Even as U.S. troops surge to new highs in Afghanistan they are outnumbered by military contractors working alongside them, according to a Defense Department census due to be distributed to Congress — illustrating how hard it is for the U.S. to wean itself from the large numbers of war-zone contractors that proved controversial in Iraq.
The number of military contractors in Afghanistan rose to almost 74,000 by June 30, far outnumbering the roughly 58,000 U.S. soldiers on the ground at that point. As the military force in Afghanistan grows further, to a planned 68,000 by the end of the year, the Defense Department expects the ranks of contractors to increase more.
The ranks of military contractors in Afghanistan have been growing along with the surge in troops. Above, contractor barracks at the Kandahar airfield.
The military requires contractors for essential functions ranging from supplying food and laundry services to guarding convoys and even military bases — functions that were once performed by military personnel but have been outsourced so a slimmed-down military can focus more on battle-related tasks.
The Obama administration has sought to reduce its reliance on military contractors, worried that the Pentagon was ceding too much power to outside companies, failing to rein in costs and not achieving desired results.President Obama has repeatedly called defense contractors to task since taking office. “In Iraq, too much money has been paid out for services that were never performed, buildings that were never completed, companies that skimmed off the top,” he said during a March speech.