WASHINGTON — As the United States withdraws its forces from Iraq, it will be pouring private security contractors into the country to take up some of their tasks, US officials said Thursday.
Under President Barack Obama's plan to end US combat operations this month and withdraw most US military forces from Iraq by October 2011, the State Department will double to some 7,000 the number of contractors it employs there, the officials said.
State Department spokesman Philip Crowly, confirming a report that appeared in The New York Times, said the larger force of contractors would carry out a variety of tasks.
"We will still have our own security needs to make sure our diplomats and development experts are well protected," he said.
"We have contractors who are guarding our embassy, and we'll have contractors who are, as they are today, helping with our mobility and helping with personal security as our diplomats move around the country," he said.
Crowley said the extra security would be needed as long as Iraq remains a dangerous place, but he expected the number to decrease as security improves over time.
The Times said the contractors would be deployed to defend five fortified compounds that will be left behind as US combat forces exit Iraq and the US mission switches from a military-led to a civilian-headed operation.
Citing unnamed administration officials, the newspaper said private security contractors would also operate radar to warn of enemy fire, search for roadside bombs and fly surveillance drones.
They could also staff "quick reaction forces" dispatched to rescue civilians in trouble.
The massive increase in security contractors is an indication of the unusually large role that will be assumed by US diplomatic staff after combat troops leave Iraq.
The last US combat brigade left Iraq at dawn on Thursday, leaving behind some 56,000 US soldiers who will gradually draw down over the coming year.
The Times said more than 1,200 specific tasks currently handled by US troops had been identified for handover to US civilians or Iraqis or to be phased out.
The State Department meanwhile, seeking to outfit its employees for the next phase of their mission, plans to purchase 60 mine-resistant vehicles from the Pentagon and to expand its inventory of armored cars to 1,320.
It also plans to add three planes to the sole aircraft it now has in Iraq, and expand its helicopter fleet -- to be piloted by contractors -- to 29 from 17.
The increased reliance on security contractors could cause conflict with Iraq's government, which is sensitive to the use of foreign civilian security personnel because of their alleged role in incidents of civilian deaths.
But the forces employed by the State Department will not have immunity from Iraqi prosecution, will be required to register with the country, and will be trailed by State Department regional security officers for extra oversight.
Copyright © 2013 AFP. All rights reserved. More »