The Other Afghanistan Surge: Contractors

Friday, December 04, 2009

While the media focuses on the number “30,000” (as in the number of new troops being sent to Afghanistan), an even larger number has widely been ignored: 100,000. This figure represents approximately the number of contractors working in the country at the behest of the U.S. government—a figure that is mostly a guess because no one in the Obama administration can or is willing to offer the exact total.

Based on statistics released by the Defense Department, the number of contractors in Afghanistan jumped by 40% between the end of June and the end of September. The Wall Street Journal reported the total to be 104,101, with the vast majority (78,430) being locals hired by companies contracting with the Pentagon. No one is sure how many contractors handle security, as Blackwater did in Iraq. Guesstimates range from 7% to 16%. These contractors are armed and providing protection that frees up soldiers for other operations. However, Army officials have complained that some of these security contractors actually hamper operations because they are “trigger-happy.” Private guards have killed or wounded more than 30 innocent civilians in one district—Maywand—of western Kandahar Province alone. The rest of the contractors handle duties like serving food, driving trucks, construction work and transporting fuel.
The inability on the part of the administration to precisely report how many contractors are in Afghanistan has resulted in criticism from former and non-governmental sources. Michael Thibault, co-chair of the bipartisan Commission on Wartime Contracting, has said the uncertainty over the contractor force size “permits and invites waste, fraud and abuse of taxpayer money and undermines the achievement of U.S. mission objectives.” When military officials failed to provide Congress with exact totals at a committee hearing, former GOP congressman Christopher Shays said, “I kind of want to scream.”
-Noel Brinkerhoff
U.S. Adding Contractors at Fast Pace (by August Cole, Wall Street Journal)
Trigger-Happy Security Complicates Convoys (by Sean D. Naylor, Army Times)
The Private Contracting Surge Into Afghanistan (by Kelley B. Vlahos.


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