Faces in the Crowd: Profiling Afghanistan and Iraq Contractors

Faces in the Crowd: Profiling Afghanistan and Iraq Contractors

America has been engaged in these Southwest Asia wars since shortly after 9/11, and contractors have long played a key role in these conflicts. Until now, little has been known about the men and women who fought and died here.

Many details are still unavailable, largely due to proprietary and security concerns. So, to get a better idea of who these contractors are, a recent study looked at deceased contractors to shed light on the living ones.

Most contractors are white men in their 40s with college degrees and significant military experience, often in the Special Forces or other elite groups. Generally, contractors come from places where economic opportunities are limited. During engagements, contractors were more likely to die than regular servicemembers. Contractors do not have the same protective umbrella, and they perform different types of operations.

In 2016, contractors provided about a fourth of the manpower in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Iraq and Afghanistan: An Overview

Almost from Day One, private military contractors played important roles in both these post-9/11 conflicts. Both of these engagements have been difficult and controversial.

The U.S. invaded Afghanistan shortly after the World Trade Center attack. For several decades, the Taliban had harbored Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda organization. Unfortunately, by the time U.S. troops arrived, bin Laden had taken refuge in neighboring Pakistan. However, U.S. troops did find a people determined to defend their homes against what they considered a foreign invader.

So, progress has been uneven, at best. Just when it seems that the country is stabilizing and the Taliban is subdued, violence erupts again. As a result, Blackwater founder Erik Prince has urged the Trump Administration to fully privatize the Afghan war. The recent turmoil at the top of the DoD, at least in part, may be attributable to this ongoing debate.

In the wake of 9/11, then-President George W. Bush began building a case against Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein’s connection to the terrorist attacks, as well as his use of weapons of mass destruction. Congress eventually authorized military action against Iraq, which led to an invasion. As it turns out, that evidence may have been a bit shaky.

For various reasons, some good and some bad, U.S. resolve in Iraq eventually faded. While the country is relatively stable at this point, there is still a mess to clean up, and that duty may very well fall to private military contractors.

“Wartime” Contractor Duties

Despite what some people believe, there is a significant difference between mercenaries and private military contractors. Mercenaries are illegal in the United States, which is the main reason the U.S. has never signed international agreements which regulate mercenaries. If these fighters do not exist in the United States, it is pointless to accept international oversight on the issue.

Mercenaries fight only for money. The Hessians who fought for the British during the American Revolution were a classic example of mercenaries. These German fighters participated for the money. They did not care about the dispute between Britain and its colonies. Indeed, most of them probably could not find the disputed North American lands on a map.

Contractors, on the other hand, fight mostly for money, and partially for their country. American contractors in Afghanistan would never dream of switching sides to the Taliban for more money. Mercenaries would at least consider such an offer, and probably take it.

Additionally, contractors never serve in offensive roles. They are purely defensive. So, they free up regular servicemembers to participate in these operations.

That is one of the main reasons the U.S. uses overseas contractors. These individuals give American commanders more flexibility in the field. This flexibility is one of the main arguments for those who want to privatize the Afghan war.

Moreover, domestic and foreign lawmakers often prefer contractors to servicemembers for political reasons. Since contractor troop and casualty figures do not count in official tallies, contractor use makes the American presence look smaller and less risky.

“Peacetime” Contractor Duties

Another difference between mercenaries and contractors is that when the fighting ends, mercenaries leave. Contractors stay behind, where they continue to play important roles.

Many times, postwar rebuilding is more expensive and more important than the fighting. Raods, schools, bridges, dams, and pretty much everything else must be rebuilt from the ground up. Until such things are available, most refugees will not return, so there is no sense of normalcy in the country. The continued instability invites further conflict.

Unarmed contractors often replace the armed ones at this point. Construction contractors often manage these programs while locals do most of the labor. So, the project is done right, and the local population feels invested in its completion.

Armed contractors do not leave the country altogether. They stay behind, as well, to provide security for construction projects and ongoing pacification/deterrence efforts in the streets.

Injury Compensation Available

In both “wartime” and “peacetime,” overseas contractors risk serious injury. Due to the serious nature of these wounds, as well as the complexities of treating such injuries in foreign countries, medical bills are often staggering in these cases.

Defense Base Act insurance companies usually pay these expenses directly. This coverage applies to:

  • Emergency care,
  • Transportation to a larger hospital in Europe or the United States,
  • Treatment at that facility,
  • Physical rehabilitation,
  • Necessary follow-up visits, and
  • Any other related expenses, such as medical devices and prescription drugs.

Typically, injured contractors may choose their own doctors and change physicians at will during the course of treatment.

Attorney advocacy is very important during medical treatment, especially during the physical therapy stage. If the victim does not show progress for a couple of weeks, many insurance companies try to cease funding. But stopping too early could be a serious mistake, particularly in head injury cases.

Contact Barnett, Lerner, Karsen, Frankel & Castro, P.A. for more information about available DBA benefits.