Volume 35, Issue 1
COUNTY'S NEWS MONTHLY - FREE PRESS
"Contractors" Represent 69% of US Combatants In Afghanistan
to popular belief, the US actually has 189,000 personnel on the ground
in Afghanistan right now-and that number is quickly rising.
By Jeremy Scahill
December 18, 2009 "RebelReports" A hearing in Sen. Claire McCaskill's
Contract Oversight subcommittee 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."
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 in
Afghanistan, 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.
The US has spent more than $23 billion on contracts in Afghanistan
since 2002. By next year, the number of contractors will have doubled
since 2008 when taxpayers funded over $8 billion in Afghanistan-related
Despite the massive number of
contracts and contractors in Afghanistan, oversight is utterly lacking.
"The increase in Afghanistan contracts has not seen a corresponding
increase in contract management and oversight," according to
McCaskill's briefing paper.
"In May 2009, DCMA
[Defense Contract Management Agency] Director Charlie Williams told the
Commission on Wartime Contracting that as many as 362 positions for
Contracting Officer's Representatives (CORs) in Afghanistan were
A former USAID official,
Michael Walsh, the former director of USAID's Office of Acquisition and
Assistance and Chief Acquisition Officer, told the Commission that many
USAID staff are "administering huge awards with limited knowledge of or
experience with the rules and regulations." According to one USAID
official, the agency is "sending too much money, too fast with too few
people looking over how it is spent." As a result, the agency does not
"know ... where the money is going."
administration is continuing the Bush-era policy of hiring contractors
to oversee contractors. According to the McCaskill memo:
In Afghanistan, USAID is relying on contractors to provide oversight of
its large reconstruction and development projects. According to
information provided to the Subcommittee, International Relief and
Development (IRD) was awarded a five-year contract in 2006 to oversee
the $1.4 billion infrastructure contract awarded to a joint venture of
the Louis Berger Group and Black and Veatch Special Projects.
USAID has also awarded a contract Checci and Company to provide support
for contracts in Afghanistan.
security industry and the US government have pointed to the
Synchronized Predeployment and Operational Tracker (SPOT) as evidence
of greater government oversight of contractor activities. But
McCaskill's subcommittee found that system utterly lacking, stating:
"The Subcommittee obtained current SPOT data showing that there are
currently 1,123 State Department contractors and no USAID contractors
working in Afghanistan." Remember, there are officially 14,000 USAID
contractors and the official monitoring and tracking system found none
of these people and less than half of the State Department contractors.
As for waste and abuse, the subcommittee says that the Defense Contract
Audit Agency identified more than $950 million in questioned and
unsupported costs submitted by Defense Department contracts for work in
Afghanistan. That's 16% of the total contract dollars reviewed.
Jeremy Scahill is the author of the international best seller
Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army. He is
a frequent contributor to The Nation magazine and a correspondent for
the national radio and TV program Democracy Now! He is currently a
Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at The Nation Institute. Scahill has
won numerous awards for his reporting, including the prestigious George
Polk Award, which he won twice. While a correspondent for Democracy
Now!, Scahill reported extensively from Iraq through both the Clinton
and Bush administrations.
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