Kellogg Brown & Root, Halliburton, and other private military contractors earned about $5 trillion during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to a recent report.
The report’s author, William D. Hartung of the Center for International Policy, sharply criticized DoD policies in Southwest Asia. “If it were only the money, that would be outrageous enough,” he said. “But the fact it undermined the mission and put troops at risk is even more outrageous.” As an example, Hartung pointed to the Afghanistan Air Force. The Pentagon equipped the Afghans with sophisticated Blackhawk helicopters which U.S. military contractors largely maintained. He also repeated unsubstantiated allegations that contractors bribed Taliban fighters.
Former Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Jodi Vittori was more concerned about the political fallout. “Using contractors allowed America to fight a war that a lot of Americans forgot we were fighting,” she commented.
Contractors in Active War Zones
Any way you slice it, $5 trillion is a lot of money. However, the DoD and other government agencies paid this money over a period of about twenty years. So, the financial impact is not as significant as it seems at first blush.
Additionally, if regular servicemembers had replaced private military contractors, the cost would probably have been higher. When the government uses contractors, the financial commitment is only short-term. When the contract ends, so do the payments. But the government must keep paying regular servicemembers when their Southwest Asia deployments end. Furthermore, the government could be on the hook for fringe benefits, like healthcare and housing, retirement benefits, and disability benefits. These payments could be long-term or lifelong.
On a related note, contractors are much more flexible than regular servicemembers. Army and Marine units must train for months before their deployments. By the time they are boots on the ground, the situation they trained to face might no longer exist. In contrast, a DoD official can make one phone call to a private military contractor and have assets in-country within a few days.
That is not to minimize the contribution that regular servicemembers made in these conflicts. Only these assets can take the fight to the Taliban, ISIS, al-Qaeda, and other enemies. Additionally, regular servicemembers mean political accountability which many leaders on both sides of the aisle are unwilling to assume.
During their deployments, U.S. law generally limits private military contractors to support and defensive roles.
Support roles include jobs like mechanics and technicians. Since many contractors worked for the companies which developed the hardware, they are well-suited to maintain it. Other support roles include training foreign security forces. Private military contractors can share their anti-insurgency experience with these recruits.
Defensive roles include escort duty, guard duty, intelligence-gathering duty, and other responsibilities that regular servicemembers usually do not like. When contractors step in here, there are more assets available for other operations.
Contractors in Passive War Zones
We mentioned KBR and Halliburton at the top of this article, and not just because they were two of the largest Southwest Asia contractors. They also largely served in different capacities.
KBR provided mostly combat and combat support contractors. In addition to the jobs discussed above, KBR contractors often got the dangerous work no one else wanted, like maintaining burn pits.
Haliburton, on the other hand, is mostly a logistical contractor. Even when bullets are not flying, there is work to be done. In fact, the passive war zone work might be more active than the passive war zone work. American history is littered with examples of winning the war and losing the peace.
Rebuilding infrastructure, like power plants, schools, roads, bridges, and hospitals, is a good example. Most refugees will not come home until they can send their kids to school and go to work in relative safety. Therefore, even before an area is completely pacified, rebuilding contractors usually move in.
Typically, contractors supervise onsite construction work. Stateside planners draw up the blueprints, while local men and women do most of the heavy lifting. Such top-down management is usually a good way to run any project, construction or otherwise. And, local workers earn paychecks which stabilize the local economy.
Nevertheless, there are some security concerns, as well, especially in areas where militants are at least somewhat active. A few cameras and a “Keep Out” sign are inadequate to protect construction projects, and more importantly construction workers, in places like Southwest Asia. Therefore, armed contractors must stay behind when most others have left.
Injury Compensation Available
Contractors in both active and passive war zones face similar injury risks. Falls are the most common construction injuries, and combat-related incidents are the most common injuries in active war zones.
Both injuries often cause severe broken bones and head injuries. These wounds are impossible to effectively treat at field hospitals which, in many cases, are little more than first-aid centers.
So, these victims must be evacuated to large medical facilities. Frequently, these facilities are in Europe or a Persian Gulf country, like Kuwait or Saudi Arabia. Transportation to such a facility could cost tens of thousands of dollars. When victims reach these hospitals, their injuries are usually more advanced and more difficult to deal with. So, medical costs keep ratcheting up.
A Defense Base Act insurance company is legally responsible for all these charges, as well as any other reasonably necessary medical expenses. This category includes things like medical devices, prescription drugs, and physical therapy. So, in most cases, injured private military contractors end up paying nothing out of pocket for medical care. As a bonus, most victims can choose their own doctors. So, they get the treatment they need, as opposed to the treatment an insurance company adjuster is willing to pay for.
The “reasonably necessary” provision is often controversial. Frequently, insurance company lawyers challenge cutting-edge medical procedures, such as treating PTSD victims with MDMA (ecstasy) as unnecessary or unreasonable. So, an attorney must advocate for victims in these situations, to ensure that these bills get paid.
For more information about the DBA’s wage replacement benefit, contact Barnett, Lerner, Karsen, Frankel & Castro, P.A.