By Walter Pincus
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
As the United States withdraws its combat forces from Iraq, the government is hiring more private guards to protect U.S. installations at a cost that could near $1 billion, according to the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction.
On Sept. 1, the Multi-National Force-Iraq (MNF-I) awarded contracts expected to be worth $485 million over the next two years to five firms to provide security and patrol services to U.S. bases in Iraq.
Under this contract, the firms will bid against one another for individual orders at specific bases or locations. These "task orders" in the past have ranged from supplying one specialist to providing as many as 1,000 people to handle security for a major base.
Under a similar contract with five security contractors that began in September 2007, the MNF-I spent $253 million through March 2009, with needs growing over that 18-month period. That contract, which was to run three years, had a spending limit of $450 million.
Against that background, the inspector general for reconstruction predicted that costs for private security at U.S. facilities in Iraq "will grow in size to a potential $935 million." The inspector general's report, issued this year, said the MNF-I planned to switch to private guards for Victory Base Camp, one of its largest installations. That facility alone would require "approximately 2,600 security personnel," the report said.
The need for contract guards began growing this year. The Central Command's June quarterly report on contracting showed a 19 percent increase from the three previous months in the number of security guards in Iraq hired by the Defense Department. The Central Command attributed the increase, from 10,743 at the end of March to 13,232 at the end of June, mainly to "an increased need for PSCs [private security companies] to provide security as the military begins to draw down forces."
In its study, the inspector general's office found that at 19 sites where private guards replaced soldiers, many more guards were needed to do the same job. It said the task order for Camp Bucca, primarily a detention facility, called for "417 personnel to free up approximately 350 soldiers for combat operations." At Forward Operating Base Hammer, the task order called for 124 private guards to allow 102 soldiers to take on combat activities.
In some cases, as at Camp Taji, a major supply installation, the report says that more than 900 private personnel replaced 400 soldiers, but that the private guards took on additional tasks "to address deficiencies in existing site security."
The United States also uses contractors when coalition forces withdraw. When Georgian soldiers left unexpectedly last August from a base near the Iranian border where they were providing security, private contractors replaced them.
The Central Command study found that of the armed private security personnel working in June, 623 were Americans, 1,029 were Iraqis and 11,580 were third-country nationals. Most of that group "were from countries such as Uganda and Kenya," according to the inspector general's report.
Under the new MNF-I contract, guards must be at least 21 years old, speak English "at a level necessary to give and receive situational reports," and be an expatriate or an Iraqi, but the latter only when specifically allowed. Those who handle dogs used to inspect vehicles and search out explosives must be at least 25 years old and "must be expatriates." Shift supervisors, who direct guard teams, must also be at least 25 and be fluent in reading and writing English.
The inspector general's report shows that government estimates of the total cost of replacing soldiers with contractors are hidden in public accounting. The report notes that government services provided to the private guard force -- food, housing and other benefits -- are not considered, only payments going directly to the contractors. The report estimated that such services provided to private security personnel in the 12 months ending in March cost "more than $250 million," at a time when listed outlays to the contractor firms in that period totaled $155 million.
In the new contracts, private contractors will continue to be allowed to use government dining facilities, living quarters, barber services, some transportation within Iraq and emergency medical care.
Another new contract, posted Sept. 3 for "Advisor & Atmospherics technical support services," calls for providing information to senior commanders of U.S. forces in Iraq to assist them "in gaining a deeper understanding of the many complex issues across Iraq." The aim is to provide "anecdotal information derived from varied native sources" so that commanders can become aware of "the Iraqi viewpoint of life in Iraq, the government of Iraq, U.S. forces, key events and other perceptions that are relevant to accomplishing the mission in Iraq."