ProPublica

Journalism in the Public Interest

Contractor Deaths Accelerating in Afghanistan as They Outnumber Soldiers

Of the 289 civilian contractors killed since the war in Afghanistan started, 100 have died in just the last six months, a recent analysis shows. That's a reflection of both growing violence and the importance of the civilians flooding into the country.

In this photograph taken Jan. 31, 2007, Afghan men are trained by U.S. military contractors during a exercise in the southern town of Qalat, the capital of Zabul province. A new government report shows the number of contractor deaths in Afghanistan has increased in recent months. (Shah Marai/AFP/Getty Images)A recent Congressional Research Service analysis obtained by ProPublica looked at the number of civilian contractors killed in Afghanistan in recent months. It's not pretty.

Of the 289 civilians killed since the war began more than eight years ago, 100 have died in just the last six months. That's a reflection of both growing violence and the importance of the civilians flooding into the country along with troops in response to President Obama's decision to boost the American presence in Afghanistan.

The latest U.S. Department of Defense numbers show there are actually more civilian contractors on the ground in Afghanistan than there are soldiers. The Pentagon reported 107,292 U.S.-hired civilian workers in Afghanistan as of February 2010, when there were about 78,000 soldiers. This is apparently the first time that contractors have exceeded soldiers by such a large margin.

Using civilian contractors to haul food, prepare meals and act as bodyguards has kept the Pentagon's official casualty figures lower than they would have been in past conflicts, where contractors were not as heavily used.

Contractor casualties are, by and large, invisible to the public, disguising the full human cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are not reported in totals given by the government. If they were, the death toll in Afghanistan would have surpassed 1,000 -- 848 soldiers, 289 civilian contractors -- from 2001 to 2009, a milestone that has gone entirely unmarked.

The number of contractor dead are released only through the Labor Department, which keeps count as part of an insurance program for contractors known as the Defense Base Act. And these numbers, agency officials have admitted and our reporting has shown, undercount fatalities. As David Isenberg pointed out in the Huffington Post recently, a new database designed, in part, to track contractor deaths is still not being used to do so.

Staff researcher Lisa Schwartz contributed to this report.

One has the wonder if these “civilian contractors” are entitled to the same benefits that US military personal receive when they are wounded, (free medical benefits) or if their families receive any death benefit (insurance) if they are killed in action. Someone should do a news piece on the families of these “civilian contractors” that are left behind if they are killed or what is happening when one of them comes home maimed for life.*** Do you suppose Obama has figured this into the price of HIS PERSONAL WAR? I know Bush never did.

One has to ask why, after all this time, that there hasn’t been better progress made in training the Afghans to police themselves? We hear a lot about corruption, Drug Lords, Opium Production, but if these civilian trainers, who I understand are paid very high salaries, are failing to do the job they have been given. The C.I.A. also plays a large roll there. I’m not questioning the abilities of the contractors, for I’m sure that they are quite professional in their fields. What I am questioning, has to do with just why this War is going on? There is another aspect here, one that has made the headlines recently, that is, the other civilian deaths, that of the Afghans themselves, the innocent ones, the so called Collateral damage. As we are witnessing in Iraq today, appears that the same scenario will happen in Afghanistan. It’s ironic to think that this time around that the U.S.A. will pull a win instead of a rabbit out of the hat. Until someone digs deeper into this mess, it shall remain a quagmire, draining treasury in both dollars & blood. This is another Vietnam, another defeat for the U.S. Settle this thing as soon as possible, not drag it on for 5 or more years as was done in Vietnam. Regardless of who comes out on top, we cannot continue playing in this sandbox.

What’s left out is what kind of contractors they were.

For example it is known that Indian contractors were almost exclusively were employed building roads, schools and other infrastructure and driving trucks bringing raw materials.

Significant portion of US contractors were fighters, and another significant chunk were support for them.

Among US personnel, its the regular marines that supervise most of the school / health clinic building - build by Afghanis and others.

Actually, what’s left out is the fact that the government is transitioning some very big contracts, so you have personnel from the new contractor coming in before personnel from the performing contractor have left.  Some of these transitions can take months depending upon the size and complexity. You can’t just read the numbers from a report and then use those numbers to write an article for your own personal agenda.  Be a reporter and investigate the facts behind those numbers.

Get Updates

Our Hottest Stories

  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •