As the official U.S. mission winds down, the number of private military contractors in Afghanistan has dropped by more than 50% over the past three months.
Many people are concerned about what these cuts mean to Afghanistan’s air force, which is its primary weapon against the Taliban. Former Presidents, including Geroge W. Bush and Barack Obama, have used contractors to prop up friendly governments when regular troops depart. Others applauded the reduction. “It does suggest the U.S. is not substituting for troops with money for contractors,” opined Deborah Avant, director of the University of Denver’s Sié Chéou-Kang Center for International Security.
In addition to the air force’s combat role, it also evacuates wounded soldiers from battlefields. “We’re still working out what that contract support is going to look like,” a Pentagon spokesperson admitted.
To Fight or Not to Fight?
Ending a war is just as difficult, or perhaps even more difficult, than starting one. Some rightfully argue that continued sacrifice of money and lives is useless. Others rightfully counter that a premature withdrawal could lead to defeat, which means all that prior sacrifice was for nothing.
In a little-known episode of World War II, the Soviet Union faced a similar quandary in the summer of 1944. Japan, which was officially neutral in the German-Soviet conflict and had a nonaggression pact with Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, made some efforts to broker a cease-fire between the two belligerents.
No one is sure how far these talks progressed, or if there were even talks at all. However, the Red Army halted outside Warsaw in July 1944, and Stalin refused to allow Great Britain to supply rebels in that city. These moves, which the West believed were designed to plant a Communist dictatorship in Poland, might have been gestures of good faith.
At this point, peace was an attractive option. The Soviets were probably tired of war. Additionally, they had met their initial objectives. They had pushed the Germans back to their starting point and disabled the Wehrmacht’s offensive capability. Tens of millions of Soviets, mostly civilians, died to make these things happen. And, the Red Army was nowhere near Berlin. There was still a long, hard fight ahead.
Nevertheless, Stalin quickly decided to press on. That was probably the right decision. The Germans were bloodied but certainly not beaten. Me 262 jet fighters and nearly-unstoppable Tiger tanks were rolling out of German factories, and who knows what other super weapons they were developing. So, while the Germans were not a threat at that moment, they would probably be back. Furthermore, in terms of the big picture, the United States and Great Britain might not have been able to defeat Germany alone, and the Nazis were bad news for everyone.
The American Civil War is another example. This war was never very popular in the North. During his famous Gettysburg Address, Lincoln told his audience that since fallen soldiers had given “the last full measure of devotion,” he was “highly resolve[d] that these dead shall not have died in vain.” In other words, the North had come so far and sacrificed so much that it owed a debt to fallen soldiers and must see things through to the end.
All this leads us to Afghanistan. After 20 years of continuous fighting in this war-torn country, and with victory nowhere in sight, cutting bait might seem like the right thing to do. But if the U.S. pulls the plug, will the Taliban take over, and would that be America’s fault? Another blog in another 20 or 30 years from now might address that question.
What Contractors Do in Afghanistan
We may not know what the future holds. But we do know what contractors do in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Guarding checkpoints, verifying IDs, and escorting VIPs might seem like mundane duties. But in an anti-insurgency, these activities are just as important as anything else. These activities deter suicide bombings and other militant actions.
Furthermore, if private military contractors are on guard duty, regular servicemembers are free for other operations. It is illegal for American private military contractors to participate in offensive operations.
Even if they do not carry guns, support troops are usually as important as frontline troops. Logisticians usually include people like doctors, cooks, and morale officers. Together, these people then to the physical health, and perhaps more importantly the mental health, of troops in the field.
Trainers are important as well. Almost no one wants United States forces to stay in foreign countries forever. Private military contractors usually make excellent military trainers. These individuals have anti-insurgency experience as well as law enforcement-type experience, at least in many cases.
Today’s high tech weapons, like advanced cruise missiles and drones, require technological savvy that cannot be taught anywhere. That is especially true given the amount of wear and tear which happens in harsh environments like Southwest Asia.
Once again, private military contractors usually have this expertise, and not just because they often come from the companies that built these weapons. Contractors have actual field experience in combat conditions.
Injury Compensation Available
No matter what role they play, contractors are susceptible to work-related injuries. These injuries include sudden trauma injuries, liek falls, and occupational diseases, like gradual hearing loss.
The Defense Base Act compensates these victims for their economic losses, mostly lost wages and medical bills. Both benefits are critical. Wage replacement gives families the resources they need to pay bills while their primary, or only, income producer is unable to work. As for injury-related medical bills, the hospital bill alone often exceeds $50,000. Transportation to that hospital, such as emergency medevac from Afghanistan to Germany, could cost even more than that.
Speaking of medical bills, most injured contractors can choose their own doctors. So, they get the treatment they need, as opposed to the treatment an insurance adjuster authorizes.
For more information about these benefits, contact Barnett, Lerner, Karsen, Frankel & Castro, P.A.