News You Really Need To See: “The New Unknown Soldiers of Iraq and Afghanistan”

“The New Unknown Soldiers of Iraq and Afghanistan”

Foreign Policy, May 29, 2015

Since 9/11, a total of 1,592 private contractors (approximately 32 percent of whom were Americans) working on Department of Defense contracts were also killed in Afghanistan. Last year, private contractors accounted for 64 percent of all U.S. deaths in Afghanistan (56 service members and 101 contractors died).  But we cannot know exactly where last year’s deceased are from, because shockingly the U.S. Department of Labor ‘does not routinely track the nationality of workers injured or killed under any of the laws administered by the program.’  This common practice of omitting the contractors’ role in U.S. military operations is troubling for several reasons.  It overlooks their service and sacrifice, it disperses the burden of war onto poorly paid or protected locals or third-country nationals, and it gives a false impression of a much smaller U.S. military footprint and national commitment.  Whenever the White House and Pentagon announce how many troops will be deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, they never mention how many contractors will be deployed alongside them.  When journalists and analysts request information, officials and spokespersons seem to never have it on hand, and it’s difficult to later obtain accurate or updated estimates.  It is long overdue that civilian and military leaders who authorize and command U.S. military operations openly acknowledge the critical role played by contractors.  Private contractors have long played an essential role in U.S. overseas military operations, and the percentage of contractors relative to deployed U.S. troops has increased significantly since the end of the Cold War. … [R]elying upon the semi-detailed data available starting in 2008, the below graph shows how — since Obama’s first year in office — there have always been more contractors than U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, though neither the Pentagon nor the White House ever recognizes them. … The reason Obama and politicians on Capitol Hill never mention the number of contractors deployed alongside service members to war zones today, or recognize the vital role that they play, is that they simply do not want U.S. citizens to know about them.  If the American people were actually aware, then perhaps they would better comprehend the full extent of the military involvement in the ongoing wars.”

Quickie analysis:  Conflicts have always been “a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight.”  Actual mercenaries went out of fashion several centuries ago. Clearly, they’re coming back–this time unacknowledged.

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