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July 24th, 2009
06:56 AM ET

More troops, but what about contractors?

by Suzanne Simons
CNN Executive Producer and Author, Master of War: Blackwater USA's Erik Prince and the Business of War

As the missions in both Iraq and Afghanistan continue to evolve, Defense Secretary Robert Gates is expanding the U.S. military by some 22,000 troops, in part, to give relief to those who have already been through lengthy rotations.

But with overall plans to reduce the numbers of troops in Iraq by a whopping 80,000 in the coming year, (there are 140,000 there now) what will that mean for contractors, who already outnumber troops in Iraq performing duties that range from driving supplies to cooking breakfast?

The Congressionally-appointed Commission on Wartime Contracting reported last month that more than 240,000 contractors work for the Department of Defense in Iraq and Afghanistan. That doesn’t include those working for the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The Department of Defense says their overall plans will likely lead to a reduction of contractors, though it won’t happen as quickly as the troop reduction, in part because someone needs to stay behind to do the work.

“The decrease will not directly parallel the withdrawal of U.S. troops as there are a number of residual missions that contractors will continue to perform as U.S. forces drawdown” says Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell.

The Commission reported just last month that, while private contractors executed many of their support tasks well, the contracting system was still greatly flawed some six years after it was instituted in precedent-setting numbers following the Iraq war.

While the U.S. missions are critically dependent on contractors, there is still no complete accounting of all of the contracted support the DoD relies on according to the Commission. In one of the most notorious contractor incidents of the Iraq war, a group of Blackwater contractors fired their weapons in a Baghdad traffic circle killing between 14-17 Iraqis. U.S. Prosecutors have brought charges against the contractors, who say they were only responding to hostile fire.

The incident prompted a political firestorm when the Iraqi government demanded the company’s ouster, and the U.S. State Department negotiated for the company it deemed critical to its ability to function in Iraq, to stay. But in one of the most shocking highlights of the communication problems that existed between contractors and the military - the U.S. Col. in charge of the sector that day, J.B. Burton, wasn’t even told that the contractors would be moving through his area. The glaring absence of communication highlights the inherent problems of a contracting system thrown together far too quickly.

The Commission is the closest that the U.S. has come to addressing those serious concerns that also include weaknesses in the oversight and contracting process, which have created opportunities over the years for fraud and abuse on a number of levels.

Filed under: Tony Harris
soundoff (11 Responses)
  1. Larry

    Military contractors are just another example of fraud and abuse in our military system. Hundreds of companies have gotten obesely wealthy on these wars (Haliburton).

    What is it going to take for our government to wake up to the fact that with all our financial problems at home we cannot afford these wars. Will our economy have to collapse completely? Ever since Reagan (Star Wars Defense) we've been spending money we don't have in this country, now it's gotten completely out of hand

    You want to finance health care reform and a host of other programs? END THE WARS!

    July 24, 2009 at 7:32 am |
  2. michael armstrong sr.

    Why dont the military just create its own contractors .

    July 24, 2009 at 9:18 am |
  3. Dr. G

    I would like to know why it seems you guys do not report the number of contractor deaths. Whenever you report the number of service men that have died in either Iraq or Afghanistan, you never report the contractor deaths. I would like to know how many TOTAL AMERICANS have died in both Iraq and Afghanistan since the beginning of this war. The figure "4,643 coalition deaths - 4,330 Americans" does not include contractors! Why not?

    July 24, 2009 at 10:03 am |
  4. d stinson

    Tony, can Jerry answer this question. My daughter bought her first home in Las Vegas two years ago, just as values were dropping. Within six month her job was eliminated and she had to leave the state to find work. She's been fortunate renting the house since, but is carrying a pretty large negative. There's opportunity to buy in California where she now resides however, value of home in LV has dropped so she has no equity if she sells – she might even have to add cash to close a sale! She's getting negative signs from attempts to refinance. (Never been delinquent). Is there a way she can justify refinancing? She can't sell without a huge loss but if she could refinance at least she wouldn't have to carry a negative and then possibly could qualify for a purchase in California. Thanks!

    July 24, 2009 at 1:00 pm |
  5. singh

    from personal experience i know cops do make racial comments.
    i am a small business owner from jackson ms and was arrested for shooting in city limits when i was only trying to protect my place of business.i am east indian and not to many indians live around the jackson area and the african american cop that arrested me did make racial comments. if we call for help cops dont show up for 30 mins to an hour and if we take matter into our own hands they want to put charges on us rather then helping the business owner.

    July 30, 2009 at 11:17 am |
  6. Terry Hunsucker

    Hi Tony,

    I think it is tragic that the President of the United States made the comments to the press on the Gates situation, and I think it is more tragic that a message is being sent to the children of the world that the correct way to mediate differences is to do so over a beers. Thanks for your time and consideration.

    Terry Hunsucker

    July 30, 2009 at 11:53 am |
  7. jai quinn

    why did some one get arrested for raising his voice? the officers mocho image was hurt, so he retaliated. Also im sure no police report has never been filled with the information the officer wanted to get across to justify his actions.....JQ

    July 30, 2009 at 11:55 am |
  8. Donna

    Word on the street is that we are headed to a DEPRESSION and cant come back ffom all the debt . Also we are jsut too behind on going green with other engery sources to make a difference compared to other countries

    July 31, 2009 at 12:09 pm |
  9. Donna

    if we need spec ops folks to commit certain missions with laser like precision thye should be paid more OR our militarys alllow power to the rangers and seals to independetly complete missions on the gorund they know must be done. Let them. This is not vietnam this is mountain terrain IUDs and the role of lethal snipers are underestimated let them get paid for their levl of experience

    July 31, 2009 at 12:15 pm |
  10. mike sey

    Shades of General Westmorland – more troops for Afghanistan. Funny how the troops tucked in the Castle remind one of Vietnam and its Fire bases. What's next fortified villages ? For how long before law and order is established?

    Seems to me that the one thing the Taliban establishes wherever it goes is law and order although it may not be the same version as exists in Boise, Idaho.

    July 31, 2009 at 1:03 pm |
  11. DALE

    Post Office Question on Tony's 11 am show-Aug 6
    I use the post office, but 5 days a week is enough.
    They could a LOT of money, also, by not sponsoring
    the olympics, etc

    August 6, 2009 at 11:15 am |

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