Contractors Will Take The Place Of Troops In Iraq

As U.S. troops pull out of Iraq, the State Department will need to rely extensively on security contractors. Their presence raises issues of oversight and cost — and what happens if those contractors are targeted by insurgents? Grant Green of the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan talks to Steve Inskeep about what contractors will be responsible for.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Now, the U.S. military may be reducing its forces in Iraq, but the State Department is not. The U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad is the largest in the world, and the State Department is adding five outposts elsewhere in the country, which will act like consulates.

Heres President Obama, speaking yesterday.

President BARACK OBAMA: Our commitment in Iraq is changing, from a military effort led by our troops to a civilian effort led by our diplomats.

INSKEEP: Which is awkward, because all of those American diplomats need to be protected.

We contacted Grant Green, of the bipartisan Commission on Wartime Contracting, to explain how this will be done.

Mr. GRANT GREEN (Commission on Wartime Contracting): As DOD leaves and State takes over these missions, there today is only one way that State can accomplish that, and that's with contractors. On security contractors alone, State's estimate is that they will increase from about 2,700 today to 6,000 or 7,000. That doesn't take into consideration all the other missions that the State Department will assume, some of which are very benign - issuing ID cards and access control.

In addition to that, there are a number of security-related issues. They will have contractors fly an aircraft, driving armored vehicles, providing Medivac, dealing with explosive ordnance disposal.

INSKEEP: Medivac meaning that if somebody gets in trouble somewhere...

Mr. GREEN: Correct.

INSKEEP: ...a medical problem...

Mr. GREEN: Correct.

INSKEEP: ...you need to send in a chopper...

Mr. GREEN: Yeah.

INSKEEP: ...to take them out of there.

Mr. GREEN: That'll all be done, as it stands now, with contractors.

INSKEEP: Logistics, we're talking about?

Mr. GREEN: It's logistics...

INSKEEP: Food, everything else?

Mr. GREEN: ...it's maintenance, it's transportation, it's water - delivering water - it's cleaning latrines.

INSKEEP: So when you say 7,000 contractors, that's actually a starting number.

Mr. GREEN: Oh, that's just security contractors.

INSKEEP: So do we have a situation, then, where as tens of thousands of American troops are leaving, tens of thousands of various contractors are arriving?

Mr. GREEN: Correct. I don't know what the final number will be but I think, more importantly, is that you're going to have a lot more contractors doing things that many people will consider inherently governmental - or very close to combat.

INSKEEP: Given some of the abuses that have been identified in the past involving private military contractors, should we feel entirely comfortable with the idea of bringing in several thousand more armed, private contractors to Iraq?

Mr. GREEN: There's always that risk, when you have a contractor, of oversight. When I asked the question of the State Department representative - do you have enough personnel, both in quantity and experience, to oversee your contracts, the answer was no - and that was under the current situation. As you add hundreds and hundreds more contractors, it further exacerbates that problem.

INSKEEP: May seem like an obvious question, but I think it deserves to be asked: Why does the United States need such an enormous presence in Iraq after August of this year?

Mr. GREEN: Well, you know, those are political decisions that have been made. You know, an issue we haven't talked about is, what is the appetite of the administration, and the Congress, once they see the bill for this effort, and once they see the increase in the number of contractors who are doing military or quasi-military functions. In today's budget environment, is the money going to be appropriated to carry on with this?

INSKEEP: Grant Green is a former U.S. diplomat, now with the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Thanks very much.

Mr. GREEN: Sure thing. Happy to be with you.

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