January 25, 2008

Private Military Companies in Iraq: No Solution in Sight

With even more U.S. contractors now in Iraq and Afghanistan than U.S. military personnel, government officials told Congress yesterday that the Bush administration is not prepared to manage the contractors' critical involvement in the American war effort.

At the end of last September, there were "over 196,000 contractor personnel working for the Defense Department in Iraq and Afghanistan," said Jack Bell, deputy undersecretary of defense for logistics and materiel readiness.

Contractors "have become part of our total force, a concept that DoD [the Defense Department] must manage on an integrated basis with our military forces," he also said in prepared testimony for a hearing yesterday of the Senate homeland security subcommittee. "Frankly," he continued, "we were not adequately prepared to address" what he termed "this unprecedented scale of our dependence on contractors."

No, no we were not. And no matter how you feel about PMCs -- pro, con, neutral -- the fact that we cannot exert some control over their actions in a war zone is not good. In a combat zone, there are always going to be things out of the control of the commander -- fog of war and all that -- but roving bands of armed Americans should not be one of those things. Abu Muqawama has written a bit about PMCs -- often called "Private Security Companies" (PSC) -- before on this blog's pages, and he has still yet to find a common-sense solution to the presence of PMCs on the battlefield much better than the one Malcom Nance's 9-step proposal on the Small Wars Journal blog a while back:

1. Establish an Army controlled Force Protection Command (FPC) for PSCs.
2. Properly Arm the FPC PSCs for Counterinsurgency.
3. Standardize the entire FPC force.
4. Dispel Mercenary Title.
5. End the Mass Contracting of Third Country National (TCNs).
6. Implement Strict Accountability.
7. Make PSCs An Integral Part of the Strategy … Legally.
8. Remove Colonel Cathcart and Korn from the battlefield.*
9. Hold Everyone to the Same Standard.

It's awfully tough to do #6, though, when we're pressing for loopholes exempting contractors from Iraqi Law. Abu Muqawama understands why we're doing this, but it doesn't send the right message. Rather, it looks as if we're not going to hold PMCs responsible for their actions. Again.

WASHINGTON — With its international mandate in Iraq set to expire in 11 months, the Bush administration will insist that the government in Baghdad give the United States broad authority to conduct combat operations and guarantee civilian contractors specific legal protections from Iraqi law, according to administration and military officials.

...the American quest for protections for civilian contractors is expected to be particularly vexing, because in no other country are contractors working with the American military granted protection from local laws.

*Read Catch-22, kids. Otherwise, check out Malcolm's original piece for an explanation. (Abu Muqawama's favorite scene from Catch-22 -- click here.)