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Security Problems At US Bases In Iraq Cause Serious Concern

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WASHINGTON — U.S. military officials want to know if an employee for a private security contractor was fired for telling investigators about serious deficiencies in training and equipment for Ugandan guards hired to protect an American base in Iraq.

Information about John Wayne Nash's sudden departure from Iraq after he met with staff from the Commission on Wartime Contracting was forwarded by U.S. Central Command to the office of the Pentagon inspector general.

The inspector general's military reprisal investigation unit is reviewing the material to determine if a full inquiry is warranted, according to a defense official who requested anonymity because he is not allowed to publicly discuss the matter.

The military relies on hired guards at bases in Iraq so troops are available for combat duties. Overall, there are five companies providing security at bases in Iraq under contracts with an estimated value of $250 million.

A majority of the guards are from Uganda and other East African countries. Guard salaries are about $700 a month on average.

Nash, a retired Marine Corps master gunnery sergeant, was security contractor Triple Canopy's on-site manager at Forwarding Operating Base Delta, which is about 90 miles south of Baghdad.

Triple Canopy of Herndon, Va. denies Nash was disciplined. Jayanti Menches, a company spokeswoman, says he is still employed and is currently home on a regular rotation.

But the commission has a different version of events. The independent panel is investigating waste and fraud in wartime spending.

During a fact-finding visit to Base Delta on April 4-5, commission staff were told by military contracting officers that the Triple Canopy guards don't have enough vehicles to do the job and must rely on the Army for transportation. Basic personal gear, such as gloves, is often scarce.

Triple Canopy holds the $35 million security contract at Base Delta. Under the terms of the contract, awarded in September 2007, the company is required to provide all labor, weapons and other equipment that the guards need.

Nash had been instructed by his superiors at Triple Canopy not to meet with the commission staff, according to Bob Dickson, the panel's executive director. Nash did so anyway and confirmed what they'd been told by the contracting officers. Shortly after that, Dickson and others on the commission learned he'd been dismissed.

"We talked with him one day, and he was leaving the country five days later," Dickson said.

Reached at his home in Jacksonville, N.C., Nash referred questions to his lawyer in Washington. In a brief note to The Associated Press, the lawyer, Thomas Fay, would only say that he is representing Nash "in connection with the circumstances surrounding his departure from Iraq as an employee of Triple Canopy."

Menches said Triple Canopy "is completely contract compliant at FOB Delta."

During their visit to Iraq, Dickson and other staff found Forward Operating Base Hammer had similar problems, including a shortage of weapons and night vision gear and poorly trained guards.

U.S. officers at Base Hammer said they did not feel secure due to the inadequate qualifications and training of the guards, according to information the commission has sent to military authorities, members of Congress and the State Department. The officers at Hammer required the Sabre guards to take a 40-hour course on security operations before they could begin working.

Sabre International Security, based in Baghdad, has a $42 million contract to provide security at Base Hammer. Sabre representatives could not be reached for comment.

Concerned the equipment and training deficiencies leave the bases vulnerable, the Commission on Wartime Contracting alerted military officials in Iraq and at Central Command in Tampa, Fla.

"Incidents such as this are a concern in their own right, but they are a particular concern to the commission if they prove to be indicators of broader, systemic problems that impede the delivery of critical services to American military forces in a war zone," Dickson said.

Army Lt. Col. Brian Maka, a spokesman for Multi-National Force-Iraq, said contracting officials have taken the commission's findings seriously. "Security contractors at both sites have corrected or are in the process of correcting deficiencies," Maka said.

Sen. James Webb, D-Va., a co-sponsor of the legislation establishing the Wartime Contracting Commission, said it would be "unacceptable" if any contractor employees were terminated for cooperating with the commission.

"An employee of a government-contracted firm does not contract away his or her obligation _ not right _ to talk forthrightly with properly constructed government inquiries," Webb said in a statement to the AP.


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