Afghanistan: The disappearance of a private security firm after employee deaths highlights the unaccountable nature of the industry, investigation reports

Author: Abigail Fielding-Smith and Crofton Black, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Published on: 5 February 2019

Death and disappearance: Inside the world of privatised war, 29 Janurary, 2019

In our latest Shadow Wars investigation, reporters Abbie Fielding-Smith and Crofton Black followed the strange story of Sabre, a major private military firm that suddenly vanished after a group of its Nepalese employees were killed in a bomb attack in Kabul. They dug into court records and spoke to survivors, and found that this wasn't even the first time Sabre had mysteriously vanished, even as it continued to win big contracts with Western governments. The story offers a window into the notoriously opaque world of private security, and illustrates the uneasy power dynamic at play in many conflict zones where people from poor countries are recruited to protect Westerners.

…Sabre was recruiting guards for the Canadian embassy. It was offering…an…insurance payout in the event of death or total disability - $300,000. For Thapa [one of Sabres recruits], knowing his family would be well provided for if the worst happened was what swung it for him…Afterwards, $30,000…was transferred into the bank accounts of each survivor or victim’s family, without any paperwork or explanation…It was only a little more than the amount Thapa has already lost through being unable to work. After having to pay for three operations and regular physiotherapy himself, he fell into debt, and still needs another two serious operations.

…[Thapa] and others questioned why the payment was a tenth of what they insist had originally been promised…The answer came in a September 2016 email from Sabre’s management to Tamang. In the message, which was obtained by lawyers working on the Nepalis’ case, Sabre said that the $300,000 figure was based on a mistaken interpretation of an old document, and argued that $30,000 was "more than the majority of policies from private security companies”. To the question of why employees were not informed that their coverage had been drastically cut, the company said: “Personnel are not required to be advised”…That email was one of the last signs of life offered by Sabre. Frank McDonald [founder of Sabre] has left virtually no digital footprint behind, and did not respond to requests for comment on this article sent via Schillings, a Britain-based law firm and public relations company, which says it represents the former management of Sabre International Security Ltd Afghanistan. Namir El Akabi [an initial partner with Mcdonald] agreed to be interviewed, but said he was not responsible for the management of Sabre’s Afghan operation.

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Related companies: Sabre International