In the last 8 years, we have seen troop levels in Iraq go from 170,000 to under 10,000. And in Afghanistan they have gone from over 30,000 to under 10,000.
This withdrawal has limited our influence in the countries, but we have managed to maintain relative stability in the regions we control. The reason we have managed to handle this transition without a total collapse, is the increased dependence on the use of private military companies and their ever expanding role in both these and other conflicts globally.
What is a Private Military Company (PMC)?
They are for hire corporate private armies, who usually are made up of former special forces operatives from various branches of the military.
They have been used for decades, generally in smaller security roles for protecting important diplomats and other possible high profile targets from enemy threats. They do work guarding American outposts abroad and they are contracted out by other corporations who do work in dangerous parts of the world, needing their assets and workers protected from threats.
These are not all of their functions, not by a long shot. But the general idea is that they are a security force for hire, and they play an invaluable role in our current fights abroad.
A 2015 US Central Command quarterly report had this to say about the current footprint they have in our war on terror:
“In 4th quarter FY 2015, USCENTCOM reported 44,824 contractor personnel working for the DoD in the USCENTCOM Area of Responsibility. This total reflects an increase of approximately 3,000 from the previous quarter. In Afghanistan, there were approximately 30,211 contractors, an increase of 4.4% from the previous quarter. Contractors in Iraq numbered about 6,850, 1,403 of which are supporting DoD funded contracts as translator/interpreters, communications, logistics, and maintenance functions.”
This is a staggering figure and it is the result of a cutback in the official military budget, combined with the public losing its stomach for wars that have long been forgotten for most of the country. Meanwhile, civilian contractor deaths have not been declining the way their military counterparts have been. Since 2001, roughly 100,000 civilian contractors have become casualties of war. These are wide ranging from many causes, but the trend has been a reduction in US forces and these troops are being replaced by an option that if we are being honest is more palatable to the general public.
Why Should I Care About PMCs?
Many PMCs are dedicated to a larger cause, just as they were when they previously held military positions. They simply wanted a different lifestyle and paycheck, and are still the people who garnered our support while they were in uniform.
They are generally speaking cheaper for the American taxpayer to hire on a situational basis vs. using our slow-moving bureaucracy to enact official military actions. They provide invaluable security for companies who supply us with the essentials needed to live in the modern world we are blessed to inhabit. And they have stepped up to fill roles the general public doesn’t want to see our military in, but that need to be filled anyways. They serve a valuable purpose, and always have in one way or another.
Are There Dangers to Using PMCs?
This is a tricky question.
They do provide an essential service, but the idea of them replacing large scale responsibilities previously held by the military sets up larger questions. Most of them do not perform work for our country alone, and by accepting and declining work from other countries and companies, they are in effect setting their own form of foreign policy as multi-billion dollar corporations that have a duty to their shareholders, and not the taxpayer.
Additionally, there is precedent for private corporations attempting to seize power in the US, and this would be a worst case scenario if that was to ever occur again. Knowing where their loyalties lie, and which roles we are comfortable with them playing will be a topic of discussion as they continue to take an ever increasing role in the defense of our country.
PMC”s play an essential role in our country’s security. You can tell I obviously have feelings on this.
Eliminating their involvement would have long-lasting repercussions, and would place more responsibilities on an already strained military. However, limiting their scope and involvement in roles that should be filled by the military is important. I don’t want to see a transfer of military might from the public to the private sector, throwing off the balance of power and allowing companies to influence policy on even larger scales than they already do. It is for the greater good that we use both and thoughtfully restrict the use of PMC’s outside of an agreed upon scope.
What do you think? Are you comfortable with this shift? Let us know and ask a friend what they think as well.