The U.S. Department of Defense is developing regulations to deal with the more than 60 private security companies -- totaling about 25,000 employees -- working throughout Iraq as the country struggles to rebuild itself during a time of war.
The department says it will train U.S. troops how to deal with the private forces, how to improve communications with those forces and how to help rebuilding contractors hire security companies with at least a minimum standard of training.
The Defense Department's move comes in response to a Government Accountability Office report issued Thursday that paints a bleak picture of the Iraqi war zone, with gun-toting military and private security forces working past one another instead of together. The danger of working in Iraq means that the military contractors are indispensable to government agencies and contractors doing civil reconstruction.
According to the report, the military often doesn't know where the private security forces are operating, and the private workers don't know where U.S. troops are. Soldiers are still shooting at private security contractors, especially at military checkpoints, the report says. There's no minimum standard for who gets to become a security contractor, and no one's keeping track of the cash being spent on all this protection.
THE GAO REPORT
The General Accountability Office's report made four recommendations:
* It wants the government to help its contractors to quickly and easily hire security companies, possibly by setting minimum training and personnel standards.
* It wants the military to communicate more efficiently with private security forces to protect contractors and keep military personnel out of unnecessary scuffles.
* It wants U.S. troops to be trained on private contractors before the troops deploy to Iraq, not in the theater.
* It wants government agencies to keep track of the costs of hiring private security forces.
'A ragged process'
"It certainly needs to be fixed in major respects," said U.S. Rep. David Price, a Democrat from Chapel Hill. He requested the review last year in a letter signed by 100 lawmakers. "The implication is that this has been a fairly ragged process. These agencies have not always known what they're buying."
Doug Brooks, president of the International Peace Operations Association, which represents civil and security contractors, said he thought the GAO report would not have a huge effect on operations.
Communication with the military is helpful, he said, but troops also ought to respect the contractors' work. "These are former military personnel," he said. "They know what they're doing."
The report comes in the wake of continued clashes affecting contractors in Iraq. In March 2004, four contractors with Blackwater USA, a company based in Moyock, N.C., were ambushed and slain in Fallujah; their bodies were burned. They were escorting a convoy with fewer armed guards than their contract required, and Marines didn't know the convoy was moving through the volatile city.
The Department of Defense will have a new policy in a few weeks outlining minimum standards for private contractors, said Army Lt. Col. Barry Venable, a department spokesman. The regulations are now in review, he said.
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