and toilet). It was air-conditioned and better than the trailer that I lived in while in Iraq. Actually being in a war zone was better living than when training in the US, I remember 20-day field problems with no shower and living out of a rucksack, so when I was “downrange” I was living in luxury!
Back to the Filipinos, a lot of them seemed to be from Pampanga and the Angeles City area (their Chonburi / Pattaya I think). What astounded me was the quality of the fake documents that they would produce, especially driver’s licenses, but a few good passports too. That would cause us to fail them and if they persisted in their lies they’d be removed from base and go home jobless – and eventually have an uncomfortable interview with the Philippine NBI. They were deep in to the fuel theft racket and some would also sell hash to expats and service members. Their names were the best; they reflected the history of the country. The first name was usually Spanish (and archaic), the middle name was often American (and silly), and the last name was sometimes Malay or Spanish. For example…Baltasario “Bubba Junior” Mangalanangnang. Some Filipinos tried to start companies of their own; anything TCN-owned and operated is bound to be a train wreck. These Filipino companies would fold and the bosses would inevitably fxxx off to Dubai with several month’s worth of the pay they owed their workers. Now the bosses are gone and the workers aren’t getting paid (vulnerable to coercion / exploitation) and they were living as “squatters” hiding out in various tents desperate to stay on the base. They concocted all kinds of scams to feed themselves; their bosses left them high-and-dry so they’d share meal cards, and do what it took to eat until they found a new job. Once again, your tax dollars (or Pounds, or Euros) at work! Now 90% of the TCNs are just there to save money for their families – the Western Union on KAF is always packed. Most are good guys, but remember that we are not in the safety of the First World and someone that is desperate for money will do very bad things to get it. My duty is to help keep the place safe and I don’t feel bad about removing a troublemaker. If he / she is an idiot expat then I really enjoy it. The security of our troops, and our allies, is my only concern. Some expats were real shitbags too; they would try and coerce the Filipino women (and South Asian guys) in to sex.
Not all of the Pakistanis had horns, despite the obvious security issues. The big exception was when they were from the tribal areas..places like Peshawar, Waziristan, Quetta, and Swat. Sometimes we would put those guys in touch with “other entities” and that was always satisfying (I was something of a “matchmaker” cum “talent scout”). I am sure that there are guys reading this who think that the security stuff is overblown and unfair; however the threat is very real. Soldiers and contractors aren’t shooting themselves in the back; those civilian flights in and out aren’t as safe as you think. Fly Dubai is an excellent airline, brand-new 737s (if it ain’t Boeing, I ain’t going.)…they also have gigantic brass balls. Fly Dubai would fly into hell if they could get landing rights – all aboard, non-stop to Kabul, Grozny, and Mogadishu! Come to think of it Emirates has balls too. Who the hell flies to Yemen, Damascus, and Baghdad these days? They still won’t fly to Chicago though! Take solace in that fact that you will enjoy real silverware and excellent service as a MANPADS slams into your 777-300 and you spiral to your death.
One TCN was a member of a “brand name” terrorist group and he was actually neutralized and apprehended on one of these bases; up to the end his idiot expat boss kept babbling about what a great guy he was – the evidence was very damning. The South Africans (in general) were very arrogant; they thought that because they were white they weren’t TCNs and that they should enjoy full expat privileges because of the color of their skin…too bad. Failing them or denying their electronic privileges was particularly rewarding. The Indians, for the most part, were “company men”. Nothing was ever wrong, everything was A-OK….until they hadn’t gotten paid in months. I guess you guys shouldn’t have said everything was OK in your previous interviews; maybe we could have helped before your project manager blew your hard-earned wages on Kyrgyz hookers in Dubai. One thing that they did was the “head bobble”, I found it hypnotic and would sometimes find myself bobbling along. There were a lot of Russians there too, the men worked in aviation – some served there during the Soviet War in Afghanistan. They would smuggle vodka in sometimes (against the rules, of course) and they’d make this hooch called “samogan” – rocket fuel. There were some Russian girls there too, but nothing to write home about. The best TCNs were the Kenyans and the Nepalese; I can’t recall receiving any derogatory information about them.
The Afghans were interesting; in my experience they are shitty liars. I am not one of these guys that thinks he can “read body language” and know when someone is lying. I don’t discount neurolinguistics outright, but remember that foreign languages and mannerisms developed completely differently from ours. Even intra-Western communication styles can vary widely. When someone is manifesting physical traits he / she may be lying, or you may have just hit a sensitive topic. It is your job to probe that, not to just remove the guy because he blinked too much! Sometimes that is what happened. Most of the guys I worked with had either HUMINT or CI backgrounds, but a couple of hick cops got on the contract (not detectives) but rank and file cops-and they were incompetent to put it nicely. If this pseudoscience was fool-proof then polygraphs would be admissible in court. Polygraphs (and their little brother the Preliminary Credibility Assessment System) are indicators, many times they are accurate but sometimes they aren’t. Physical manifestations are indicators-they are not ends in themselves.
The best way to catch deception is with repeat and control questions – guys, feel free to try this with your teerak. A repeat is just what it sounds like, ask the question again but phrase it differently and let time some time pass before you ask it again. If the second answer diverges too much from the first then deception is likely. A control is a question that you already know the answer to, if the subject’s answer is way out there then deception is likely. Remember though that you won’t have a team of analysts (and technical assets) to help you nit-pick every detail and “get validity” on what you think is the truth. Back to the Afghans, especially the Pashtuns, they were hard people, much harder than the Iraqis. If they hate you they will show it on their faces. I was in a different career field when I was in Iraq, but I got the impression that the Iraqis were much better liars. At least their “tells” weren’t so obvious. Another trick that you can try out on your teerak is to mix a lot of truth with your lies. The best lies always have a ton of truth around them, which makes it very hard to uncover the lie. The lie shouldn’t be something outrageous like “I was nowhere near Soi 6”..when your girl’s friends clearly saw you walk into the Shag-Me-Senseless bar. A better lie is “I was at Soi 6 and I had a beer with Joe Q Public at the Shut Up and Blow Me bar, and then we went to Sluts-R-Us A Go-Go to look for a girl he liked”. Give them some of their own medicine; one of these days I’ll discuss a few counter-surveillance techniques so that you can monger in peace. I hope that you found this submission entertaining and informative.