U.S. to increase reliance on private security contractors

Published 8 September 2009

Scandals involving activities of private security firms in Afghanistan notwithstanding, the U.S. government is increasing its reliance on these firms; last week five firms were awarded contracts totaling $485 million

Despite the scandal engulfing private embassy security in Afghanistan, the U.S. government will increasingly rely on private security contractors to protect U.S. personnel and property as U.S. troops leave Iraq, reports the Washington Post’s Walter Pincus.

On Sept. 1, the Multi-National Force-Iraq (MNF-I) awarded contracts expected to be worth $485 million over the next two years to five firms to provide security and patrol services to U.S. bases in Iraq.

Under this contract, the firms will bid against one another for individual orders at specific bases or locations. These “task orders” in the past have ranged from supplying one specialist to providing as many as 1,000 people to handle security for a major base.

Matthew Harwood writes that the previous MNF-I contract signed in September 2007 paid out $253 million as of March 2009, with a three-year spending limit of $450 million. The disparity in price between the two contracts, reports Pincus, owes to the draw down of U.S. troops. When U.S. servicemen leave Iraq, it generally takes more private security personnel to perform the same tasks handled by vacating U.S. personnel.

According to the inspector general for reconstruction’s study on contracting levels, Pincus writes:

In its study, the inspector general’s office found that at 19 sites where private guards replaced soldiers, many more guards were needed to do the same job. It said the task order for Camp Bucca, primarily a detention facility, called for “417 personnel to free up approximately 350 soldiers for combat operations.” At Forward Operating Base Hammer, the task order called for 124 private guards to allow 102 soldiers to take on combat activities.

Pincus does, however, note that sometimes additional responsibilities are tacked onto private security personnel. Nevertheless, because of these circumstances, the inspector general’s report says private security contracting costs in Iraq “will grow in size to a potential $935 million.”

The MNF-I does seem to have learned lessons from previous private security contractor mishaps, exemplified by last week’s expose of frat-boy-like hazing rituals among private security guards and supervisors protecting the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan.

The new MNF-I contract stipulates that private security guards must speak English “at a level necessary to give and receive situational reports,” while shift supervisors must be fluent in reading and writing English.

According to the Project on Government Oversight, who released its findings of its investigation into U.S. Embassy Kabul’s private security guards last week, many guards could not speak English.

There is a significant problem with the guards’ ability to communicate with each other: most of the Gurkhas-nearly two-thirds of the guard force-cannot adequately speak English,” the government watchdog’s letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said. “Although most of the Gurkha guards are serious about their jobs and perform their duties in a professional manner, the inability to speak English adequately has impaired the guard force’s ability to secure the Embassy.”