As today’s Congressional hearings on Blackwater begin I highly recommend reading the latest Salon.com article on the role of military contractors in Iraq. The depth of their involvement is breathtaking and the problems caused by this involvement may be too numerous and entrenched to truly identify.
While actual numbers are hard to ascertain, there are likely more private contractors in Iraq than actual US Soldiers, which now number around 160,000. The contractors fulfill functions from the benign (staffing mess halls for the troops) to the extremely dangerous (escorting high level State Department officials and providing security for CIA agents). The characterization of the contractor presence as a shadow army is not inaccurate.
One portion of the Salon story shocked me: the story of the four Blackwater employees who were killed and hung from a bridge in Fallujah. The event was a flashpoint for the insurgency and marked a downward spiral for security in that area. The military had a comprehensive anti-insurgency strategy that was in the early stage of implementation and was supposed to prove a model for operations in the rest of the country. This strategy was called off after the killing of the employees, a military crackdown ensued, and the area became one of the worst in Iraq. The employees had been sent out untrained and undermanned in a rush mission to deliver kitchen supplies to a new Saudi client. The contractor wanted to show that it could deliver. While the war in Iraq has featured many mistakes and the current situation is in no way the result of one event, it is staggering to think that such a turning point centered around such an idiotic “mission.”
Private military contractors cost us tax payers, on average, four times as much as an American soldier. Private companies are enriched while their employees indiscriminately bully, and sometimes shoot, Iraqi civilians, often acting counter to the interests of our military commanders. While the contractors are not the only problem in Iraq, they are a big one. Hopefully Congress will start to address this problem.
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