Published: April 26, 2012

The leading US-based NGO, International Relief and Development (IRD), has appointed UK based company Pilgrims as security provider for operations in two of the world’s most volatile societies. IRD, which works with the poorest communities in Afghanistan and Iraq to alleviate suffering and set them on the road to self sufficiency, has chosen the company to protect its teams on the ground, which include large numbers of locally-recruited staff and several overseas experts.

Pilgrims, whose experienced operatives include former officers of the UK and New Zealand Special Forces among others, has won a one year rolling contract to guard and facilitate movement of IRD personnel throughout Greater Baghdad, from the client’s base in the non-militarised ‘Red Zone’ to the majority Shia area of Sadr City, where the agency is currently active.

The company has also won the contract to protect IRD personnel and locations based in Afghanistan, including Kabul, Helmand and Kandahar, with local national personnel and expatriates working for Pilgrims on this operation.

“We are working with one of the world’s largest NGOs in several potentially hostile environments,” says Pilgrims’ operations manager, Gillan McNay. “The regulations in each country present tough challenges. Iraq’s Ministry of Interior is faced with a raft of difficult issues at a time of intense development; this means the requirements change frequently and Pilgrims has adapted to these more successfully than the great majority of other security providers. We are fully registered and licensed in Iraq and can secure clients throughout the country.”

“In Afghanistan, the government has just moved to a centralised system of security guarding, the Afghanistan Public Protection Force (APPF), in which overseas companies like ourselves are classified as risk-management companies who apply to the APPF for guards and equipment. That means more local personnel operate on the ground, while we provide them training, intelligence and expatriate risk management expertise.”

In Iraq, Pilgrims runs a security team of local personnel for IRD, co-ordinated by expatriate team leaders with international experience who face a range of operational challenges on a daily basis. “We are alert to dangers ranging from insurgent activity and public unrest through to some form of attack against personnel,” says McNay. “Our proven track record in Iraq, where we have conducted over 40,000 operations without loss of life to any of our clients, helped us considerably in the tendering process. In Afghanistan, we have run 10,000 operations since April 2008, again without loss of life. “

In Afghanistan, says McNay, threats to personnel come less from small-arms fire and roadside bombs, so prevalent in Iraq, and more from “spectacular” activity such as the recent attacks on the ISAF headquarters and the US Embassy in Kabul, or assassinations of one or two individual people working alongside local counterparts.

“We protect against this using planning, investment in local nationals and expatriate personnel training, and using our extensive infrastructure, including links with the Ministry of the Interior, and our own intelligence and information division to mitigate risks.”

By protecting and facilitating the work of an organisation like IRD, widely known to be politically neutral both on the ground and internationally, Pilgrims is contributing to the stable environment needed by these new democracies if they are to succeed.