Big Bucks Lure Crack Afghan Troops to Private Security Firms

By Bryant Jordan
Defense Tech Chief Investigative Correspondent

Private security companies working under Defense Department contracts in Afghanistan are siphoning off some of the best and brightest from that country’s security and police forces, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee says.

That’s the finding of a committee investigation into private security contractors in Afghanistan. The reason the Afghans are taking the contract jobs is simple — money.

“Many of them are recruited by higher-paying private security firms,” Levin said in a statement released during Gen. David Petraeus’ testimony to the committee. Levin said he is concerned that the U.S.’s own contracting practices may be harming the war effort by luring away from the Afghan forces that are expected to take over the fight many of its best people.

He also noted that private security contractors often draw from militia forces, thereby “empowering local powerbrokers and warlords who operate outside the government’s control.” Levin said Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. military leader in Afghanistan, has acknowledged there are problems with the contracting practices and that the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force would assess what needs to be done to reform them.

“I hope that review will lay out a path to phase out the use of private security contractors in Afghanistan and integrate those personnel into the Afghan National Security Forces,” Levin said.

Michele P. Flournoy, undersecretary of defense for policy at the Pentagon, also acknowledged there have been “unintended consequences” to all the private contracting in Afghanistan. “The large sums of money spent by the U.S. and other Coalition partners to support operational requirements … have concentrated wealth among a relatively small number of Afghans who control those companies able to execute the required support operations,” she said.

Some of these rising power brokers have figured into the corruption that has been widespread in Afghanistan.

Numerous reports out of Afghanistan have linked members of Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s family to corruption, but none of the testimony submitted to the committee Tuesday addressed the allegations and no senator asked about them.
“When we have evidence of corruption,” she said, “we will work with the Afghan government to prosecute those who have violated the law.”

  • Bob

    Duh??? You expect them to hire substandard fighters?

    Maybe there is not much incentive to be in the Afgan military. The pay is crummy and may be stolen by the officers, food is lousy, and corruption is rampant. At least the contractors are probably semi-honest.

    • Jeffery

      Too right. It is the same with the US. Look at what the Marines get. Its less than the welfare in Australia. No wonder everybody is look at private contractors.

  • William C.

    I imagine most half-decent Afghan soldiers would gladly take the opprotunity to get a decent pay, get ordered by competent superiors. However it doesn’t help the goal of getting their army on track.

  • Bob

    Maybe the onus of getting the Afgan Army on track should be placed where it belongs, on the shoulders of the officer corps, and not on the shoulders of the lowly grunt.

  • Matt

    He who pays the most, gets the best. This is about individual choice, and it is a universal theme that applies to Afghanistan as well as the rest of the free world. You can choose to work for government or you can choose to work for private industry–and that is what is called personal freedom. Each side has it’s pluses and minuses, pros and cons, but the common theme is that you cannot force people to choose one over the other. It will not work in Afghanistan, and it wouldn’t work in the US. The alternative is tyranny.

    So yet again, if the government wants to be more appealing than private industry, it actually has to be……wait for it…….competitive. That’s right, it has to be either equal too or a better than the deal that private industry has to offer. And in the case with security contractors versus soldiers, the government has to offer better pay, better leadership, better hours, better benefits, better deployment length etc.

    You cannot depend upon patriotism alone to carry the day, and it is a lesson of warfare and of business in general that Afghan government and Senator Levin is completely missing.

    The government in Afghanistan must also compete with the Taliban in this regard, because the enemy pays better too. They probably have better benefits, better leadership, or whatever. So is Senator Levin going to shut down the Taliban as well, in a move to get everyone to serve the Afghan government? If the Afghan government truly is the best, and truly cares about it’s people and military or police forces, at the least they should do is pay more than the enemy or private industry. That’s if they want to be that dirty little word called ‘competitive’.
    “….Men may speculate as they will—they may talk of patriotism—they may draw a few examples from ancient story of great achievements performed by it’s influence; but, whoever builds upon it, as a sufficient basis, for conducting a long and bloody war, will find themselves deceived in the end. We must take the passions of Men, as nature has given them, and those principles as a guide, which are generally the rule of action. I do not mean to exclude altogether the idea of patriotism. I know it exists, and I know it has done much in the present contest. But I will venture to assert, that a great and lasting War can never be supported on this principle alone—It must be aided by a prospect of interest or some reward. For a time it may, of itself, push men to action—to bear much—to encounter difficulties; but it will not endure unassisted by interest.”- From General George Washington’s letter to John Banister, April 21st 1778

  • blight

    I’ll laugh when an Afghan mercenary gets paid more than the American GI. It’ll be the day. Not only does it gut the army of the “best” (since a PMC is likely to try to screen and only take the competent ones), it’s possible that more Taliban infiltrators will slip into the army as it tries to replace those losses, especially if rapid promotions are in play. Then worst-case scenario, a few Taliban infiltrators get into the PMC’s ranks.

    It’s good for the PMCs, since all these things mean a prolonged war and a continuous contract. Yippie!

  • Crain

    Maybe this is a good thing. Former Afghan soldiers get a chance to SEE what right looks like, as well as develop professional skills. They get off of contract and go home, train and mentor the regular Afghan army, and they become a more professional force.

    • Blight

      Depends on their role. if it’s just standing guard at a gate threes no skill development involved, it’s just a cheaper door guard. also, whos to say that Afghan will go home and train ‘the good guys’?

  • Dale

    So we spend billions and get god knows how many guys killed so we can be there to “train the Afghan army” only to have them then at teh drop of a hat go AWOL and cash in.

    I suspect that these Afghani’s are willing to work for less, a lot less than the going rate for US or at least “western” ex GI’s maybe even less than what your typical AD E-4 makes but for a “for profit” security firm it is all about the bottom line, they still get the billions they got before for the DOD/US goverment but the “overhead” is now less.

    Sort of like “outsourcing” :-))