Washington: The Pentagon must phase out its use of private security contractors, or find a way to make sure their presence on the battlefield does not put U.S. troops at risk, a former DoD official said yesterday.
That recommendation was one of many included in the final report of the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
To date, the Pentagon has no way of measuring the risk associated with what are commonly called Private Security Contractors (PSCs) in combat, former DoD comptroller and commission member Dov Zakheim said.
The way DoD currently decides if it needs PSCs in the field or not is by determining whether certain security jobs can be done by uniformed troops or not, according to Zakheim.
If the answer is yes, then U.S. soldiers are used. If no, then private security firms are called in.
But this narrow requirement does not account for whether the presence of PSCs in the field increases the dangers for the American military, Zakheim claimed.
The commission’s report claims that the presence of PSCs, “present especially sensitive risks, because their armed employees can become involved in incidents that injure or endanger” civilians and and military forces working alongside them.
“If the risk is too high, it does not matter if [the job] is governmental or non-governmental,” Zakheim said.
Combatant commanders in the field now have to make that assessment, according to the report. If the risk is deemed too high, then the PSCs will be taken out and replaced by U.S. soldiers.
“There are places where PSCs do not belong,” Zakheim added.
DoD has already tightened up the rules by which PSCs could support U.S. forces overseas.
Those changes, approved by DoD acquisition chief Ash Carter in August, extend the rules governing PSCs in war zones to all security contractors working in all U.S.-led missions overseas, including humanitarian, peacekeeping or “other military operations” where DoD has boots on the ground.
While those rule changes did help rein in PSCs, it “does not do enough” in getting to the basic question of whether privatized soldiers do more harm that good in a war zone, Zakheim said.
But the commission’s characterization of PSCs is an “extraordinary overstatement” on the kinds of risks they pose, and the solutions proffered are “too simplistic” in their approach, says Stan Soloway, president of the Professional Services Council, which represents more than 300 service companies.
Aside from a few bad apples, the majority of the PSCs in Iraq and Afghanistan performed well in the field, and provided DoD and other governmental agencies with a key service, Soloway said.
And as the Army and other services continue to get smaller, Soloway noted that DoD cannot afford to fill the jobs handled by PSCs with U.S. soldiers.
According to Soloway, it would take between 40,000 to 45,000 troops to replace the 10,000 to 15,000 security contractors who worked for DoD in Iraq and Afghanistan during the height of the Iraq war.
Because of troop rotation schedules, logistics requirements and other military-centric requirements, you simply need more troops to fill the bill being handled by PSCs, Soloway added.
“It’s not just one soldier to one contractor,” he said.