Monday, January 4, 2010

The Real Numbers

Jeremy Scahill on the large numbers of private contractors that the US has in Afghanistan:

A hearing in Sen. Claire McCaskill’s Contract Oversightsubcommittee on contracting in Afghanistan has highlighted some important statistics that provide a window into the extent to which the Obama administration has picked up the Bush-era war privatization baton and sprinted with it. Overall, contractors now comprise a whopping 69% of the Department of Defense’s total workforce, “the highest ratio of contractors to military personnel in US history.” That’s not in one war zone—that’s the Pentagon in its entirety.
In Afghanistan, the Obama administration blows the Bush administration out of the privatized water. According to a memo[PDF] released by McCaskill’s staff,
“From June 2009 to September 2009, there was a 40% increase in Defense Department contractors in Afghanistan. During the same period, the number of armed private security contractors working for the Defense Department in Afghanistan doubled, increasing from approximately 5,000 to more than 10,000.”
At present, there are 104,000 Department of Defense contractors in Afghanistan. According to a report this week from the Congressional Research Service, as a result of the coming surge of 30,000 troops inAfghanistan, there may be up to 56,000 additional contractors deployed. But here is another group of contractors that often goes unmentioned: 3,600 State Department contractors and 14,000 USAID contractors. That means that the current total US force in Afghanistan is approximately 189,000 personnel (68,000 US troops and 121,000 contractors). And remember, that’s right now. And that, according to McCaskill, is a conservative estimate. A year from now, we will likely see more than 220,000 US-funded personnel on the ground in Afghanistan.

Private contractors are widely known to be more expensive than US military personnel. Even worse, there is very little oversight or accountability with private contractors. Fraud is rampant. And an example of what the lack of accountability will get you can be found in the Blackwater murders of unarmed, innocent Iraqi civilians in 2007, an atrocity which will go unpunished primarily because the perpetrators were private contractors. Iraqi's (and Muslims across the region) don't really care if soldiers or contractors kill innocent people; they want justice in either case. And when we do not give them justice, they retaliate, and more people die. So we end up with these mercenaries who are presumed to be acting as representatives of the US government, but who the US government can't really control. It's a bad situation.

So why do we have all of these contractors? Well, there is no doubt that some are needed. There are technical things that the US military isn't very good at; turbine repair, or network maintenance, for example. Here, contractors can help. But security? Why should we ever need to give a private contractor a weapon? Isn't this what the US military is supposed to do?

Well, yes, but when you've decided to flout the will of the American people and escalate a very unpopular war, it helps to be able to hide the true number of people you are sending to fight it.

Those 30,000 troops Obama is sending? That number doesn't include contractors. Contractors, you see, don't count as troops. Even when they are doing the jobs troops should be doing.

What does all this mean? We're spending more money than we should, and allowing mercenary soldiers to sully what's left of our national reputation, because the government doesn't want you to really know how many people are going to Afghanistan. Once again, politics trumps the national interest. 

I guess it isn't just Jim DeMint.


  1. What Jeremy Scahill fails to realize is that private is competent to carry firearms. Yes the use of force has traditionally been monopolized by the government approximately sixty years ago, but before that and in the current times the private sector has show to be a better solution. In some situations the private security companies have rescued US military personnel, and diplomats when the government either didn't care or have the capability.

    What I would like to ask Jeremy Scahill is what he thinks about domestic private armed security protecting government buildings such as the Pentagon, or military bases? Would he characterize these people as mercenaries and shouldn't take positions usually reserved for government employees?

    BTW Nice paragliding picture at the bottom.

  2. When has the private sector ever shown itself to be good at fighting wars?

    War is the ultimate expression of politics and sovereignty. To hand that responsibility over to a private company, which is unaccountable and free to hire foreign employees, is, in my opinion, insane.

    The only reason we do it is because our government doesn't want to admit exactly how many people its sending over there. Well, that and because Blackwater, etc, have very good lobbyists.

    I do not think the private security should be guarding the Pentagon-or our airports for that matter. The responsibility and control of armed forces in a democratic society must remain with the government.

    Look at the Blackwater killings in Iraq. How much damage did they do to American security? It's immeasurable. And as we now see, Blackwater is above the law. Literally. The US government needs direct control over people who are going to be killing in its name. They do not have that with private contractors.

    Are you a pilot?