The military is increasingly relying on private security contractors as President Obama ramps up the war in Afghanistan, with contractors now making up as much as 30% of the armed force in the country, a just-released congressional report shows.
In the period roughly tracking with President Obama’s first nine months in office, the number of Defense Department armed security contractors soared 236% — from 3,184 to 10,712 between December 2008 to September 2009. The number roughly doubled between June and September 2009 alone.
The new Congressional Research Service report also calculates that contractors in Afghanistan make up between 22% and 30% of the armed U.S. force in Afghanistan.
The news of the surge in private security contractors comes as the total number of contractors — including those who do construction, cook meals, etc — is also soaring, with over 100,000 already in Afghanistan.
It’s worth noting two points here to clarify the role and makeup of the contractor army: first, 90% of the DOD private security contractors in Afghanistan are Afghan nationals, according to the report. Second, contractors are barred by DOD regulations from taking part in “offensive” operations. However, the numbers in this report refers to armed contractors who may well be taking part in combat.
“Many analysts believe that armed security contractors are taking part in combat operations, arguing in part that international law makes no distinction between the offensive or defensive nature of participation in combat,” the report notes.
The congressional report discusses pros (e.g., ease of firing and hiring) and cons of using private security contractors. Some analysts say contractor abuses, allowed in part by lax oversight, can badly damage U.S. counterinsurgency efforts in Afghanistan. The report says:
U.S. efforts can also be undermined when DOD has ties with groups that kill civilians or government officials, even if the perpetrators were not working for DOD when the killings took place. In June 2009, the provincial police chief of Kandahar, Afghanistan, was killed by a group that worked as a private security contractor for DOD.
An Army Times story in December described how Afghan national security contractors were “wreaking havoc” along a convoy route in Kandahar, including “killing and wounding more than 30 innocent civilians.”
The numbers in this report do not account for security contractors working for agencies like the State Department and the CIA (for example the two Blackwater guards who were killed at a CIA base in Afghanistan earlier this month).
Meanwhile, the number of security contractors is decreasing in Iraq, from 13,232 in June 2009 to 11,162 in September.
Here’s the full report: