Contractors in Afghanistan.

The number of contractors now exceeds the number of troops, according to The New York Times. It is a combustible mix of the private and public sector that led in part to the Abu Ghraib scandal, where contractors set an example of wild, savage behavior when they watched over the detainees, and the soldiers followed suit. The problems continue to haunt places like the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. As Ginger Thompson reports, the Embassy “guards worked in a ‘Lord of the Flies’ environment."

From a budgetary perspective, it is not clear what the really savings are, either. The Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Frederick D. Barton told a Times reporter that “no one really knew whether having a force made up mainly of contractors whose salaries were often triple or quadruple those of a corresponding soldier or Marine was cheaper or more expensive for the American taxpayer.”

The fact that the military continues to rely on contractors to such a large extent may seem odd at first glance, particularly since it does not seem to help the government’s financial problems. As Corporate Warriors author P.W. Singer told me, the only studies that have been done are those that have projected savings -- and have been conducted by contractors.

In truth, there is no compelling argument that shows that using contractors is fiscally responsible. Instead, the contractors are used for another reason: There are not enough troops to staff the war. As long as the U.S. needs this many troops overseas, fighting on multiple fronts, then contractors will continue to be used, and the problems with their employees at the U.S. Embassy and in other places in Afghanistan will only increase.

--Tara McKelvey

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