By most counts, the death toll of U.S. soldiers in America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan stood at 5,157 in the second week of September. Add at least 1,360 private contractors working for the U.S. and the number tops 6,500.
Contractor deaths and injuries (around 30,000 so far) are rarely reported but they highlight America’s steadily growing dependence on private enterprise. It’s a dependence some say has slid into incurable addiction. Contractor ranks in Iraq and Afghanistan have swollen to just under a quarter million. They outnumber American troops in Afghanistan and they almost match uniformed soldiers in Iraq.
The present ratio of about one contractor for every uniformed member of the U.S. armed forces is more than double that of every other major conflict in American history, according to the Congressional Budget Office. That means the world’s only superpower cannot fight its war nor protect its civilian officials, diplomats and embassies without support from contractors.
“As the military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have progressed, the military services, defense agencies and other stakeholder agencies…continue to increase their reliance on contractors. Contractors are now literally in the center of the battlefield in unprecedented numbers,” according to a report to Congress by the bipartisan Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“In previous wars, the military police protected bases and the battle space as other military service members engaged and pursued the enemy,” said the report. In listing the 1,360-plus contractor casualties, it noted that criticism of the present system and suggestions for reforming it “in no way diminish their sacrifices.”