The number of security contractors the military employs in Afghanistan is higher now than at any time since President Barack Obama declared an end to combat operations in the country in 2014, Defense Department documents show.
More than 5,800 privately employed security personnel are currently operating in Afghanistan under Pentagon contracts, according to the latest report released this month that the military headquarters overseeing Middle East wars compiles for Congress. The number of security contractors jumped by more than 1,000 in the three months since the last report – a spike of more than 20 percent and the biggest increase in two years.
More than 17,000 uniformed troops from NATO and partner countries are currently operating in Afghanistan in support of local forces, up from roughly 13,000 when President Donald Trump took office. Of those, roughly 8,500 are Americans. Another 5,500 U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan for the separate mission of hunting insurgent forces like the Islamic State group and elements of the Taliban.
The last time the number of private security contractors exceeded 5,000 was in April 2014 during the height of the Obama administration's effort to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan. When Trump entered the White House in January 2017, the number stood at just over 3,400.
The new data comes amid concerns that the administration could increasingly turn to private companies to carry out the war. Officials and analysts, meanwhile, are raising alarm that the U.S. government is concealing the situation on the ground.
"The main problem with contractors of all sorts is there's just not enough attention to what they're doing. That's not been reported out in a clear way to anybody's satisfaction for all these years," says Catherine Lutz, a professor at Brown University and a director of its Costs of War project, which documents the use of private contractors in U.S. conflicts. "The Pentagon should be telling us, the American public, who's funding this, what that means, why this is happening."
"The main problem with contractors of all sorts is there's just not enough attention to what they're doing."
U.S. military headquarters in Kabul did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A Pentagon spokeswoman declined to provide further detail on how the military uses its security contractors and what accounts for the sudden increase.
Of the 5,883 security contractors outlined in the latest reports from U.S. Central Command, 2,567 of them are armed private security contractors. The rest provide support functions, like driving vehicles or other logistics work related to security activities. (end of excerpt)
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