By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 4, 2008
U.S. commanders in Iraq are for the first time seeking private contractors to form part of the small military teams that train and live with Iraqi military units across the country, according to a notice for prospective bidders published last week.
The solicitation, issued by the Joint Contracting Command in Baghdad, says the individuals that a contractor recruits -- who would include former members of the U.S. Special Forces and ex-Iraqi army officers -- will be trained in the United States with military transition teams (MiTTs) and shipped as a single team to Iraq. The recruits will live on Iraqi military bases "under Iraqi living conditions and participate with MiTT special operations and convoy duties," the solicitation says.
Thus far, the MiTTs have consisted of specially trained teams of about 10 to 12 U.S. soldiers led by a field-grade officer that were embedded with Iraqi army units from the division level down to the battalion level. The MiTTs have included officers and noncommissioned officers from different service branches tasked with teaching and mentoring their Iraqi counterparts to make them self-sufficient.
Anthony H. Cordesman, a former Pentagon official and now a scholar with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, described the new effort as an understandable step, given the current stresses facing the U.S. military.
"There is a lot of pressure on the active Army, and during this transition period where the military is converting to noncombat roles, a shift to contractors as trainers for the expanding Iraqi military is a natural step." He added, however, that the outcome "depends on the quality of those the contractors recruit."
Michael O'Hanlon, a military specialist at the Brookings Institution, said the need for contractors to support the Iraq transition teams is linked to the shortage of such officers in the U.S. Army at a time when it is also expanding. "There are insufficient field-grade officers in our own service, and we need the captains and majors as we increase our own ground forces," he said.
This newest proposal to outsource what has been a military activity comes as military contracting in Iraq undergoes increased scrutiny from Congress.
The Senate Armed Services Committee recently added a provision to the fiscal 2009 defense authorization bill that directs the Government Accountability Office to determine how many private contractors currently operate in Iraq and Afghanistan and how field commanders intend to integrate the contractors into their operational plans.
Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.), an author of the provision, said that after his recent trip to Iraq he concluded that "our government agencies need to know how many contractors are in theater and how many contracting support plans our commanders are using today."
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who last year helped pass legislation establishing a bipartisan commission on wartime contracting, said, "We cannot ever permit another contracting disaster like we have right now." When President Bush signed the bill in January establishing the commission, his signing statement cited it as a provision he might not implement.
Despite that, the commission is expected to be named by the end of the month, said a Senate staff member who was not authorized to discuss the matter on the record.
Another contract proposal published last month involves the Pentagon's Counterintelligence Field Activity, the agency established after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks by then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to coordinate all counterintelligence and counterterrorism activity. CIFA's activities, which were carried out at home and abroad primarily by contractors, have recently been reduced by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, and the entity has been placed under the Defense Intelligence Agency.
CIFA's previously contracted activities include supplying analysts to the strategic counterintelligence directorates in Iraq and Afghanistan and to the Combined Media Processing Center in Qatar, which provides research and analysis to Central Command, as well as to U.S. intelligence agencies and law enforcement. The original 2004 contract was put out for bid again last month, covering one year with the option for two more years.
The 30 people that CIFA now seeks from a contractor must have top-secret clearances. They will be placed in Iraq, Afghanistan and Qatar, where they will provide analytic support "to systematically identify and degrade foreign intelligence and terrorist threats" in collaboration with the military and the intelligence and law enforcement communities, the contract proposal says.