The killing of three US Pentagon contractors at the hands of a uniformed Afghan Army soldier in Kabul last week casts considerable doubt on President Obama’s recent proclamation that America’s “combat mission in Afghanistan is over.”
The US-trained Afghan security forces have now “taken the lead” in the fourteen-year-old war, Obama told Congress in his State of the Union address on January 20.
But after digging into the contractors involved and the circumstances behind their untimely deaths, it’s apparent that the US-led war against the Taliban is still in full swing, and that Americans—along with many Afghans—will continue to die.
“If you define combat mission as only having large numbers of US combat troops in the field, doing patrols, and engaging the Taliban, then, yes, it is coming to an end,” says David Isenberg, a Navy veteran and author who has been researching private security and military contractors since the early 1990s. “But if you define it as continuing to attack and degrade those you consider hostile, via drone or Special Forces or CIA paramilitaries, all of which are supported by contractors, then not so much.”
The slain contractors were working for Praetorian Standard Inc., of Fayetteveille, North Carolina. The Pentagon told reporters the men were “overseeing maintenance work” on a fleet of Pilatus PC-12 surveillance and intelligence aircraft. The PC-12s, known by the US military as U-28s, are used extensively by US Special Operations Command forces in Afghanistan and covert wars throughout the world. In 2013, as part of its program to train the Afghan military, the Pentagon handed over a fleet of the planes to the government in Kabul.
Last May, Sierra Nevada Corporation, a well-connected company based in Sparks, Nevada, was awarded a $34.4 million, single-sourced contract by the US Air Force to provide logistics support for eighteen modified versions of the Pilatus PC-12 for the Afghan army’s special forces. The surveillance program is managed out of Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, the home of the National Air and Space Intelligence Center.
PSI and Sierra Nevada are part of a huge force of private contractors in Afghanistan doing work for the U.S. military, the CIA and the US Agency for International Development. So far, the United States has spent about $65 billion to build and train Afghanistan’s military and police forces, according to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, known as SIGAR.