While US troop numbers in Afghanistan are down to 2,500, a deep US presence remains in the form of contractors working for the Pentagon.
According to a report released by the US military this week, there are over 18,000 contractors in Afghanistan. The numbers mean that the Pentagon employs about seven contractors for each US service member in Afghanistan.
At the height of President Obama’s Afghanistan surge, there was about one contractor for each US soldier. As troop numbers decreased, the Pentagon increased reliance on contractors.
About 4,700 of the current contractors are Afghans that were hired locally. The remaining come from outside of the country, including about a third who are US citizens.
US military contractors in Afghanistan are at the center of a major scandal, having been accused of paying the Taliban “protection money” by families of US soldiers that have been wounded or killed in the country.
The Pentagon announced last Friday that it had completed its troop drawdown in Afghanistan, leaving 2,500 troops in the country, the lowest number since 2001. The US-Taliban peace deal signed in February calls for a complete US withdrawal from the country by Spring 2021.
It’s not clear if the Biden administration will follow through on the pull out. The deep entrenchment of contractors in the country shows there are a lot of interests to keep the almost 20-year-long conflict going.