In an interview with the Pakistani TV station Express TV, Defense Secretary Robert Gates confirmed that the private security firms Blackwater and DynCorp are operating inside Pakistan. “They’re operating as individual companies here in Pakistan,” Gates said, according to a DoD transcript of the interview. “There are rules concerning the contracting companies. If they’re contracting with us or with the State Department here in Pakistan, then there are very clear rules set forth by the State Department and by ourselves.”
This appears to be a contradiction of previous statements made by the Defense Department, by Blackwater, by the Pakistani government and by the US embassy in Islamabad, all of whom claimed Blackwater was not in the country. In September, the US Ambassador to Pakistan, Anne Patterson, denied Blackwater’s presence in the country, stating bluntly, “Blackwater is not operating in Pakistan.” In December in The Nation magazine, I reported on Blackwater’s work for JSOC in Pakistan and on a subcontract with a private Pakistani security company. The Pentagon did not issue any clear public denials, and instead tried to pass the buck to the State Department, which in turn passed it to the US embassy, which in turn issued an unsigned statement saying the story was false.
Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik has said on numerous occasions that he would resign if it is proven that Blackwater is operating inside Pakistan.
Asked what the US response would be if the Pakistani parliament passed a law banning private security companies, Gates said, “If it’s Pakistani law, we will absolutely comply.”
Asked about Seymour Hersh’s recent report in The New Yorker that US special forces were inside Pakistan helping to secure the country’s nuclear weapons, Gates said, “Well, you know, we sometimes have journalistic reports in the United States that aren’t terribly accurate either. You can’t respond to all of them. I think that one was not true.”
Update: The Wall Street Journal reports: Defense officials tried to clarify the comment Thursday night, telling reporters that Mr. Gates had been speaking about contractor oversight more generally and that the Pentagon didn’t employ Xe in Pakistan.