- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 24, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Much of the discussion about the rights and wrongs of private military and security contractors in Iraq is framed either as a capabilities question - can U.S. forces operate without them? - or a values question - should private contractors have such a big role?

But another way of framing the debate - one we might term the Iraqi outcomes question - is whether Iraq itself is being weakened by their presence.

A paper written by a colonel at the U.S. Army War College says exactly that.

It found that “the United States and our coalition partners may be unknowingly providing the basis for a future military insurgency, after we depart Iraq, by allowing private military firms (PMF), or private security contractors (PSC), or private security providers (PSP) to provide security in Iraq.”

The paper, “Phasing Out Private Security Contractors in Iraq,” was written in March 2006 by Col. Bobby A. Towery while he was a student at the college.

It says: “After our departure, the potential exists for us to leave Iraq with paramilitary organizations that are well organized, financed, trained and equipped. These organizations are primarily motivated by profit and only answer to an Iraqi government official with limited to no control over their actions. These factors potentially make private security contractors a destabilizing influence in the future of Iraq.”

Col. Towery says the use of private contractors in Iraq is a testament to deficient post-conflict planning by the U.S. government.

At this point, more than five years after the start of the war, this is no longer a novel observation, but it’s nevertheless important.

First, the U.S. political leadership grossly underestimated the number of troops that would be required for stability and security operations. Ignoring the advice of its own military professionals, the Bush administration chose to invade with far fewer forces than were needed. As a result, companies such as Halliburton were needed just to meet the military logistics requirements of sustaining U.S. and other coalition forces.

Second, as part of the U.S. plan to bring democracy to the Middle East, Iraq was to be remade into a new country. This required a massive reconstruction project to overcome the effects of more than two decades of war against Iran and then the United States as well as the consequences of the sanctions regime.

But once again, the U.S. administration miscalculated and did not anticipate the emergence and growth of the insurgency. Since U.S. forces were not available to protect those doing reconstruction work, such firms had no choice but to turn to private security contractors to protect their employees.

Col. Towery writes that this misread of the growing insurgency resulted in a gap between what security the coalition forces, limited by the number of troops on hand, could provide and the need for security to enable reconstruction. This gap was really the birth of the private security contractors in Iraq, and their use has grown at an almost out-of-control rate since 2003.

Col. Towery writes that private contractors also complicate what is a “complex battle space” in other ways. One of them is the “blue on white” phenomenon in which soldiers have been in conflict with contractors.

A Government Accountability Office official testified to Congress that from January to May 2005, the Reconstruction Operations Center received reports of 20 friendly-fire incidents. It is likely the number of actual incidents during that time period was higher, since some providers said they stopped reporting these types of incidents.

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