When debating troop levels in Iraq, one ought not to forget the countless bodyguards, interpreters, truck drivers and mercenaries scattered around the country. Apparently not even Central Command has a firm grasp of just how many civilian contractors are employed in Iraq—a number that could be as high as 100,000.
What is striking about the current debate going on in Washington—whether to “surge” troops to Iraq and increasing the size of the U.S. Army—is that roughly 100,000 bodies are missing from the equation: the number of American forces in Iraq is not 140,000 but more like 240,000.
What makes up the difference is the huge army of mercenaries—known these days as “private contractors.” After the U.S. Army itself, they are by far the second-largest military force in the country. Yet no one seems sure of how many there are, since they answer to no single authority. Indeed, the U.S. Central Command has only recently started taking a census of these battlefield civilians in an attempt to get a handle on the issue.
The private contractors are Americans, South Africans, Brits, Iraqis and a hodgepodge of other nationalities. Many of them are veterans of the U.S. or other armed forces and intelligence services, who are now deployed in Iraq [and Afghanistan and other countries] to perform duties normally carried out by the U.S. Army, but at salaries usually two or three times greater than those of American soldiers.