Security Contractors and U.S. Defense: Lessons Learned from Iraq and Afghanistan

Security Contractors and U.S. Defense: Lessons Learned from Iraq and Afghanistan

Although the United States has been using private contractors in one way or another since the founding of the country, it is the experience of the past decade, since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, that has focused attention on private military and security contractors (PMSCs) to unprecedented levels.

The U.S. Defense Department and State Department, as well as other U.S. agencies and other countries, have used contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan both for logistics work, which accounts for the vast majority of contractors, as well as for much more publicized, but numerically far smaller, security roles. As a result, even if much of the most useful information is closely held by governments and companies and thus not available to the public, we now have a rich source of information on contractors that allows us to draw some tentative lessons and conclusions as to their impact and proper role.

Before going further, however, it is important to note that while some of the following points have implications for the use of PMSCs around the world, it would be wrong to assume they can be applied globally. It is a simple fact that the United States has privatized and outsourced former military and associated national security functions to a degree unmatched by any other country. Thus, the lessons described here should be viewed through a U.S.-centered lens.

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