What do you know?
Now, as President Obama prepares to hand off combat operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and elsewhere, to his successor, he’s also bequeathing a way of war that relies on large numbers of guns-for-hire while, at least formally, restricting the number of American “troops” sent overseas. Since 2009, the ratio of contractors to troops in war zones has increased from 1 to 1 to about 3 to 1.
In Vietnam, the ratio was 1 to 8.
But we had conscription for the Vietnam War. It was cheaper and a matter of habit to use poorly paid troops for these tasks.
Now we have a smaller volunteer military and we like to focus our training for these high quality people on fighting rather than potato peeling.
So we use contractors more in the volunteer military era. Few in Iraq or Afghanistan during the Bush administration were there for combat duties. Of those who were expected to fight, few were more than base perimeter guards.
Rather than recruit more expensive soldiers for jobs that don't really require soldiers to do, we saved money by hiring contractors; and kept our troops trained enough to suffer fewer casualties than they would have if they were saddled with other duties that took away training time and subtracted rest time.
The Left hated that.
And given how our Army is smaller than before 9/11, how much worse would the disruption of reduction be if we'd expanded the Army even more than we did by getting even more volunteers?
Remember, part of how we added brigades during the Bush 43 administration was by shifting military slots to civilians in order to add combat soldiers under the allowable military end strength.
Nor did it make sense to institute a draft to get needed troops. We have so many new 18-year-olds and needed so few of them that the exemptions would have made a mockery of the concept of a draft.
And the draftees wouldn't be as good as volunteers, and so would have died in larger numbers.
But now we have a 3 to 1 ratio of contractors to troops in Afghanistan. In Iraq it is a little more than 1 to 1. In the era or hope and change. Even though troop deployments are way down from peaks nearly a decade ago.
Was this done for a military reason as it wasn't done in Vietnam and as it was done during the Bush era (and it started before that in the Clinton era, for the Balkans deployments, to be fair)?
No, it is being done to observe artificial administration-defined ceilings on US troop deployments. When you responsibly end our wars, more than token numbers of troops in the "war" zone is inconvenient, to say the least.
The missions now require more US troops, but the Obama administration wants to avoid admitting that we need more troops even to just lead from behind. So contractors proliferate even though uniformed troops could be found to send overseas.
Rather than complain about the Obama administration, I'll just be happy they are trying to meet the need for troops somehow.
Although I'm happy to note the hypocrisy of the left for complaining about the trend under Bush 43 while ignoring it under Clinton and Obama.
As for the "dramatic" increase in contractor casualties?
Today, more contractors are killed in combat than soldiers—a stunning turnaround from the start of the wars Iraq and Afghanistan, when fewer than 10 percent of casualties were contractors. By 2010, more contractors were dying than troops.
That's a meaningless comparison. Before, our troops were in combat on a daily basis and were the main fighting force out killing enemies. Contractors were mostly in the rear (although exposed to some violence, just not nearly as much).
Now our troops for the most part aren't committed to routine daily combat, but are engaged in support functions. If there are more contractors than troops and all are mostly doing the same thing, of course contractors will suffer more casualties.
Still, the use of contractors is something common throughout history, only receding with the rise of drafted mass armies. As we return to volunteer militaries around the world, the use of contractors is naturally making a comeback. And the scope isn't nearly as great as it was before when combat maneuver units were available for hire.
But until the contractor industry starts creating and hiring out formed combat maneuver units and higher command elements rather than kitchen help and gate guards, the hyper-ventilating this author does about oil companies and oligarchs potentially having private armies is just silly.
The article would have been really good if the author had stuck to describing what was going on rather than trying to condemn the practice.
I have a collection of posts on this trend available here (for just 99 cents!).
So we have more contractors now. At least the Left isn't saying "screw them" when they die.
Maybe next year.