Friday, October 8, 2010

Private Security Contractors in Afghanistan

The Senate released what The Washington Post has called a "blistering" report about security contractors in Afghanistan. (h/t JC) It an unflattering recounting of lackadaisical background checks (or none at all), and stories of employing duplicitous (or flat out enemy) warlords and their militias. Of course the contractors pay the warlords money for services rendered (though not evaluated) and some of that money may be getting into the hands of Taliban insurgents.

There has already been a lot written about the use of private security contractors. There is a big down-side and an as yet unclear upside. The concept of private security contractors has even been lampooned in a recent movie. I don't have much to add except a few points.

1) How many times we do need to have an incident reported in a newspaper or an official report before closing these guys down becomes a priority? Clearly their use doesn't change hearts and mind.

2) The reporting has an incredulous tone that these warlords would work with the Taliban (and take money from the highest bidder). This is essentially how Afghanistan has worked for centuries, and indignation doesn't really help us.

3) Ben pointed this out to me yesterday, and I think it's worth stating. The Taliban were the recognized or at least de facto government in Kabul from 1996 to 2001. Also, the Taliban does not mean Al Qaeda and vice versa. I think in the minds of the American public the two are inextricably linked. This creates a problem when reports come out that Afghan warlords are working with the Taliban. It gets read as "Afghan warlords are working with the people that attacked us on 9/11." This is not factually accurate. We need to disaggregate the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

Back to the original point. This is an unflattering report, though certainly not the first of its kind. It sounds like maybe the Pentagon is prepared to do something about this, but that something means putting more American servicemen and women in harms way. As repugnant as private security contractor utilization might be, it's easier to periodically decry them in reports then it is politically viable to advocate to put more Americans in harms way.

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