The Obama administration has continued the Bush-era reliance on private contractors to sustain the US occupation of Iraq and the US operations in Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, Obama has surpassed Bush’s reliance on contractors with current contractor levels surpassing 100,000 Defense Department contractors deployed. In Iraq, Obama has maintained the long-standing ratio of one contractor to every US soldier.
General Stanley McChrystal, the US commander in Afghanistan/Pakistan, said recently that he believes the US has “created in ourselves a dependency on contractors that is greater than it ought to be.” He added: “I think it doesn’t save money. I actually think it would be better to reduce the number of contractors involved, increase the number of military if necessary.”
Despite such proclamations, the pattern of dependence on contractors is continuing unabated—and not just within the Department of Defense.
On April 20, the US State Department posted a solicitation for armed private security contractors to deploy in “critical or higher than critical threat areas” globally under its Worldwide Protective Services program. Among the firms that have held these contracts are Blackwater, DynCorp, Triple Canopy and Armor Group. ArmorGroup was exposed last year by whistleblowers for a range of misconduct at the US embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. Among the actions revealed by the Project on Government Oversight were hazing rituals involving nudity and heavy drinking that at times included personnel urinating on each other. The whistleblowers alleged that ArmorGroup personnel created a general atmosphere of fear and intimidation. Last December, following POGO’s revelations, the State Department said it was phasing out ArmorGroup.
In its solicitation for contract bids, the State Department says it will hire as many as six “qualified US firms” for “anticipated and unanticipated personal protective, static guard, and emergency response” functions. The contracts are slated to last one year with the potential for four, year-long options.
To qualify for the contracts, security companies must have a total annual value of at least $15 million in security contracts and must possess a valid “Final Secret Facility Security Clearance.” After the contracts are awarded, the State Department says that it will then sponsor the contractor for “Top Secret Facility Clearance.” In addition, bidding companies must have at least two years of experience operating in “austere and hostile environments overseas” such as Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq and experience in “operating long term personal protective security details for executive level dignitaries.” The solicitation indicates that the work will include “a static guard and emergency response team requirement in Baghdad, Iraq, a static guard and emergency response team requirement in Kabul, Afghanistan, and a personal protective security service requirement in Jerusalem.”