Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Privatized Iraq and the Expansion of Private Contractors into Afghanistan

President Bush recently announced that he would be sending nearly 5,000 more troops into Afghanistan. Bush stated: "This continuing commitment to the Afghan people illustrates a stark contrast: While the terrorists and extremists deliberately target and murder the innocent, coalition and Afghan forces risk their lives to protect the innocent." Presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain have both voiced support for increasing troop levels in Afghanistan, but Barack Obama feels that Bush's plan does not go far enough. Obama recently stated, "His plan comes up short. It is not enough troops not enough resources with not enough urgency." While both major candidates for President may agree on sending more troops into the region, a conversation that is rarely discussed is the increased presence of private military contractors within the borders of Afghanistan and the expansion of military basis that hint at a long-term U.S. presence.

The presence of private military contractors inside Iraq's borders has been documented by some within the corporate media and investigated thoroughly by independent journalist Jeremy Scahill. Scahill published a book in 2007 entitled: Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army in which he outlines the activities of the private military company Blackwater Worldwide. Blackwater has provided security for contractors, diplomats, and other high-level personnel in Iraq since initially receiving a no-bid contract for $21 million to guard Paul Bremer after the 2003 invasion. Blackwater continues to have their contracts renewed despite their involvement in incidents such as the Nisour Square Massacre, in which 17 unarmed Iraqi civilians were gunned down by Blackwater employees. While arguably the most notable private contracting firm in Iraq, Blackwater is only one of many companies that has a presence in the region. In a recent piece in the Christian Science Monitor, it is estimated that there are now over 190,000 private contractors in Iraq as of early 2008, a figure that outnumbers U.S. troops in the country. This continued reliance on such contracting firms, in addition to the expansion of the "Green Zone" and other military bases in the country, indicates that the United States is focused on a long-term presence in Iraq. With both major Presidential Candidates wanting to shift the focus from Iraq to Afghanistan and given the announcement of the increase of troops by President Bush, some familiar patterns are beginning to surface.

In a recent article that appeared in the Washington Post, it is reported that the Pentagon has issued a proposal seeking civilian contractors to begin performing various tasks in Afghanistan. It is also revealed that the Defense Department are seeking firms that could supply airborne surveillance services. Other contracts are also being put out by various governmental organizations for a wide range of materials. One contract asks for a contractor who can provide 22 medium to heavy lift helicopters and another for a contractor who can provide storage for 4,600 vehicles. A very telling quote from the article is from Rep. David Price of North Carolina. He says, "The military is stretched very thin, and to keep low the deployments numbers, there is a tendency to go to contractors who have played a huge part in Iraq."

With the expansion of troops to the region and the increased number of requests for private contractors, it is also relevant to look at the expansion of the Bagram prison facility in Afghanistan. Bagram is currently being expanded thanks to a $50 million dollar contract that was awarded from the Army Corps of Engineers to Prime Projects International to expand the prison facility so that it will be able to hold 1,000 high and low risk detainees. This project is not slated to be complete until October 2009. In addition to the physical expansion of the facility, the Pentagon is also looking to expand the role of intelligence operations at the Bagram facility. It was reported by USAToday that interrogators and analysts are being sought by the Pentagon to questions prisoners and provide intelligence that can be used on the battlefield. The report also states that the Pentagon is looking to hire a "trained Mullah" to conduct Islamic services for the detainees and advise the United States on religious issues.

Iraq has been the most privatized war that the United States has ever been involved in. The private contracting firms have never seen business booming at such a rapid rate. The Congressional Budget Office released a report in August, 2008 in which they stated:

The United States has used contractors during previous military operations, although not to the current extent. According to rough historical data, the ratio of about one contractor employee for every member of the U.S. armed forces in the Iraq theater is at least 2.5 times higher than that ratio during any other major U.S. conflict, although it is roughly comparable with the ratio during operations in the Balkans in the 1990s.

The rise in the privatization of the Iraq War has created a template for maximum profitability on services that are carried out by private contractors and often relied upon during a time of war. As private contractors are used more and more to provide services once performed by the military, accountability to international laws and regulations give way to an accountability to the bottom line. This privatization strategy has been embraced by the political leadership of the United States and is now being expanded to play a more prominent role in Afghanistan. This issue needs to be raised during this election season. While John McCain is largely silent on the issue of private contractors, Barack Obama spoke out against the role of contractors in October 2007; however when questioned by journalist Amy Goodman on the issue this summer, Obama refused to state that he would ban contractors from Iraq if elected. Video of that exchange can be found here. Now, as Obama is calling for a greater number of troops in Afghanistan, it is apparent that the level of contractors will only increase as this has been the model that has shown itself to be the best system for large profits. Will these questions be addressed? Is the expansion of the role of private contractors viewed as a problem by political leadership? Perhaps the answer lies in following the money. From a piece written by Aziz Choudry on

An April 2008 Centre for Responsive Politics report states that US Congress members invested US $196 million of their own money in companies that receive hundreds of millions of dollars a day from Pentagon contracts to provide goods and services to US armed forces, ranging from aircraft and weapons manufacturers to producers of medical supplies and soft drinks.

Or perhaps part of the answer lies in an understanding of the foundation of the very conflict with which the U.S. has been involved in since 2001. It is summed up most recently by Seth Jones, a military analyst with the think tank RAND Corp:

"One thing we have not taken advantage of is just trying to understand what is motivating people to join the insurgency."

This article can also be found at

No comments: