As the U.S. military continues to draw down its forces in Iraq later this month and complete a full exit by the end of next year, analysts say the withdrawal will be a boon for the private security industry, whose employees will likely undertake more quasi-military functions such as defusing explosives and providing armed response teams. “They [private security contractors] are going to have to do everything that we expect soldiers to do without going out on patrols to engage the enemy,” says one former industry insider. “There are some pretty smart number crunchers in all the major contractors who are figuring out how much of this increasing pie we’re going to be able to get.”
What exactly that pie will consist of remains to be seen. During the first four years of the war—the most recent available estimate—the U.S. spent as much as $10 billion on private security contractors, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Yet this occurred at a time when the military employed far fewer than the roughly 11,000 private security contractors that it employs today. Just how many will remain in Iraq when the U.S. leaves will depend on the conditions on the ground. Yet analysts say the number of mercenaries will likely remain stable and could even increase slightly. And, as these contractors expand into new roles, “the price of them goes up,” says Stephanie Sanok, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
An influx of mercenaries will become especially important for the State Department, as the military leaves and as Iraqi security forces—while much improved—remain unable to provide the necessary security for what Patrick Kennedy, the undersecretary of state for management, calls “a major expansion” of the department’s postwar presence. Indeed, the number of private security contractors employed by state will grow from roughly 2,700 to as many as 7,000. And those figures don’t include the more than 1,000 tasks that state will inherit from the military once it leaves, according to the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan, a bipartisan government panel created in 2008.
These tasks—which include clearing travel routes and driving armored combat vehicles—do not involve attacking, and thus are not military functions, Kennedy argues. But they do potentially increase the chances that “people acting in the name of the U.S.…can get the U.S. involved in perceptions of misconduct,” says a spokesman for the contracting commission.
In recent years, reforms by the Defense Department have increased oversight and accountability and led to a sharp decrease in the use of deadly force by contractors. Yet since the war began there have been billions of dollars in waste, fraud, and abuse, according to the commission—and members such as Grant Green, under secretary of state for management during the administration of George W. Bush, fear that the increased use of contractors by the State Department could result in similar damage to the postwar mission. “They don’t have the planning or the people to do this,” Green says. “The clock is ticking.”