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Civilian Contractors Toll in Iraq and Afghanistan Ignored by Defense Department

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on October 9, 2009

Civilian Contractor Toll in Iraq and Afghanistan Ignored by Defense Dept.

by T. Christian Miller, ProPublica – October 9, 2009afghanistan-2007-contractorbombed_gt20091009

An Afghan policeman walks past a vehicle that had carried U.S. civilian contractors, after it was targeted by a suicide bomber in the Logar province. (Farzana Wahidy/AFP/Getty Images/January 2007 file photo)

As the war in Afghanistan entered its ninth year, the Labor Department recently released new figures [1] for the number of civilian contract workers who have died in war zones since 9/11. Although acknowledged as incomplete, the figures show that at least 1,688 civilians have died and more than 37,000 have reported injuries while working for U.S. contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan.

More than 5,200 soldiers have died in the two war zones, meaning that one civilian contractor has died for every three soldiers — a ratio that reflects the unprecedented degree to which the Pentagon has outsourced the work of war. Civilian contractors make up [2] about half the total U.S. forces in the war zones and they have been deployed on the front lines far more than any previous U.S. conflict [3]. Iraq and Afghanistan are the most outsourced wars in U.S. history.

Despite the importance of civilian contractors to its mission, the Defense Department hasn’t been measuring their sacrifice. A little-noticed report [4] from the Government Accountability Office last week noted that the Pentagon has yet to implement a Congressional requirement to track contractor fatalities.

Military officials brushed off inquiries from the GAO, telling the agency that they “continue to lack a system to reliably track killed or wounded contractor personnel.” To get a handle on the issue, the GAO examined a sample of files from the Labor Department, which oversees a workers compensation program required by a federal law known as the Defense Base Act. The act requires contract firms to purchase insurance to cover civilians injured or killed while working abroad on federal contracts.

While the system is not designed to track war injuries, investigators determined that about 11 percent of reported contractor casualties stem from combat — about the same percentage of soldier casualties attributed to hostile action, according to an April 2007 report [5] by the Veterans Affairs Department. For both groups, most injuries are due to vehicle collisions, muscle or back strains or common, everyday accidents.

The Department of Defense is not alone in ignoring its hired help. Neither the State Department nor USAID could tell with certainty how many contractors they employed, the GAO found. USAID, for instance, failed to report how many civilians it had put to work under a $91 million contract to develop hydroelectric plants and small and medium businesses in Afghanistan. A State Department contracting officer insisted that there was no need to track local Iraqi hires, despite specific statutory language to the contrary, the report found. “Officials acknowledged that they are likely undercounting the actual number of contractors working in Iraq and Afghanistan,” the GAO concluded. State, USAID and DOD officials all told the GAO that they were working to fix the problem.

What it all means is that nine years after the launch of the most contractor-intensive war in U.S. history, nobody is sure how many contractors there are, what they are doing, or how many have been killed or wounded.

3 Responses to “Civilian Contractors Toll in Iraq and Afghanistan Ignored by Defense Department”

  1. dante said

    Just posted this on a major website where all the comments were basically derisive about civilian contractors; there is a major disconnect going on here with everyone like-minded blogging on only their sites and no real exchange of views are taking place:

    According to your own definition of mercenaries, you are plain wrong given the fact that over 30% of them are American citizens and many of the rest from NATO allies.

    You just don’t have a clue what goes on in the real world; my husband was transferred to Iraq by State Dept. after five years on the job in three countries as a civilian contractor – just like many others from US companies were after the invasion in 2003.

    In his case, he earned about the same in Iraq because the danger pay cancelled out the per diem. Most of them did not fight, just read the article. Others of course take bombs apart to either shield civilians or blow up the ‘enemy’, torture people, spy and assassinate, but this does not make every person who went over there a mercenary.
    People should refrain from maligning others, and the memory of strangers when they know absolutely nothing about the issue at hand.

    Miller did sterling work in highlighting this figure because the DOL for years ludicrously denied that contractors are exposed to danger in Iraq that could rise to the level of trauma:
    “investigators determined that about 11 percent of reported contractor casualties stem from combat – about the same percentage of soldier casualties attributed to hostile action, according to an April 2007 report by the Veterans Affairs Department.”

    But he is obviously very wrong on this count because PTSD and TBI account for at least 600,000 injuries according to RAND.
    “For both groups, most injuries are due to vehicle collisions, muscle or back strains or common, everyday accidents.”
    Excellent article, thank you truthout.

  2. [...] Civilian Contractors Toll in Iraq and Afghanistan Ignored by Defense Dept [...]

  3. [...] Civilian Contractors Toll in Iraq and Afghanistan Ignored by Defense Department [...]

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