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How many contractors? Soldiers to Private Military Contractors ratio in American Wars

Source: The Economist

The fact that the US used private military and security contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as other places, should not be news to any of my readers. Multiple media sources covered the Nisour Square massacre involving Blackwater in 2007 or other reports on the extensive number of contractors used in the field. After all, we know that outsourcing war to mercenaries and other parties is not a new phenomenon. But what is important to appreciate is just how novel and substantive this trend is.

First, looking at the ratio of private military and security contractors to soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan we see that it reached 1:1 in 2007 and increased to about 1:3 later in Afghanistan in 2013 (figure). Those figures are unprecedented in American military history. A review of the ratio of military personnel to private contractors across eleven American wars indicate that the current ratio is comparatively high and represents a new trend which started around the end of the Cold-War in 1991. Later, with the Gulf War, US reliance on private contractors increased up to its current point. These facts also illustrate America's addiction to private military contractors. It means that American wars are fought mostly by contractors and not soldiers

Examination of the number of contractors deployed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan underscores another important point. In 2008 the number of contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan surpassed 200,000. This number is astonishing. It is important not only because there were more contractors than soldiers, but also because of the sheer number of contractors deployed. This number represents a military force greater in size than the standing armies of the UK or Israel, two countries with significant armed forces. Many contractors are not armed, yet they serve military functions that used to be conducted regularly by soldiers, such as logistics, communication, intelligence and maintenance. For example, truck drivers delivering food and fuel to military bases across Afghanistan are expose to attacks or IED as any other soldier in the convey. In other words, those figures represent a total shift in the way the US war-making. Some even may argue that America got addicted to mercenaries, and by doing so became strategically vulnerable.

The war in Afghanistan is still ongoing and contractors represent the majority of foreign forces. Moreover, contractors’ participation in American conflicts is not limited to Afghanistan. Contractors are being used in Yemen, Syria, and across Africa. This is a new trend and new direction for American war-making.

There are of course repercussions for this new trend. New war-making methods requires new forms of checks and balances and regulations. At the moment, the United States has very little such regulations to govern non-military personnel deployed in war-zones. Privatization of war of this magnitude cannot be allowed to fall between bureaucratic cracks and legal definitions. It is imperative that the United States start paying attention to this trend; not as an anecdote, but rather as a serious transformation that is taking place and that requires lawmakers’ attention.


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