Can Afghanistan’s Government Survive Without Contractors?

Can Afghanistan’s Government Survive Without Contractors?

Per a peace agreement, all “foreign” troops must leave the war-torn country by the end of 2021. When that happens, the government will probably lose air superiority.

Currently, American contractors maintain most of the fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters, and drones which roam the skies over Afghanistan largely unmolested by Taliban and other anti-government forces. U.S. President Joe Biden has agreed to keep the money flowing after September 11, 2021, the designated pull-out date. Furthermore, Biden is weighing some options, including maintaining hardware offshore. But Afghan military officials fear that money alone might not be enough and these alternatives might never materialize. Experts opine that the loss of air power might have a crippling effect both strategically and psychologically. “We’re talking about the more or less grounding of the Afghan air force,” remarked one.

“If we don’t help them maintain those aircraft, then the Afghan security forces will be deprived of that advantage, and that could have a decisive impact on the battlefield and ultimately on the state of the Afghan government,” he added.

The Importance of Military Firepower

The Battle of Agincourt in 1415 clearly demonstrated the superiority of firepower, along with a well-devised strategy, over superior numbers. Yet for some reason, military commanders only learned part of this lesson.

1415 was about midway through the Hundred Years War between England and France. After an uneasy cease fire collapsed, English King Henry V invaded France to assert his dubious claims over the French throne.

Prior to the battle, the English were in bad shape. Even though the army was short of food and other supplies and suffering from dysentery and other diseases, Henry marched his men almost two hundred and fifty miles in a fortnight. Approximately 9,000 scrawny surviving Englishmen, mostly longbowmen, faced up to 25,000 well-rested and well-supplied French soldiers, mostly knights and heavy cavalry.

The English planned well. They selected a narrow, muddy battlefield which limited movement. Then, they drove long, pointed stakes into the ground, a defense which the Ottoman Turks had successfully used against French cavalry about 20 years earlier.

Initially, the heavily-armored French made good progress against the English. But they quickly wore down in the mud which, according to one French source, was so thick that fallen men-at-arms drowned in it. After the longbowmen rained arrows on the trapped French, they attacked with the axes and hammers they had used to drive in the stakes. The French could not defend themselves.

After the fighting, about 6,000 Frenchmen lay dead. Among them were three dukes, nine counts, and about 100 other high-ranking officers. The English lost about 500 dead, including three minor noblemen. The disastrous outcome triggered civil war in France, while Henry returned to London as a conquering hero.

Fast-forward a little over a thousand years to Hill 937 (Hamburger Hill), a nondescript mound near the South Vietnamese border with Laos. In May 1969, a tiny, well-entrenched PAVN (People’s Army of North Vietnam) garrison repulsed nine different charges. Some of these charges happened during heavy monsoon rains. “Have you ever been inside a hamburger machine?” a weary 19-year-old asked a reporter who wanted to know about the battle. “We just got cut to pieces by extremely accurate machine gun fire.”

American and ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) left Hill 937 less than a week later. “The only significance of the hill was the fact that your North Vietnamese [were] on it,” remarked American General Melvin Zais. “The hill itself had no tactical significance,” he added.

Finally, military commanders seemed to have learned that firepower is superior to numbers. Air and drone strikes are a staple of the Global War on Terror. But sophisticated weapons require sophisticated maintenance, and in many cases, only contractors have the necessary expertise.

Maintaining a Firepower Advantage

Someone must keep the drones, aircraft, and other air power operational. Usually, these assets are stored in remote bases. The Afghan government wants to create a sense of normalcy. Roaring jet fighters and rumbling helicopters remind everyone that a war is still on.

In many cases, private military contractors worked for the companies that designed and built these weapons. Therefore, contractors are in a unique position to maintain these weapons. The fledgling Afghan military cannot go toe-to-toe against the battle-hardened Taliban. Without air superiority, the gains American soldiers have died for will probably disappear.

So, training is key. During the coming weeks and months, American contractors must pass on their knowledge to their Afghan counterparts. Some non-combat contractors might be allowed to stay a little longer. But with the American mission ending, these individuals probably want to go home as well.

Training mechanics and other support personnel is only part of the picture. As mentioned, firebases are usually in remote areas which are easy targets for militant ambushes. Armed contractors are anti-insurgency specialists. Expect them to lead lots of training exercises in the coming months. Regular servicemembers sometimes view these exercises as little more than babysitting duty. But private military contractors embrace this aspect of their mission.

On a related note, contractors are excellent military planners, especially when it comes to small unit operations. Contractors must also pass on these skills in the waning days of the Afghanistan War.

Injury Compensation Available

Whether you are on the front line or at a quiet firebase, the risk of injury is pretty much the same in the War on Terror. Ambushes and suicide attacks can happen anywhere at any time. Additionally, everyday work is hazardous. Afghanistan has no workplace safety laws.

Trauma injuries and occupational diseases are a constant hazard. The average injury-related medical bill usually exceeds $50,000 in the United States. The average bill in Southwest Asia, largely because of the lack of infrastructure, is much higher.

Injured contractors do not have to fend for themselves. The Defense Base Act provides benefits which pay all reasonably necessary medical bills, such as:

  • Transportation expenses, including medevac,
  • Emergency treatment,
  • Follow-up care,
  • Medical devices,
  • Prescription drugs, and
  • Physical therapy.

In other words, most injured victims go through the entire healing process without having to worry about medical expenses. If the DBA insurance company drags its feet, attorneys usually send letters of protection to medical providers. Since these letters guarantee payment when the case is resolved, these providers usually agree to defer billing until the case is resolved.

As a bonus, most injured overseas contractors may choose their own doctor and switch physicians at any time. So, they get the treatment they need, as opposed to the treatment an insurance company adjuster is willing to pay for.

For more information about lost wage replacement and other benefits, contact Barnett, Lerner, Karsen, Frankel & Castro, P.A.