In an August 2017 speech that has major implications for injured contractors, President Donald Trump shared some of his vision for the ongoing Afghanistan War.
The strategy is part of a broader approach that the president has used in dealing with other international trouble spots, such as the Islamic State, North Korea, Syria, and Iran. Beginning as a candidate and continuing as president, Trump’s advisers insist that he has remained consistent on these points. He ran on a nationalistic “America First” platform, and that stance initially caused him to consider pulling the plug in Afghanistan on a war he inherited from Presidents Bush and Obama.
Instead, he chose to continue the fight but abandon the democracy-building aspirations of his predecessors. “We are not nation-building again. We are killing terrorists,” he insisted.
The so-called Trump Doctrine revolves around several points:
- Purely Military Objectives: This initiative first surfaced in Syria, where Trump has said that the U.S. will help restore power and rebuild other infrastructure if the IS is driven out and leaves a power vacuum, but the military will not try to “construct democracies.” Trump’s Pentagon may follow a similar strategy in Afghanistan, abandoning such ideals as the Bush plan to educate the country’s women.
- Play Close to the Chest: Although the cat is already out of the bag in terms of sending 3,900 more combat troops to Afghanistan straightaway, the president said he would not tip off foreign powers about his plans so as to give these enemies an advantage.
- Isolate Enemies: Just like Trump has pressured China to sever some of its economic ties with North Korea and thus make it more difficult for the regime to develop weapons of mass destruction, Trump said he would lean on Pakistan to stop assisting the Taliban. Currently, terrorist leaders freely cross the border and some wounded Taliban fighters receive treatment at Pakistani medical facilities.
- Empowerment: Continuing an approach that goes back to Richard Nixon’s “Vietnamization” of that conflict in the early 1970s and continued by former President Barack Obama in Afghanistan, Trump promised to train local forces to fight insurgents as opposed to making U.S. forces do most of the heavy lifting.
- Delegation: “Micromanagement from Washington, D.C., does not win battles,” the president insisted. In fact, field commanders in many parts of the world have broad authority. For example, Trump allowed Afghanistan commander Gen. John Nicholson to use the largest non-nuclear bomb ever deployed in combat without specific prior authorization.
Those latter two points (empowerment and delegation) have significant implications for contractors in Afghanistan.
What Contractors do in Afghanistan
Prior to the address, speculation abounded that Trump would completely privatize the war in Afghanistan and name a viceroy, much like Douglas MacArthur in post-World War II Japan, to oversee every aspect of the conflict. If such a plan is in the works, no announcement has been made.
However, it is clear that private contractors will continue training local military forces. Essentially, the Army is not well-suited to provide such services. Although drill sergeants are kinder and gentler today than they were in the Vietnam era, they still use some tactics that may not go over too well in the Arab world.
Furthermore, delegating significant authority to field commanders means that private military contractors will continue to be used in large numbers because Afghanistan military leaders clearly prefer them to regular servicemembers. In fact, since 2007, military contractors have consistently outnumbered servicemembers by a rather wide margin, except during a brief troop surge early in the Obama administration.
Legal Options for Injured Contractors
If contractors are injured overseas while serving their country, even if they are not technically “on the clock” when the illness or injury occurs, they may be entitled to financial compensation under the Defense Base Act.
Part of that financial compensation is lost wages. If the treating physician, whom the injured victim has a right to select, states that the victim is unable to work due to his/her injury, the DBA’s temporary total disability payments kick in. TTD benefits are two-thirds of the victim’s average weekly wage, and that number is not always easy to calculate. For one thing, there is a significant difference in salary between a security trainer in Boston and a counterinsurgency trainer in Kandahar; for another, the AWW includes non-cash compensation, such as tuition reimbursement and housing allowance.
As recovery progresses, some victims can return to light duty work. If such work is available, and it pays less than the victim’s prior position, the DBA will continue to pay two-thirds of the difference between the old and new wage.
For more information about the benefits and procedures under the DBA, contact Barnett, Lerner, Karsen & Frankel.