December 16, 2009

Contractors in American Conflicts: Adapting to a New Reality

When our nation goes to war, contractors go with it. Contractors have become an enduring feature of modern American conflicts, and the United States cannot now engage in hostilities or in reconstruction and stabilization operations without them. At their peak, there were more contractors on the ground in Iraq than American troops in uniform and there are more contractors today in Afghanistan than there are U.S. troops on the ground.

However, while private security contractors (PSC) like Blackwater (now knows as Xe Services) have gotten the bulk of public and congressional attention, they only compromise about 5 percent of all contractors in hostile environments – this working paper, which is part of the CNAS project Contracting in Conflicts, addresses the other 95 percent. That 95 percent represents the vast majority of all the tasks carried out by U.S. contractors in theater, and it has been plagued by its own set of problems – including insufficient oversight, inadequate integration into operational planning, and ambiguous legal status. In order for the United States to adapt to the key role that contractors will play in future hostilities, it must establish new policies and rules of the road.


  • John A. Nagl

    Member, CNAS Board of Advisors, Associate Professor of Warfighting Studies at U.S. Army War College

    Dr. John Nagl is the ninth Headmaster of The Haverford School in Haverford, Pennsylvania and a member of the Board of Advisors at the Center for a New American Security. He wa...

  • Richard Fontaine

    Chief Executive Officer

    Richard Fontaine is the Chief Executive Officer of CNAS. He served as President of CNAS from 2012–19 and as Senior Fellow from 2009–12. Prior to CNAS, he was foreign policy ad...

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