The Afghan government has tapped a global law firm that previously lobbied for President Barack Obama‘s 2009 troop surge to help organize meetings for President Ashraf Ghani during his visit to Washington this week.
Squire Patton Boggs (SPB) is notably expected to organize meetings on Capitol Hill, where several Republicans and even some Democrats have criticized President Joe Biden‘s plans to withdraw the remaining 2,500 or so US troops by Sept. 11. Ghani is expected to seek reassurances that the US will continue to support the Afghan security forces and not abandon the country to a resurgent Taliban and other militant groups.
“Activities may include outreach to various congressional members and staff, think tanks and NGOs in advance of President Ashraf Ghani’s upcoming trip to Washington, DC,” the firm said in a newly disclosed registration under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).
The engagement, which was effective June 21, is with Afghan National Security Adviser Hamdullah Mohib, who previously served as ambassador to the US from 2015 to 2018. The two parties have yet to agree on fees or a written contract.
The congressional push comes as the Afghan government is looking at multiple avenues to try to mitigate the US withdrawal, said Bill Roggio, a senior fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and editor of its Long War Journal, which tracks the War on Terror.
“The security situation is really bad in Afghanistan,” Roggio said. “The Afghans will lobby anyone they can to try to maintain the maximum amount of support they can get.”
SPB is one of the biggest lobbying firms in Washington and brought in $24 million in revenue last year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. It represents a slew of foreign clients including the governments of China, Angola and South Korea.
Squire Patton Boggs employees contributed $84,600 to Biden’s presidential campaign and $79,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) in the 2019-2020 cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The firm’s political action committee gave another $30,000 to the DSCC.
The firm has registered no fewer than five lobbyists on the Afghan account, including several veterans of the Obama-Biden administration. They include senior partner John Deschauer Jr. (bio), the head of the firm’s Defense Public Policy Practice Group and a former director of Senate Affairs at the Department of Defense under Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
Also registered are David Stewart (bio), a former policy director to then-House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio); Thomas Andrews (bio), a special assistant to the president for legislative affairs under Barack Obama; Rodney Emery (bio), who served as director of congressional affairs for the Commerce Department’s International Trade Administration (ITA) under Obama; and Robert Kapla (bio), a former special assistant to the Bill Clinton administration who heads the firm’s Public Policy Practice Group.
While the firm has never previously registered to lobby for the Afghan government, Patton Boggs represented a group called the Campaign for U.S.-Afghanistan Partnership prior to its merger with Squire Sanders in 2014. The campaign supported President Obama’s troop surge back in 2009. Lobbying records show the firm received $250,000 from the group that year.
According to an investigation by The Nation, the campaign was conceived by Patton Boggs itself on behalf of Hamed Wardak, an Afghan-American government contractor and the son of Afghanistan’s defense minister at the time, Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak. Wardak’s company, NCL Holdings, came under investigation a decade ago as part of a $2.2 billion Department of Defense contract for trucking services in Afghanistan that triggered a congressional investigation into allegations that contractors were paying off the Taliban to prevent attacks on supply lines.
Patton Boggs later lobbied for NCL Holdings itself, pocketing $50,000 in the 4th quarter of 2011. Kapla lobbied for both the Campaign for U.S.-Afghanistan Partnership and NCL Holdings before registering on the new contract for Ghani.
The new registration comes as the Afghan government had been without lobbying representation since last summer. A review of lobbying records shows the Afghan government paid three firms a total of just under $400,000 since the last election in 2014.
Afghan lobbying (since 2014)
Sept. 2018 – Aug. 2020
Sept. 2018 – Feb. 2020
Sonoran Policy Group
Aug. 2017 – Nov. 2017
Meanwhile the US-based Afghanistan-U.S. Democratic Peace and Prosperity Council has been lobbying for a conditions-based withdrawal. The council has four lobbying and public relations firms on its payroll — Wise Capital Strategy; Bullpen Strategy Group; Jake Perry + Partners and DunCap Strategies — and is funded by Afghan businessman Mohammad Gul Raoufi. Three Afghan lawmakers sit on its board of advisers: Mir Haider Afzaly, Naheed Farid and Haji Ajmal Rahmani.