What’s a Few Blackwater Contractors Among Friends?
On the day that the ISG report came out calling for troop levels in Iraq to be reduced from 140,000 to 70,000 by 2008, I wrote a post sayiing that's nice, but what about all of the contractors in the country who are there largely because many military jobs have been "privatized?" I have actually been a bit surprised that more people haven't been discussing this. Writing at TPM Cafe today, Paul Reickhoff asks the same question, and the subject of private contractors looks to be a problem that the ISG is wholly ignorant of. I mean wholly. Reickoff quotes from page 7 of the ISG report:
"There are roughly 5,000 civilian contractors in the country."
Say what? There are more than 100,000 private contractors in Iraq right now by the Pentagon's own figures, and that does not include sub-contractors. That means the number of civillian contractors in Iraq is fast approaching the number of troops. As Reickoff says:
Unless I am missing something, that means the ISG was off by a factor of 20. At least.
Contractors on the battlefield are a serious and controversial issue. Despite questions about their accountability and cost-effectiveness, tens of thousands of contractors are in Iraq doing more than just laundry or preparing meals. They are fulfilling security roles that once would have been held by US troops, making significantly more money, and facing minimal oversight. It's no wonder there have been allegations of abuses.
How could the ISG miss such a crucial aspect of the battle environment in Iraq? I have no idea. It certainly didn't help that the ISG didn't talk to anyone who was serving on the ground below the rank of lieutenant colonel. (By the way, they also failed to talk to some key high-ranking people like George Tenent, Paul Bremmer, and Generals Sanchez, Myers, Franks, Eaton and Batiste).
This is a critical oversight by the ISG. Talking to lower ranking troops is important because most of the fighting (and dying) in Iraq is done at the small unit level. The people hit by IEDS, kicking in doors, handing out candy and otherwise testing our policy limitations daily are enlisted soldiers and junior officers. They know better than almost anyone the realities of life in Iraq.
But hey, they talked to Tom Friedman. What more do you want? (Sidenote: I had dinner with someone who appeared before the ISG and tried to explain to them what an "Friedman Unit" was. Their eyes just sort of glazed over. I'm guessing it is not a unit of measure currently recognized in Washington, DC but we're working on it.)