The sacrifices of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan have been widely reported, but the U.S. war effort has relied heavily on private firms to provide a variety of services, including armed security for convoys and installations. As NATO draws down in Afghanistan and struggles with budget constraints, the United States and others will almost certainly continue rely on these firms, which have attracted scrutiny and criticism over the years.
“After the United States leaves Afghanistan, the private security industry will grow,” explains Sean McFate of the Atlantic Council in an email interview, given that “the United States and others in Afghanistan will [rely] on these firms increasingly as troops exit the country, leaving a security vacuum.” The United States has “somewhat legitimized these companies after employing them for a decade,” McFate says, and other countries may follow the U.S. example.
There have been periodic spikes of interest in the sometimes-murky role of private contractors in America’s wars. Recent interest has been encouraged in part by the new book by Erik Prince, founder and former CEO of the private security firm Blackwater, now Academi, defending the company’s record. Prince, who sold the company in 2010, told Fox News that “contractors have been on the battlefield since the founding of the country” and that “it’s been the past, it’s the present and it will be the future. The private sector has always answered the call when the government needs it.”