US private security companies are getting increasingly involved in military action in Iraq, fighting insurgents, enduring attacks and taking hundreds of casualties that have been sometimes concealed, The Washington Post reported Saturday.Citing unnamed US and Iraqi officials and company representatives, the newspaper said that while the military has built up troops in Baghdad, the security companies, funded by billions of dollars in US military and State Department contracts, have been engaged in a parallel surge.
They have boosted manpower, added expensive armor and stepped up evasive action as attacks increase, the report said.
One in seven supply convoys protected by private forces has come under attack this year, the paper said, citing previously unreleased statistics.
One security company reported nearly 300 "hostile actions" in the first four months.
The majority of the more than 100 security companies operate outside of Iraqi law, The Post said.
Blackwater USA, a North Carolina firm that protects US Ambassador Ryan Crocker, and several other companies have not applied for Iraqi licenses, according to the report.
Blackwater said that it obtained a one-year license in 2005 but that shifting Iraqi government policy has impeded its attempts to renew, the paper said.
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The security industry's enormous growth has been facilitated by the US military, which uses the 20,000 to 30,000 contractors to offset chronic troop shortages, according to The Post.
Armed contractors protect all convoys transporting reconstruction materiel, including vehicles, weapons and ammunition for the Iraqi army and police. They guard key US military installations and provide personal security for at least three commanding generals.
US officials and security company representatives emphasized that contractors are strictly limited to defensive operations, the report said.
But company representatives in the field said insurgents rarely distinguish between the military and private forces, drawing the contractors into a bloody and escalating campaign, the paper reported.
The US military has never released complete statistics on contractor casualties or the number of attacks on privately guarded convoys, The Post said.
According to Victoria Wayne, who served at the Reconstruction Logistics Directorate of the Corps of Engineers in Iraq, the military wanted to hide information showing that private guards were fighting and dying in large numbers because it would be perceived as bad news, the paper said.
In an operational overview updated last month, the logistics directorate reported that 132 security contractors and truck drivers had been killed and 416 wounded since fall 2004. Four security contractors and a truck driver remained missing, and 208 vehicles were destroyed. Only convoys registered with the logistics directorate are counted in the statistics, and the total number of casualties is believed to be higher.
Copyright © 2007 AFP