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It's time for Blackwater to leave Iraq

Francona: Private security company is a problem the U.S. doesn't need

MSNBC video
Private contractors off the hook?
Oct. 4: After a Baghdad gun battle involving private contractors from Blackwater, a new bill makes private contractors in Iraq subject to U.S. civilian courts. Dan Abrams speaks with Col. Jack Jacobs, a former Blackwater vice president and David Rivkin.
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Oct. 2: The Blackwater hearings began today with founder Erik Prince claiming that the firm has "acted appropriately at all times." Jeremy Scahill, author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army, discusses.

Lt. Col. Rick Francona
Military analyst

The killing of two Iraqi women in Baghdad by an Australian private security contractor has again highlighted the ongoing debate about the role of private security companies in Iraq.

Although there are numerous contract security firms in Iraq, one name always comes to mind, Blackwater USA. One of Blackwater’s major contracts is to provide security, mostly convoy security, for members of the American Embassy in Baghdad as they travel around the area. 

It was such a mission that has led to the current scrutiny. On Sept. 16, there was an incident in which 17 Iraqis were killed by Blackwater employees and the Iraqi government believes Blackwater is at fault.  The Iraqi government is demanding not only $8 million compensation per victim, but that the United States also hand over Blackwater employees involved in the shootings to face Iraqi justice.

The U.S. government's use of contractors is not unique to the Iraq war nor to the present. It goes back to the Civil War and the push west under Manifest Destiny. Sutlers provided rations and supplies as the U.S. Army moved west. In World War II, contractors were a common sight on military installations, and have always been considered a “force multiplier.” Why use trained soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines to do routine, non-military type functions when you can contract them out? Duties such as cooking, cleaning, construction, maintenance, supply, etc. can all be done more effectively by contractors, freeing up trained military personnel for direct combat, combat support and combat service missions. 

As the size of American military forces became an issue and troop ceilings were mandated, the use of contractors became even more important. Contractors normally do not count against troop strength. When the Department of Defense is ordered to station only a finite number of troops in a particular area, the use of contractor support allows that lower number to be met more easily. You can maintain a larger force with contractors than without. The advantage is a more potent military force with fewer active troops.

In recent years, the role of contractors has changed, by necessity. With the drawdown of the U.S. military to about one-half of one percent of the population, coincident with a two-front war and our existing global commitments, there are not enough combat forces to meet all the requirements. To meet the demand, contract personnel have moved into roles formerly reserved for military personnel. 

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