According to a report from Bloomberg Law, contractors in Afghanistan employed by the US military, who vastly outnumber US troops in the country, have been given minimal direction on President Biden’s withdrawal plan.
“We need a much clearer idea of what the endgame looks like,” said David Berteau of the Professional Services Council, which represents 400 government contractors, many of whom are in Afghanistan. “None of that has been revealed to us or our member companies and that is what we’re calling for.”
The report said the Pentagon currently has 16,832 contractors in Afghanistan, including 6,147 who are US citizens. US military officials have been vague when asked if the contractors are leaving with the combat troops, which number about 2,500, although some reports say the number is closer to 3,500.
Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the head of Central Command, told the House Armed Services Committee earlier this week that “most” of the contractors will be leaving. “Most of the contractors are going to leave, and certainly the US contractors are going to leave,” he said, offering no further details.
At a press briefing on Thursday, McKenzie again said the US contractors will be leaving, which suggests contractors of different nationalities could stay. “The US contractors will come out as we come out. That is part of the planned withdrawal we have in place right now,” he said.
Last week, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin made it clear that the US will continue supporting the Afghan military financially. He said the US “will seek to continue paying salaries for Afghan security forces.”
The issue is that the Afghan military, especially the air force, is almost entirely reliant on Pentagon contractors to maintain their equipment. Continued support for the Afghan military could be all the justification the US needs to keep contractors in the country.
Last month, John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction (SIGAR), explained just how dependent the Afghan government’s military is on these contractors. One example he gave is that Pentagon contractors provide 100 percent of the maintenance for the Afghan air force’s Blackhawk helicopters and C-130 cargo planes.
The US military is also looking to maintain the ability to bomb Afghanistan after the withdrawal and is looking to reposition forces possibly in neighboring Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, or Uzbekistan, although the US currently has no basing agreements with these countries.