Report: ‘Camo Economy’ Hides War Costs

Report: ‘Camo Economy’ Hides War Costs

From 2008 to 2019, the Pentagon spent over $1 trillion on private military contractors. None of this money was part of the “official” accounting figures, according to a recent report.

Brown University researchers dubbed this hidden spending the “camo economy.” Many agreements with private military contractors are “non-competitive.” The government picked a specific contractor and negotiated the terms only with that once contractor. So, according to this report, there is no incentive to minimize costs. This arrangement hides the human cost, as well, the researchers argued. For example, 7,000 servicemembers have died in Afghanistan since 2001. The 8,000 contractors who have also died usually do not count in the official tallies.

Contractors are in almost every corner of the globe. Most of them are in the Southwest Asia theater of operations, as outlined below.


The way things look now, the first frontier in the Global War on Terror might also be one of the last ones.

In a nutshell, the Afghanistan experience has been necessary, draining, and frustrating. In the months and years leading to 9/11, the mountains of Afghanistan were one of the primary Al-Qaeda staging areas. Now, almost 20 years and billions of dollars later, the Taliban controls almost as much of the country as it did prior to the U.S. invasion. The on again/off again peace talks are apparently on again, at least for the time being, but there is no way to tell if these talks will bear fruit.

American private military contractors have played a central role in Afghanistan. In many ways, contractor-led operations were more successful than servicemember-led operations. At one point, U.S. President Donald Trump seriously considered privatizing the Afghanistan war. Contractors are much more flexible than regular servicemembers. They can be boots-on-the-ground in a specific location almost literally in a matter of hours. Then, they fade into the background just as quickly.

As combat operations wind down, contractors remain in Afghanistan to prop up the country’s shaky democratic government. The failure to do so could place the country back in the Taliban’s grasp, and no one wants that.


At many points during the Iraq War, private military contractors outnumbered regular servicemembers. Now, in Iraq just as in Afghanistan, the focus is on rebuilding and nation-building. Contractors are an integral part of both these processes.

During rebuilding, security contractors remain behind to keep a lid on hot spots and protect construction contractors. Private military contractors can move from place to place much more efficiently, and much more unobtrusively, than regular servicemembers. Additionally, projects like bridges and hospitals need much more security than a perimeter fence and a courtesy patrol officer. If workers do not feel safe, they will not show up, and the project grinds to a halt.

Nation-building is important, as well. Bitter experience has taught the United States that the next military strongman is always waiting in the wings. Iraq is just now moving past the repression and brutality of the Saddam Hussein years. If democracy takes root in Iraq, private military contractors must be the people who will water the tree. Stateside pundits and policymakers will not tolerate a further American military presence, beyond a skeleton crew.


A few weeks ago, the fighting in this war-torn country appeared to be winding down. Now, the opposite is true. Turkey has become entrenched in the north of Syria, and the nation has fixed its sights southward. Additionally, border clashes between Syrian and Israeli forces have become more intense. All the while, the civil war between Russia-backed Bashar Assad and U.S.-backed rebels continues unabated.

Contractors provide more than military support during the fighting. It takes a thief to catch a thief. Contractors have so much anti-insurgency experience that they know what works and what does not work. The more experience they share with rebel groups, the more effective these groups become without the assistance of U.S. troops.

Pressure is mounting on Assad, and not just from Turkey and Israel. The Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act, which President Donald Trump only recently signed into law, has already sent the Syrian economy into a tailspin. It is unclear how much longer Assad can hold out.

If Assad is forced out, contractors will remain behind to support rebuilding efforts. According to some estimates, the rebuilding might cost more than the fighting. These efforts are critical. Refugees will not return until the country is at least largely rebuilt and pacified. Until then, the situation will remain highly unstable.


These Gulf Coast countries are on the periphery of the Southwest Asia theater. So, these places fill an important supporting role. Qatar and Kuwait are also on the front line, in terms of containing Iran.

These countries are relatively stable. So, most of the military contractors in Kuwait and Qatar are usually just passing through.

That does not mean there are no contractors in these countries. In fact, the opposite is true. From longshoremen to mechanics to cooks and morale officers, contractors are a vital part of the U.S. military presence in these important locales.

Injury Compensation Available

These contractors fulfill various roles in various places, but the Defense Base Act protects them all. Medical bill payment is a big component of this protection.

Generally, the DBA pays all reasonably necessary medical bills, from the first day of emergency care to the last day of physical therapy. This category also includes ancillary expenses, such as transportation costs. Medical evacuation from Afghanistan or Syria often means transportation to a hospital in Germany. That flight could cost tens of thousands of dollars, or even more.

Typically, injured contractors can choose their own doctors and change physicians at any point during treatment. So, these victims get the medical help they need, as opposed to the care the insurance company is willing to pay for.

Contact Barnett, Lerner, Karsen, Frankel & Castro, P.A. for more information about other DBA benefits, such as wage replacement.