- By Suzanne MerkelsonSuzanne Merkelson is an editorial assistant at Foreign Policy.
With Iraq and Afghanistan increasingly revealing the new realities of war, ProPublica yesterday reported a hitherto unprecedented fact: between January and June, more private contractors than soldiers were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is the first time in history that corporations have lost more personnel on the battlefields than the military.
The nonprofit investigative reporting group analyzed U.S. Department of Labor data and revealed that more than 250 contracted civilians died during the first six months of 2010, compared to 235 soldiers during the same period.
According to ProPublica, this startling statistic reflects the drawdown of U.S. military forces in Iraq and "the central role of contractors in providing logistics support to local armies and police forces"-roles that used to be performed by soldiers. The privatization of warfare means that its contractors-often local civilians or workers hired from developing countries-deliver fuel, provide food, clean kitchens, and give protection to U.S. outposts. ProPublica’s report noted that there are currently 150,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, while, as of March 2010, there were over 200,000 private contractors (although that number is believed to be smaller today).
Steven Schooner, a professor of government contracting at George Washington University Law School, told ProPublica that a reduction in military deaths doesn’t necessarily mean that battlefield losses are in decline:
"It’s extremely likely that a generation ago, each one of these contractors deaths would have been a military death," Schooner said. "As troop deaths have fallen, contractor deaths have risen. It’s not a pretty picture."
See ProPublica’s Disposable Army series for more coverage on civilian contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan.