Even as U.S. troops surge to new highs in Afghanistan they are outnumbered by military contractors, according to a Defense Department census due to be distributed to Congress — illustrating how hard it is for the U.S. to wean itself from the large numbers of war-zone contractors that have proved controversial in Iraq, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.

The number of contractors in Afghanistan rose to almost 74,000 by June 30, outnumbering the roughly 58,000 U.S. soldiers on the ground at that point, the paper noted.

As the military force in Afghanistan grows further, to a planned 68,000 by the end of the year, the Defense Department expects the ranks of contractors to increase more.

The military requires contractors for essential functions ranging from supplying food and laundry services to guarding convoys and even military bases — functions once performed by military personnel but have been outsourced so a slimmed-down military can focus more on battle-related tasks.

The heavy reliance on contractors in Afghanistan signals that a situation that defense planners once considered temporary has become a standard fixture of U.S. military operations, according to the Journal.

"For a sustained fight like our current commitments, the U.S. military can’t go to war without contractors on the battlefield," Steven Arnold, a former Army general and retired executive at logistics specialists Ecolog USA and KBR Inc., told the Journal. KBR was formerly owned by Halliburton Co. "For that matter, neither can NATO."

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