Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 11/2010

Private Contractors in Conflict Zones: The Good, the Bad, and the Strategic Impact

T.X. Hammes

October 2010

Institute for National Strategic Studies


The United States has hired record numbers of contractors to serve in the conflict zones of Iraq and Afghanistan but has not seriously examined their strategic impact. There are clearly advantages to using contractors in conflict zones, but they have three inherent characteristics that have srious negative effects during counterinsurgency operations. As of March 31, 2010, the United States deployed 175,000 troops and 207,000 contractors in the war zones. Contractors represented 50 percent of the Department of Defense (DOD) workforce in Iraq and 59 percent in Afghanistan. These numbers include both armed and unarmed contractors. The presence of contractors on the battlefield is obviously not a new phenomenon but has dramatically increased from the ratio of 1 contractor to 55 military personnel in Vietnam to 1:1 in the Iraq and 1.43:1 in Afghanistan.