Deadly Week for Contractors in Afghanistan

Deadly Week for Contractors in Afghanistan

Recent events suggest that private military contractors bear the brunt of the action in this war-torn country, as two contractors were killed in two separate incidents in June 2017.

Retired Chief Warrant Officer Four Christian H. McCoy, a 30-year veteran of the Special Forces, lost his life when his armored vehicle exploded at an undisclosed location inside Afghanistan. At the time of his death, McCoy was part of a Joint Expeditionary Team (JET) working to develop vehicles more resistant to roadside bombs. McCoy is survived by a wife and three children. Previously, on June 19, 27-year-old Navy veteran Kevin Yali was killed in a mortar attack. He had deployed to Afghanistan as a contractor less than three weeks earlier.

McCoy was “1000 percent military,” according to his ex-wife of 15 years. “He just did his job and if you asked Christian what he did for a living, he would joke and say, ‘you know those coffee machines on the Air Force airplanes, I fix those,’” she recalled.

Buildup to Afghanistan

In some ways, Afghanistan is a remote and unimportant country. It is mostly mountainous and has few natural resources. However, Afghanistan is also in a very strategic location, and all those mountains mean that there are lots of places to hide.

The country’s strategic location near British India led directly to tow Anglo-Afghan wars in the mid 19th Century, when the British Empire was almost at the peak of its power. The Soviet-Afghan war in the late 20th Century, when the Soviet Union was near the height of its power, was also a location-based conflict.

In both these instances, the Afghans not only beat back the foreign invaders, the Afghan victories contributed significantly to the demise of these two global empires. Additionally, the 1980s Soviet war paved the way for the subsequent arrival of Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda organization.

When the mighty Red Army, which had recently vanquished Nazi Germany and subdued about half of Europe, invaded Afghanistan in 1979, it seemed to many that the one-sided fight would be over quickly. In the early going, these predictions seemed accurate. The Afghan resistance was no match for massive Soviet firepower, which dominated both the ground and the skies.

The American CIA was anxious to stem the tide of Soviet expansion, and equally anxious to avoid a U.S.-Soviet war. So, the Agency encouraged Islamic militants from around the world to join the jihad (holy war) against the Soviets.

At first, the plan met with limited success. In the mid 1980s, the CIA began supplying the mujahedin (holy warriors) with Stinger shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles. According to some, these high tech weapons turned the tide of battle against the Soviets. In 1990, when reformist dictator Mikhail Gorbachev took power, he ordered a troop withdrawal.

Largely due to the influx of foreign fighters, Afghanistan was in almost complete disarray. Yet rather than restore stability, or at least attempt to do so, U.S. President George H.W. Bush declared victory and pulled out of the country, as well.

Perhaps the former CIA director believed that, if Americans remained, the pains of nation-building would make everyone forget about the fruits of victory.

Whatever rationale Bush ‘41 may have had, the sudden withdrawal turned out to be a very short-sighted decision.

With no common enemy to fight and no foreign benefactor to unite them, the Islamic militants soon began fighting each other. One of the strongest groups eventually became the Taliban. By the mid 1990s, the violent and conservative Taliban controlled most of the country.

That was the same time the aforementioned Saudi dissident left his country over the Saudi Royal Family’s use of American military power. When Iraqi dictator Saddam Huseein forcibly took Kuwait and threatened Saudi Arabia, bin Laden put his private army at the king’s disposal.

But King Fahd decided to invite the Americans into the country instead. A bitterly anti-American bin Laden found refuge with the Taliban, where he continued to develop Al Qaeda. There, the organization operated at will in remote mountain areas, preparing for the 9/11 attacks.

The United States invaded Afghanistan shortly thereafter. Although bin Laden is dead and his organization has been effectively smashed, the war itself shows no sign of ending. After their experiences with the British and Soviets, the Afghans are used to fighting, and winning, protracted wars against powerful opponents.

What Contractors do There Now

People are often resilient when they fight foreign invaders in their own backyards. The nations which intervene in such places, regardless of the purity of their motives, often lack that resolution.

So it is with the U.S. in Afghanistan. American policymakers obviously want to stabilize Afghanistan so it is no longer a haven for international terrorists, but it does not want to jeopardize servicemembers’ lives any more than necessary to do so.

Enter the private military contractor.

Mots private contractors are veteran servicemembers with combat experience. So, these individuals are well-positioned to assume point positions in operations like convoy escort, base perimeter security, and intelligence-gathering operations.

Other contractors possess skill sets that people in the regular armed forces lack. Additionally, over the long term, contractors are much cheaper than servicemembers. Contractors receive no paid benefits and have no job security. So, many of these people serve in important support roles, like mechanics, cooks, drivers, and longshoremen.

Many contractors are military trainers, so they are a bit from Column A and a bit from Column B. These combat veterans immediately win the respect of foreign recruits. They also know the latest developments in weapons and tactics. Additionally, these individuals have some skills that stateside drill sergeants may lack. Specifically, they know how to overcome the language and culture barrier.

Injury Compensation Available

All these areas of service are quite hazardous, to say the least. Bomb blasts, militant abushes, and suicide attacks can occur any place and any time. Fortunately, the Defense Base Act is there to provide injury compensation benefits to eligible private contractors. This eligibility includes:

  • Employment by a U.S. government agency or certain friendly foreign governments,
  • An overseas location,
  • In a war zone, and
  • An injury rationally related to the reason for deployment.

Those last two bullets merit some further explanation. A country is a “war zone” for DBA purposes if there is any American military presence in the country. That could be a sprawling Army base or a single military advisor. Additionally, the injury need not be directly service-related. A nexus, or an indirect connection, is sufficient. For example, DBA benefits may be available if a contractor is hurt in a bomb blast in a marketplace during the contractor’s off hours.

Contact Barnett, Lerner, Karsen, Franco & Castro, P.A., for more information about the kinds of available benefits.