Contractor casualties in war zones top 1,000
More than 1,000 contractors working for American firms in Iraq have been killed since the beginning of the war, while nearly 80 have been killed in Afghanistan, according to Labor Department statistics released late Tuesday.
Between January and June 2007, at least 231 contractors have died in Iraq, the report shows. The department has recorded 1,001 deaths since March 2003.
In all, at least 4,837 contractors in Iraq and 879 contractors in Afghanistan have been injured in the two wars.
The figures — released to Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill. — only include those contractor deaths and injuries reported to the Labor Department, so the actual figures could be higher. Labor Department figures are based on worker’s compensation claims filed by injured workers or family members of those killed or incapacitated.
U.S. military officials have said there are around 125,000 contractors working for the U.S. government and other agencies in Iraq — providing everything from security to food to intelligence reports. The Pentagon reported Tuesday that the number of servicemembers in Iraq has reached 162,000, the highest level of the war.
Military and political officials have defended the use of contractors in jobs previously done by servicemembers as a necessary measure to free up troops to perform specifically military duties.
Contractors on the ground in Iraq say they have seen an increase in violence, particularly attacks on private security forces.
“In terms of contractor deaths, we have noted a rise in casualties suffered by contractors,” said Jaco S. Botes, who works on a security detail in Baghdad. “The feeling on the ground is that the sectarian violence have picked up a lot, with contractors getting caught in the middle.”
Botes is also the founder of the International Contractors Association, which seeks to link contractors in war zones and provide support services. Since the organization was founded earlier this year, some 900 members from 53 countries have signed up, Botes said Wednesday.
“What we also noted is the lack of reporting regarding injuries sustained by contractors, unless there are contractors’ fatalities involved,” Botes said.
Botes said he has not seen much of the animosity sometimes reported between troops and contractors.
“For the most part, we seem to get along fine. From what we experience on the ground, the military personnel we provide close protection to on occasions are grateful for the job we are doing, and the same can be said for the Depts. of Corrections and Justice,” Botes wrote in an e-mail. “What a lot of people obviously do not realize is that should all the contractors be sent home, it will simply mean that we would have to be replaced by soldiers.”
Botes acknowledged that several high-profile incidents of alleged criminal behavior — along with some degree of boasting — has tarnished the image of contractors in the war zones.
“I still feel that the public in general have a total misconception of what the contractors are doing, and maybe a large part of that is the blame of some contractors themselves telling stories back home that are pure fiction,” he said.
“Unfortunately, they also perpetuate the ‘merc’ image. It’s usually also those guys that have absolutely no clue as to what we do.”