Contractors are taking the reins in Iraq as U.S. troops come home, and while a similar approach will likely be taken as the war in Afghanistan draws to a close, the situation on the ground could look very different.
President Barack Obama announced Oct. 22 that more than 39,000 U.S. troops would be home from Iraq by the holidays, and the U.S. war in Iraq will finally be over. Yet much of that weight shifted to an estimated 17,000 civilian contractors.
In Afghanistan, however, the United States will hand security responsibilities to the Afghan government fully by 2014. The problem is that while contractors will play heavy roles in training and various services, Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s opposition to private security contractors means U.S. troops will need to stick around until Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) can fully protect the country.
There has been plenty of buzz about “mercenaries” taking over the war in Iraq after the troop pullout, yet of the 5,500 security contractors in Iraq, 1,500 will act as bodyguards, while the rest will focus mainly on perimeter security, according to a report from the Congressional Research Service (CRS).
The situation in Afghanistan will likely be very different. “What we’re seeing in Iraq is that as the Army withdraws, there is a big need for contractors to do personal security details,” said Charles Tiefer, professor of government contracting at the University of Baltimore Law School and the commissioner of the former Commission on Wartime Contracting. The Commission, set up to study contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan, was disbanded in late September.
“But we’re far from that in Afghanistan because what’s being talked about is turning over security for their country in 2014—not a complete withdrawal,” he said.
According to Tiefer, the role of contractors “is not going to be the fighting after our troops leave,” since the ANSF has pledged to do this. Rather, contractors will likely continue their roles of conducting training and supporting the ANSF.
Although the situation in 2014 is currently left to speculation, it is likely U.S. troops will continue their role of providing personnel and perimeter security in Afghanistan—responsibilities that are being passed to contractors in Iraq.
In August 2010, Karzai issued a decree giving private security firms—both local and international—four months to disband. There were an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 armed security contractors in Afghanistan at the time.
Yet, this was not the first time Karzai called for a ban on private security contractors. His stance was that they undermine the Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP), according to Al Jazeera.
Private security firms run by Afghan nationals were mainly warlords and their private militias—which Karzai has been at odds with since the beginning of his administration.
In 2002, Karzai proclaimed warlord militias as “the greatest threat to Afghanistan, a threat even greater than the Taliban insurgents,” and efforts to disarm the warlords and their militias failed, according to a report in 2005 by the U.S. Army’s Strategic Studies Institute.
Shortly after, however, more than 200 Afghan warlords were placed under the rule of the Karzai administration by the United Nations.
Using them to provide security was, in part, a solution to other problems they posed. “What used to be called warlord militias are now private security companies,” stated the Kandahar Stability Operations Information Center on March 30, 2010, according to a United States Senate Armed Services Committee report.