Our guest blogger is CAP Visiting Fellow Pratap Chatterjee.
The number of contractors in Afghanistan is likely to increase significantly in the next year as the Obama administration pulls back some of the extra 68,000 troops that it has dispatched there since January 2009.
Typically, the U.S. pays one contractor to support every soldier that has deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq. The ratio of contractors to troops increases dramatically during a military surge as well as during a drawdown, and often stays higher than troop levels when military numbers are low, i.e. down to 30,000-50,000.
The reason is simple — the military needs extra workers to build new bases as well as to shut them down. Just like a hotel or restaurant, a military base also needs a minimum number of people to do the basics like janitorial or food service work. And as troops withdraw, U.S. diplomats are likely to hire extra security contractors as they are doing now in Iraq.
Using a range of 1.3 to 1.4 (based on what Afghanistan needed before the surge and Iraq needed after the drawdown), I would project that if the Obama administration draws down to 68,000 troops in Afghanistan by September 2012, they will need 88,400 contractors at the very least, but potentially as many as 95,880:
The majority of these workers do maintenance and other support tasks. But the one group that has seen demand explode since Obama became president is the number of private security contractors (men or women with guns), which spiked from a flat line of about 4,000 to almost 19,000 today. Given the attack on the Intercontinental in Kabul yesterday, that number seems very unlikely to drop:
To be sure, there are two reasons that might change — a dramatic slowdown in reconstruction activity or if President Karzai decides to disband the private security contractors in the country as he has threatened to do in the past.
Despite the killing of Osama bin Laden in May, violence in Afghanistan is on the rise. If this potential surge in private security contractors sparks any violent incidents like the shootout in Nissour Square in Baghdad in 2007, the U.S. could see an increasing drumbeat from Afghan politicians like President Karzai to leave the country altogether.