Global Policy Forum

How Many Private Contractors are there in Afghanistan?


By Justin Elliott

December 10, 2009


Private contractors employed by the Defense Department in Afghanistan will continue to outnumber the size of the American troop presence, even after President Obama sends 30,000 more soldiers to fight in the war, according to the military's most recent contractor count.

The latest figure on DOD contractors in the country is a whopping 104,100, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command tells TPM. That number, which is expected to grow, is already greater than the 98,000 U.S. troops that will be in the country after the new deployments.

We told you yesterday about the little-noticed but giant shadow army of contractors that allows the United States to prosecute the war by providing food, transport, construction, security, and other services. Many believe the size of the contracting force presents security and transparency concerns.

And the lack of discussion of the topic -- Obama, for example, didn't mention contractors in his address last night -- warps perceptions of the size of the American commitment in Afghanistan.

Central Command spokesman Lt. Col. Joseph Kloppel sent TPM these numbers, declining to peg them to a specific date, and saying a breakdown of types of contractors is not available:

Third Country Nationals 16,400
Local/Host Nation 78,400
US Citizens 9,300
Total 104,100

As of June, the number of contractors was 73,968, so the new figure is a considerable increase. All of this data should be viewed skeptically; a commission on contracting created by Congress has complained about widely varying contractor counts and lack of good data.

Kloppel told TPM yesterday that there are roughly 9,000 private security contractors, though the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan says there are at least 14,000. That would not include private security for other countries or contractors. The Army Times published a story yesterday showing just how damaging bad contractors can be to the counterinsurgency strategy: along one route in Kandahar province, over 30 civilians have been killed or wounded by heavily armed security contractors, who are mostly Afghans.

Still not clear is whether the projected escalation cost of $30 billion includes the cost of more contractors. Good numbers are notoriously hard to pin down, but the Congressional Budget Office estimated a cost of $5 billion for DOD contracts in Afghanistan back in fiscal year 2007 and the first half of 2008.



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