In Afghanistan, Defense Contractors Outnumber U.S. Troops 3 to 1

President Barack Obama announced last month that he plans to further delay the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, leaving at least 8,400 forces in the country after January instead of honoring his most recent pledge to cut numbers to 5,500.


Now, a new report compiled by the Congressional Research Service, which produces reports for members of Congress, reveals that the number of U.S. service members in Afghanistan is dwarfed by the nearly 29,000 Department of Defense private contractors in the country, outnumbering American troops three to one.

“As of March 2016, there were approximately 28,600 DOD contractor personnel in Afghanistan, compared to 8,730 U.S. troops,” states the report, authored by Heidi Peters, Moshe Schwartz and Lawrence Kapp.

Such private contractors comprise 77 percent of the total DOD presence in Afghanistan, the authors conclude.

According to the report, which examines the federal years 2007 to 2016, there have been more private contractors than U.S. troops in Afghanistan since the middle of 2011. But that gap has continued to grow, with a staggering 117,000 contractors and 88,000 U.S. troops deployed to Afghanistan in 2012.

The most recent available figures for early 2016 show that roughly two-thirds of DOD contractors are foreign and Afghan nationals. According to the DOD, roughly 10 percent are providing security and the majority are providing logistics and maintenance for U.S. and Afghan troops.

These numbers are reported by the DOD, and as the Congressional Research Service has previously noted, multiple government agencies have “raised concerns over the accuracy and reliability of the data.” Furthermore, the report lacks key information, including details on which companies are profiting from the occupation and what their human rights track records are.

The DOD’s figures provide a snapshot of the mercenary and maintenance infrastructure undergirding the ongoing occupation, in a war that has lasted nearly 15 years, leaving the Taliban stronger than ever and violence against civilians worsening by the day. The data also reveals the high economic costs: According to the report, from 2007 to 2015, the DOD spent roughly $220 billion for private contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The private contractors bring the total DOD presence to nearly 40,000 individuals, despite Obama’s claim in December 2014 that the U.S. military’s combat mission in Afghanistan had come to a "responsible conclusion."

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