Stung by lawsuits, protests, government audits, criminal charges and negative media attention, executives from the mercenary firm Blackwater Worldwide say providing security in Iraq and elsewhere has become a drain on the company’s future and will be gradually all but phased out. However, while Defense Secretary Robert Gates released a letter Monday questioning the extensive use of private contractors by the military, there are no immediate plans to end Blackwater’s Iraq contract, renewed last year despite a deadly Baghdad shooting spree by the company’s agents.

Associated Press:

That decision to scale back future security business reflects not only the difficult year Blackwater has had but also the fact that there’s probably not as much growth opportunity.

The growth in Backwater’s aviation and international training sectors could also buffer the company against other changes in military policy. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is looking into the use of contractors for combat and security training.

“Why have we come to rely on private contractors to provide combat or combat-related security training for our forces?” Gates wrote in a July 10 memo to the Pentagon’s top military officer, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen.

The memo was released Monday to The Associated Press by the office of Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va. Webb raised concerns about the role of private contractors and specifically Blackwater, which opened a new counterterrorism training center in San Diego last month over the opposition of city officials.

Webb had been blocking Senate consideration of four civilian Defense Department nominees while waiting for answers. On Monday, Webb told Gates he was lifting his opposition to the nominees.

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