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Tags: afghanistan | azerbaijan | air force

Air Force Blocks Generals from Suspicious Foreign Consulting Deals

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Air Force seal (Dreamstime)

By    |   Monday, 05 December 2022 01:01 PM EST

During the war in Afghanistan, U.S. military leaders flew to Azerbaijan to meet with its president Ilham Aliyev, despite reports comparing the man to mafia bosses in "The Godfather."

Pentagon officials persuaded Aliyev to open the country's borders and airspace that were critical to U.S. and NATO supply routes to Afghanistan. In exchange the U.S. offered a diplomatic partnership with Aliyev and $369 million in defense contracts to Silk Way Airlines, an Azerbaijan cargo carrier.

Duncan McNabb and William Fraser III — the two Air Force generals — who oversaw the supply routes from 2008 to 2014 later tried to cash in on their Azerbaijan connections. Upon retiring, the generals negotiated valuable consulting deals with Silk Way Airlines, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post.

Usually, the Pentagon and State Department approve requests from retired U.S. military personnel to work for foreign powers or companies operated by a foreign government. According to the documents, when the Air Force had learned about McNabb's and Fraser's business ventures in Azerbaijan, it was flagged as a potential embarrassment and a risk to national security.

The case initiated a prolonged feud between the retired generals and R. Philip Deavel, a civilian Air Force lawyer.

Files detailed how two high-ranking U.S. military commanders tried to profit from a foreign relationship during wartime. Deavel, who, as the director of the Air Force Review Boards Agency, was responsible for reviewing such arrangements, raised an inquiry because the U.S. military had worked with Silk Way Airlines while McNabb and Fraser managed the supply routes through Azerbaijan.

In a 2015 confidential memo, Deavel warned his superiors that "we should do nothing that would cause Congress or the media to question whether the hundreds of millions of dollars flowing to Silk Way are solely for valid national security needs."

The retired generals still pressed Air Force officials to approve the deal anyway.

According to the 2015 memo, Fraser warned that if the U.S. government prevented him from working with Silk Way, it would result in "blow-back" from Azerbaijan, and Aliyev's government may even block U.S. and NATO supply routes to Afghanistan.

Fraser and McNabb are among more than 500 retired U.S. military personnel who have sought federal permission over the past eight years to accept jobs as consultants or contractors for foreign governments, according to a Post investigation. The two generals accumulated many foreign contracts while leading the U.S. Transportation Command (Transcom), the logistics arm responsible for moving troops and supplies.

McNabb headed the command between 2008 and 2011. Fraser succeeded him and held the job until retiring in 2014.

In a classified 2009 diplomatic cable made public by WikiLeaks, the U.S. Embassy in Baku described Aliyev as "a mix" of Michael and Sonny Corleone, the mobsters of "The Godfather" novel and film. Aliyev wanted things on his terms. The U.S. paid for the supply routes. Silk Way Airlines received $269 million in U.S. defense contracts during McNabb's tenure at Transcom.

McNabb set up a consulting firm, Ares Mobility Solutions after Silk Way offered to hire him as an advisor. He would visit Baku every three to five months to work a few days a visit.

According to federal law, retired U.S. military personnel who have served at least 20 years are required to obtain permission from their branch of the armed forces and the State Department before they accept anything of value from foreign powers or companies controlled by foreign governments.

Fraser retired from the Air Force in 2014, and within days of retirement, he received a job offer from Silk Way Group — the corporate parent of Silk Way Airlines and other businesses with the Silk Way name.

Unlike McNabb, Fraser sought permission from the Air Force to work for Silk Way. His "going rate" as a consultant was $5,000 a day. Deavel ultimately denied Fraser's application on Sept. 30, 2014. "Ultimately, I cannot find the proposed relationship in the best interests of the United States," he wrote.

Fraser warned Deavel about possible "blow-back for the United States" if the Air Force didn't allow him to work for Silk Way, according to Deavel's memo.

In 2015 filings with the U.S. Department of Transportation, Silk Way Group said another private firm, Silk Way Development LLC, owned it. That entity was listed as 95% owned by Zaur Akhundov, the founder of Silk Way Airlines.

Fraser's son, Gen. William "Mac" Fraser IV, worked part-time for Silk Way West Airlines. He said he was unaware of his father receiving an offer to work for Silk Way West Airlines around the same time as he did.

"Me and my father have never crossed paths professionally and his business is completely separate and apart from mine," said Mac Fraser.

Mac, having only served four years, was not required to seek federal approval for his jobs in Azerbaijan.

After Gen. Fraser's second application, Deavel thought it would be "useful for American interests," according to the case files. The State Department put its foot down in disagreement, saying it "strongly disagree[d] with Gen. Fraser's assessment" that there would be "diplomatic 'blow-back' from the Government of Azerbaijan."

Deavel soon learned from the State Department that McNabb had been working as a Silk Way consultant without federal approval. Deavel reported that Transcom had awarded 2,230 cargo airlift missions to Silk Way during McNabb's tenure, plus 1,117 missions while Fraser was in command, costing $369 million.

The Air Force inspector general's office completed its investigation into McNabb in November 2015 and concluded he had violated the law by failing to seek permission for foreign-government employment. The Defense Department then docked his pension, but he was not awarded any criminal penalties.

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During the war in Afghanistan, U.S. military leaders flew to Azerbaijan to meet with its president Ilhan Aliyev, despite reports comparing the man to mafia bosses in "The Godfather."
afghanistan, azerbaijan, air force
Monday, 05 December 2022 01:01 PM
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