Copyright ©2013 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

If the Afghan government ultimately signs on to the agreement, the U.S. plans to keep between 6 and 9,000 troops in Afghanistan. They would train Afghan soldiers and mount operations against any remnants of al-Qaida. But they would not be the only ones who stay behind. As NPR's Tom Bowman reports, American troops will almost certainly be outnumbered by American civilian contractors.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Ever since the U.S. started ramping up its forces in Afghanistan, back in 2007 during the Bush administration, the contracting force grew at a faster clip. December 2007, 25,000 American troops, 36,000 contractors. And in March of this year, about 66,000 U.S. troops supported by a contracting force of 108,000.

Todd Harrison keeps an eye on military spending. He's with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

TODD HARRISON: The contractors are there doing jobs to support the troops and those jobs in previous wars were often done by other troops.

BOWMAN: Gone are the days when soldiers suffered through KP duty or cleaned latrines. Now those jobs are being done by a young contractor from places like Sri Lanka.

HARRISON: It's not very cost effective to recruit people and put them in a career job in the military and then have them peel potatoes.

BOWMAN: The U.S. has spent hundreds of billions of dollars in Afghanistan, a lot of that paying for contracts. Because there's no final decision on the number of U.S. troops, it's hard to know how many contractors will be needed after 2014. Officials expect that the U.S. will maintain a presence at Bagram Air Base, a sprawling facility north of Kabul. And American training teams will likely be spread around at Afghan bases throughout the country.

Todd Harrison says operating in Afghanistan has consistently cost twice as much as in Iraq. Part of the reason is Afghanistan lacked decent roads and buildings and bridges before the Americans invaded in 2001.

HARRISON: And so, for our forces to operate there, we basically have had to build our own infrastructure and maintain our own infrastructure. And so, contractors play a big role in that.

BOWMAN: And so, American defense contractors, like DynCorp, have found plenty of work. The company now has 10,000 employees in Afghanistan. That's a number greater than two Army brigades. But they don't just hire workers from Sri Lanka to run a chow hall. Contractors also hire experts to help Afghans run their government - a retired American city manager, for example, to work with an Afghan counterpart. Sean McFate teaches strategy at Georgetown University and the National Defense University.

SEAN MCFATE: DynCorp and other companies have a lot of experience in training how to run a ministry, everything from human resources training to logistics.

BOWMAN: So DynCorp would basically be teaching how to run a bureaucracy, right?

MCFATE: How to run a bureaucracy. They also have experience in training forces, like from basic training to fielding units.

BOWMAN: Basic training for Afghan soldiers and police, so that might mean hiring retired American police officers or soldiers. About one-third of contractors are U.S. citizens, the rest come from the developing world or Afghanistan. All of that could add up to thousands of hires and billions of dollars. But there's a concern that more of that money could be lost to waste or fraud now that most American troops are leaving. That's because there won't be enough U.S. soldiers to escort U.S. auditors safely around a war zone. Tom Bowman, NPR News, Washington.

Copyright © 2013 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.