Christian Living

bootsontheground 09/15/09

The Other Army in Afghanistan

IMG_2466KABUL, Afghanistan - While the Pentagon and Congress dicker over the need for increased troop levels in Afghanistan, another army has been quietly increasing its numbers here - an army of private contractors.

Halliburton, Triple Canopy, Dyncorp, Blackwater (now XE) and many more - names that have been pilloried in the press in recent years because of their involvement in war zones and because of the enormous government contracts they are given. But there are literally thousands of these companies, large and small, which contribute to the war effort in one way or another.
IMG_2418On Monday I rode along on a mission to raid several Taliban drug processing facilities north of Jalabad, and of the fifty or so men who carried guns on the mission, only eight were actually members of the armed forces - and those were NATO troops, not Americans. The helicopters that flew us to the objective were rented Russian MI-17's flown by American civilian contractors, as well as the intelligence people, the interpreters, and a few DEA Agents and consultants. There were also a good many Afghan Narcotics police on hand as well.

Despite the somewhat tarnished reputation these private firms have in the media, we can't win this war without them. And just like our troops deployed to the war zone, many of these "civilian" employees put their lives on the line every day. Congress and the white house should stop using them as a political punching bag and recognize the valuable role they play in the Global War on Terror.

Today, there are nearly 120,000 privately employed contractors here - nearly twice the number of U.S. troops on the ground and twice the number who were here a year ago. They do everything from cooking and cleaning porta-potties to implementing aid and development projects and guarding convoys. Many of them do jobs one would assume would be reserved only for military - pilots and door gunners on helicopters flying combat missions, medics, intelligence, training and the like. In Afghanistan, just because you see a western guy walk by in full battle dress carrying a military assault rifle, you can't make the assumption that he's in the military.

At first glance it might seem these civilian contractors would be more costly to the US government than military personnel doing the same job, since the contractors regularly receive pay several times what our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines are getting. But when you factor in the cost of lifetime military pensions, medical care and the like, outsourcing makes a lot of sense in the long run.

Several recent court cases against high-profile contractors have made it fashionable for politicians and the media to bad mouth these essential elements in prosecuting the war on terror. President Obama has repeatedly signaled his disdain for contractors since taking office in January, calling for increased government oversight and control. But the bottom line is that a slimmed-down military simply can't sustain itself without them, and going forward it may be easier politically to accomplish our objectives in this war-torn region by hiring more contractors, not less.