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Blackwater fallout: Senate moves to rein in military contractors

The Senate holds a hearing Wednesday on ways to improve oversight of private military contractors, after a series of incidents involving Blackwater. On Tuesday, Rep. Jan Schakowsky and Sen. Bernie Sanders introduced a bill that would stop 'outsourcing' security missions.

By Gordon LuboldStaff writer / February 24, 2010

A private military contractor's armored vehicle rolls through al-Nisoor square,Baghdad, on Jan. 2. The Senate is holding a hearing Wednesday on ways to improve oversight of military contractors after a series of incidents involving Blackwater.

Khalid Mohammed/AP

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After several incidents of misbehavior in Afghanistan involving the military contractor Blackwater and its employees, US lawmakers are moving to provide greater oversight of an industry that, while key to American military success, may also be undermining the mission there.

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Even as US forces in Afghanistan operate under orders to protect Afghan civilians, erring on the side of caution and even holding their fire rather than risk harming them while fighting Taliban insurgents, concern is mounting that civilian contractors operate under a different set of rules – or simply don't follow the rules.

“If we don’t fix the problems of oversight and make sure contractors like Blackwater play by the rules and live up to their commitments, we’ll be doing a disservice to our troops by making their already-difficult and dangerous job even more so,” said Sen. Carl Levin (D) of Michigan. Senator Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, takes up the topic at a hearing Wednesday.

Other lawmakers this week introduced legislation to prevent the American military from “outsourcing” security missions to contractors.

Many of the contractors in Afghanistan are overseen by the State Department or USAID, and the Pentagon typically hires contractors only for training. So oversight of a firm like Blackwater/Xe, which provides security services, typically falls under State. Administration officials generallyhave recognized the problems stemming from contractor behavior, blaming the lack of resources to conduct proper oversight. It is unclear how administration officials view increased oversight from Congress.

“The behavior of private contractors has endangered our military, hurt relationships with foreign governments, and undermined our missions overseas,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D) of Illinois, in introducing the Stop Outsourcing Security Act with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) of Vermont. Tuesday.

But the Senate hearing Wednesday will focus on incidents involving Blackwater, now known as Xe Services, and a sister firm, Paravant, that have given lawmakers pause.

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