Thursday, 30 September 2010

More contractors than troops killed during past year in Iraq and Afghanistan

Recent data show that more contractors were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan than U.S. troops during the first six months of 2010, according to a George Washington University law professor.
"Contractors supporting the war effort today are losing more lives than the U.S. military waging these wars," wrote Steven L. Schooner, co-director of the Government Procurement Law Program at The George Washington Law School, and Collin D. Swan, a student there. Their article appeared in the September issue of Service Contractor magazine, a quarterly publication of the Professional Services Council, an industry group.
The data show that in the first half of 2010, contractor fatalities in Afghanistan for the first time exceeded troop fatalities -- 232 and 195, respectively. Contractor deaths in Iraq surpassed military deaths there beginning in 2009. Between January 2009 and June 2010, there were 204 contractor deaths and 188 troop deaths in Iraq.


Since the wars began in 2001, 5,531 U.S. troops and 2,008 contractors have died in Iraq and Afghanistan, in addition to 44 killed in Kuwait, many of whom were supporting missions in the war zones, the authors reported.
"The actual number of contractor fatalities is probably higher than is currently known," Schooner and Swan wrote.
Until 2008, the government's efforts to track contractors operating in the war zones were negligible. Congress, in the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act, ordered the Defense and State departments and the U.S. Agency for International Development to begin doing so, and Defense established a database to collect information on deployed contractors, including casualties.
But in November 2009, the Government Accountability Office reported that the effort fell short of statutory requirements and failed to give agencies accurate contractor figures, or sufficient information to oversee contractor operations.
According to Schooner and Swan, a Labor Department database that tracks contractor injuries and deaths based on insurance claims submitted under the 1941 Defense Base Act provides the most reliable information on contractor fatalities and injuries. But that data includes a contractor's death only if the family or employer seeks insurance compensation.
Contractor deaths are trending upward, as military reliance on them continues to grow. A July report by the Congressional Research Service found that Defense employs almost as many contractors as it has troops in Iraq, and over 30,000 more contractors than military personnel in Afghanistan.
The number of contractors employed in Iraq and Afghanistan and the duration of their service make the current situation unique, the authors wrote.
"Transparency in this regard is critical to any discussion of the costs and benefits, or our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. An accurate accounting is also important for the public -- and Congress -- to grasp both the level of the military's reliance on contractors and the extent of these contractors' sacrifices," they said.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Welcome Fireworks

In the evenings, I often enjoyed standing outside the accommodation, on the 1st floor metal stairs running down the side of the building.  The night air was refreshingly cool, with a brisk wind blowing down from the snow-capped mountains surrounding Kabul.  The air was usually clear and, when the clouds were absent, the moon would rise majestically from behind the darkened mountain peaks, so unfeasibly large that I felt a well thrown pebble could reach it.
 Later in my first week at the compound, I was standing on my vantage point enjoying the cool, clear evening air, when a crackle of gunfire burst from the darkness in the middle distance.  I watched cautiously as a stream of fluorescent red beads arched gracefully across the sky, relieved that they were moving in the opposite direction to me.  ‘Tat-Tat-Tat-Tat-Tat’ echoed across the night air, as the gunfire built with intensity,  shortly followed by the deeper  ‘Tum-Tum-Tum-Tum’ retort of a 50’ caliber  support weapon as it added some zipping dots of color to night sky.
 Having been confined within the compound since my arrival, I was still very fuzzy about the geography  outside in the suburbs of Kabul. From what I could remember, there was little habitation in the direction of the gunfire.  Some mud walled buildings, dusty fields and an isolated hillock with an observation post on its crest.  Everything behind that was obscured from view, except for the rising walls of the surrounding mountains that began several dozen kilometers distant.
 Suddenly, my awareness peaked. There wasn’t any gunfire heading in my direction, but I became acutely aware that I was stood only a stone’s throw from an extremely large volume of highly aviation fuel, in the nearby bulk fuel installation. I mentally debated how combustible that fuel would be, if hit by a stray tracer round.  I felt vulnerable.
I stood and watched.  Was it an ambushed American patrol?   A roadblock engaging a vehicle?  A small outpost  responding to movement on the mountainside? 
My thoughts were disturbed when the accommodation door opened and I was joined by one of the South African guys that worked for our aviation business.  He stood silently and watched the tracers for a few moments before remarking ‘quite a display’.  I agreed, it was compulsive viewing.    ‘Night firing’, he continued.  It was a firing range.  I am glad that I hadn’t gotten too excited about it and made a fool of myself.  Even if I had of panicked, I had no body armor to wear, no siren to sound and no drills to follow. 
This was my real introduction to life in Kabul.  I wasn’t in the military any more. I wasn’t armed.  I wasn’t expected to be concerned with these things.
 I was soon to learn that there was also a quarry located near to the firing ranges.  They blasted the rock most afternoons.  I soon got so used to the noise of explosions and gunshots that, like most other people here, after a few weeks I completely failed to notice the impact when a car-bomb detonated at the gates of another of our companies’ compounds 200m up the street.
Kabul suffers multiple security incidents on a daily basis.  Only a tiny percentage ever get reported by the media.  Those are the incidents where foreigners are killed.  The company I work for has its supply convoys shot at on a daily basis as they trundle through the mountainous roads to or from Kabul.  It provokes little reaction when management learn of a burnt out truck or two.  Fatalities of the drivers aren’t really discussed.  The trucks are sub-contracted from local businesses, so the impact of those losses is not our concern; financially or, it seems, morally.
There are few countries in the world where nearby gunfire or explosions fail to interrupt conversations.  Afghanistan is definitely one of those places.