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Stunning Statistics About the War Every American Should Know

Contrary to popular belief, the US actually has 189,000 personnel on the ground in Afghanistan right now—and that number is quickly rising.

Jeremy Scahill

DynCorp instructor with police recruits in Lashkar Gah, Afghanistan, June 2008. In Afghanistan, the Obama administration blows the Bush administration out of the privatized water. (File image via TPM)

A hearing in Sen. Claire McCaskill's Contract Oversight subcommittee
on contracting in Afghanistan has highlighted some important statistics
that provide a window into the extent to which the Obama administration
has picked up the Bush-era war privatization baton and sprinted with
it. Overall, contractors now comprise a whopping 69% of the Department
of Defense's total workforce, "the highest ratio of contractors to
military personnel in US history." That's not in one war zone-that's
the Pentagon in its entirety.

In Afghanistan, the Obama administration blows the Bush administration out of the privatized water. According to a memo
[PDF] released by McCaskill's staff, "From June 2009 to September 2009,
there was a 40% increase in Defense Department contractors in
Afghanistan.  During the same period, the number of armed private
security contractors working for the Defense Department in Afghanistan
doubled, increasing from approximately 5,000 to more than 10,000."

At present, there are 104,000 Department of Defense contractors in
Afghanistan. According to a report this week from the Congressional
Research Service, as a result of the coming surge of 30,000 troops in
Afghanistan, there may be up to 56,000 additional contractors deployed.
But here is another group of contractors that often goes unmentioned:
3,600 State Department contractors and 14,000 USAID contractors. That
means that the current total US force in Afghanistan is approximately
189,000 personnel (68,000 US troops and 121,000 contractors). And
remember, that's right now. And that, according to McCaskill, is a
conservative estimate. A year from now, we will likely see more than
220,000 US-funded personnel on the ground in Afghanistan.

The US has spent more than $23 billion on contracts in Afghanistan
since 2002. By next year, the number of contractors will have doubled
since 2008 when taxpayers funded over $8 billion in Afghanistan-related

Despite the massive number of contracts and contractors in
Afghanistan, oversight is utterly lacking. "The increase in Afghanistan
contracts has not seen a corresponding increase in contract management
and oversight," according to McCaskill's briefing paper. "In May 2009,
DCMA [Defense Contract Management Agency] Director Charlie Williams
told the Commission on Wartime Contracting that as many as 362
positions for Contracting Officer's Representatives (CORs) in
Afghanistan were currently vacant."

A former USAID official, Michael Walsh, the former director of
USAID's Office of Acquisition and Assistance and Chief Acquisition
Officer, told the Commission that many USAID staff are "administering
huge awards with limited knowledge of or experience with the rules and
regulations." According to one USAID official, the agency is "sending
too much money, too fast with too few people looking over how it is
spent." As a result, the agency does not "know ... where the money is

The Obama administration is continuing the Bush-era policy of hiring
contractors to oversee contractors. According to the McCaskill memo:

In Afghanistan, USAID is relying on contractors to provide oversight
of its large reconstruction and development projects.  According to
information provided to the Subcommittee, International Relief and
Development (IRD) was awarded a five-year contract in 2006 to oversee
the $1.4 billion infrastructure contract awarded to a joint venture of
the Louis Berger Group and Black and Veatch Special Projects.  USAID
has also awarded a contract Checci and Company to provide support for
contracts in Afghanistan.

The private security industry and the US government have pointed to
the Synchronized Predeployment and Operational Tracker(SPOT) as
evidence of greater government oversight of contractor activities. But
McCaskill's subcommittee found that system utterly lacking, stating:
"The Subcommittee obtained current SPOT data showing that there are
currently 1,123 State Department contractors and no USAID contractors
working in Afghanistan." Remember, there are officially 14,000 USAID
contractors and the official monitoring and tracking system found none
of these people and less than half of the State Department contractors.

As for waste and abuse, the subcommittee says that the Defense
Contract Audit Agency identified more than $950 million in questioned
and unsupported costs submitted by Defense Department contracts for
work in Afghanistan. That's 16% of the total contract dollars reviewed.

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