US use of private contractors in war hits record high

They make up 57 percent of Pentagon's personnel in Afghanistan, report shows.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

In Afghanistan, the US military is relying on private contractors to an extent unprecedented in American history.

Contractors have a long history with US units: In the Revolutionary War, George Washington leaned on them for everything from transportation to the provision of clothing and weapons. In recent conflicts, private workers typically have made up about half of the Department of Defense's total workforce

But in the Afghanistan conflict their use has climbed yet higher, according to a new Congressional Research Service (CRS) report. As of March, contractors made up 57 percent of the Pentagon's Afghanistan personnel.

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"This apparently [represents] the highest recorded percentage of contractors used by DoD in any conflict in the history of the United States," concludes the CRS study.

Congressional Research Service reports generally are not available for public dissemination. A copy of the contractor analysis was obtained by the Federation of American Scientists' Project on Government Secrecy, which posted it on its website.

As of March, there were 68,197 DoD contractors in Afghanistan and 52,300 uniformed US personnel, according to CRS.

This high contractor-to-uniform ratio is partly the result of the US providing some services to the more than 30,000 international troops in the country at the time and partly due to the US expansion of military facilities in Afghanistan prior to an anticipated "surge" in US troops.

Generally speaking, the vast majority of contractors are not rifle-wielding private guards, but construction workers, truck drivers, and other service personnel. For example, 16 percent of the Afghan contractors surveyed by CRS in March provided security services.

Most of the contractors were local Afghans. Of the approximately 68,000 total, about 9,300 were US citizens, 7,000 third-country nationals, and 52,000 local nationals, according to CRS figures.

Pentagon officials say their experience in both Iran and Afghanistan has led them improve their contractor management processes. CRS notes, however, that both the wasteful spending of contract management dollars and any abuses carried out by private security personnel could hurt US efforts to win over local hearts and minds.

"Abuses and crimes committed by armed private security contractors and interrogators against local nationals may have undermined US efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan," concludes the CRS study.

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