The lines of responsibility between the U.S. military and private security contractors in Iraq remain uncertain, according to a newly publicized Defense Department report.
As part of the FY '05 Defense Authorization Bill, Congress directed the Pentagon to submit a report on the extensive use of private contractors in support of military operations in Iraq. The report, first obtained by researcher David Isenberg and posted on the Federation of American Scientists website, becomes public amid growing scrutiny of the role of armed contractors on the battlefield.
Earlier this summer, Marines detained a group of private contractors in Iraq for allegedly firing on their positions in Fallujah; the contractors, who worked for North Carolina-based Zapata Engineering, were expelled from Iraq after their release. That highly publicized incident followed questions from lawmakers about oversight of contractors operating in Iraq and Afghanistan.
DoD has worked to clarify the relationship between the military and contractors on the battlefield. Most recently, it clarified the rules governing contractor personnel who deploy with or provide support to the U.S. military overseas, and reaffirmed the combatant commander's authority to decide, among other things, whether contractors can carry weapons (Defense Daily, May 10).
However, the relationship between the commander and armed contractors is not one of traditional command and control.
"The interaction between U.S. military forces and security contractors in Iraq is one of coordination rather than control, because private security contractors have no direct contractual relationship with the commander," the report says.
The report covers the period between May 1, 2003 and Oct. 28, 2004. It also lists the number of contractor casualties, both U.S. and non-U.S., from the same time period. According to the report, contractors suffered well over 1,000 casualties during those months, including 166 fatalities. Of those killed, 64 were U.S. citizens; the others were Iraqis and other foreign nationals.
Concerns have centered around the legal status of contractors in war zones, particularly those providing armed security. Critics have questioned the role of contractors in the prisoner abuse scandals, although the report noted that "no known disciplinary actions were brought against contractor employees during the relevant time period."
The main oversight responsibility for security contracts, the report notes, lies with government contracting officers. But other instruments are at the commander's disposal.
"Military commanders can revoke or suspend clearances, restrict access to installations or facilities, or withhold or revoke DoD Uniformed Services Identification and Privilege Card or common access cards," the report states.
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