With the US troop surge and announcements at and around the London conference that additional troops will be deployed from other NATO countries, NATO and its allies are now exceeding the number of troops the Soviet Union had sent to occupy the country between 1979 and 1989. This does not include contractors from private military companies. This topic is addressed by a recent article in the Le Monde diplomatique – and we want to use the occasion to point to our new category ‘Recommended readings’ on the AAN website. Please click ‘Recommended readings’ under ‘links’.
NATO and its allies have deployed 114,000 troops in Afghanistan now,Reuters cabled on 4 February 2010, after the announcements of the London conference. Missing in this statistic are, though, the many contractors from private military companies (PMCs) that operate in Afghanistan since some years. This includes controversial Blackwater (now Xe), the well-known DynCorp, MPRI and others. USPI, a prominent actor in the first post-2001 years, is out of the game meanwhile. Its founders – a Texan couple – are standing trial currently for an ‘epic fraud’ (Mother Jones magazine) ripping off the US government ‘by obtaining reimbursement for inflated expenses’ and ‘making up invoices from fictitious companies’(1).
How this couple, initially bankrupt, was saved by the Afghanistan war (and apparently by careless people contracting them) which brought them into big business and before a jury again, can be read in another gem of investigative journalism, ‘The Cowboys of Kabul’, here.
Marie-Dominique Charlier, a former Political Advisor to the ISAF commander in Kabul from February to August 2008, describes the growing ability of those companies ‘to influence military decisions on operational matters’ of ISAF in Afghanistan (see her article ‘Afghanistan’s outsourced war’ in: Le Monde diplomatique, 9 February 2010 here).
Quoting a Congressional Research Service (through an article by Walter Pincus in the Washington Post, 16 December 2009), she writes that ‘[e]stimates of the numbers of PMC personnel in Afghanistan vary from 130,000 to
160,000, the second-largest deployment after Iraq’. She adds that ‘[t]he 30,000 extra US troops bound for Afghanistan could be accompanied by up to 56,000 additional contractor personnel’. Although there is no source given for this figure, it corresponds with what Susanne Schmeidl found out (see her report ‘The Privatization of Security in Afghanistan-When nobody guards the guardians’, Swisspeace 2007, here): that the total num¬ber of DoD contractor personnel in Afghanistan was 68,197 then and exceeded that of uniformed personnel (with 52,300). Con¬tractors comprised 57 percent of the DoD’s workforce in Afghanistan in March 2009.
It is not known how many of those PMC contractors participate in military operations.
But the article generally points to an absolutely valid issue. It describes how it a private contractor (MPRI) drafts the doctrine for the ANA ‘as part of the Combined Training Advisory Group (CTAG)’ – according to her, this is a 140 million euro contract – and quotes an Afghan officer that he basically has no clue on what’s going on. Another fine example of Afghan leadership. Finally, she also hints at a PMC cartel which apparently has been established and in which some PMCs shove on contracts to each other, amongst others in the fields of logistics and ANA training.
For example, the ISAF unit dealing with ‘reintegration’ is headed by a private contractor, too. Its head, former British General Lamb, I have been reminded after a recent blog of mine is not working for the UK government any more but had been hired as a private person. Accoring to The New Yorker, also the US military Predator program (there is a second program, run by the CIA but that is classified as covert ‘uses private contractors for a variety of tasks, including flying the drones. Employees of Xe Services maintain and load the Hellfire missiles on the aircraft. (…) According to a former counterterrorism official, the contractors are “seasoned professionals—often retired military and intelligence officials.” ‘
On a military blog, I saw Ms Charlier’s article challenged saying this was ‘yet another article by a reporter who needs to get out of the hotel more often’. The commentator challenges Ms Charlier adding employees of Kellogg Brown and Root (KBR) under ‘mercenaries’: ‘With their 5 foot long t-shirts, gold chains, capped teeth, and size 53 waists? Some of those folks do well to walk.’
Interestingly, the commentator actually does not contradict the general assumption that PMCs will indeed play a larger role in the war in Afghanistan: ‘PMCs will have a sizeable piece of the action as long as many of the countries who are so concerned about the war are content to limit their involvement to an occasional lamentation in parliament and a handful of troopers.’
Seems that we have to watch this aspect more closely although it is extremely difficult to find out what exactly is going on, how many people really are involved, how their actual employment is handled (and presented to outsiders) and what their exact legal situation is, as the New Yorker article ‘The Predator War’ (also on our ‘recommended readings’ list) shows.
This brings us back to our new category ‘Recommended readings’. There you also find a few articles now that we think were highlight in the past few years. Further recommendations are welcome.
(1)The AP recently reported that Blackwater has billed the US for prostitutes (12 February 2010, see here:
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020