Defense Media Network

Contractor Casualties Rise in Iraq, Afghanistan

The number of contractors injured in Iraq and Afghanistan now totals more than double those of U.S. soldiers through June of this year, and when these civilian casualties are included, the death toll in those two theaters rises by about 36 percent.

Moreover, each year since the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in late 2001 to topple the Taliban, the proportion of contractor deaths has risen as the percentage of warfighter deaths has fallen.

Those are among the major conclusions of a new study of combat casualties recently appearing in the trade journal Service Contractor. The four-page article relied heavily on publicly available data published by a division of the U.S. Labor Department.

Although not explicitly a part of the analysis, the report does indicate that a number of measures designed to protect U.S. soldiers – from reinforced vehicles to bomb detectors – have reduced combat fatalities.

But civilians have not fared nearly as well, according to the study, which concludes that American media outlets have consistently underreported this important trend.

“The public continues to fail to understand how contractor personnel are increasingly making the ultimate sacrifice alongside, or in lieu of, service members,” the report observes. “Accordingly, the number of U.S. casualties reported in the media does not accurately represent the actual human costs of these conflicts.”

Titled “Contractors and the Ultimate Sacrifice,” the study shows these civilian workers have suffered severe casualties in Iraq, where the number of injuries totals nearly three times that of U.S. soldiers, or 36,023 to 12,766.

The percentage is lower in Afghanistan, where 8,129 contractors were injured compared with 3,444 service personnel, or just slightly more than double.

But when it comes to the death toll, the situation nearly reverses itself. Almost three times as many soldiers died in Iraq as civilians, 4,400 to 1,487. In Afghanistan, more than twice as many warfighters perished, 1,131 to 521.

Steven L. Schooner, a professor at the George Washington University Law School, is the lead author of the report. Besides serving as the school’s co-director of the Government Procurement Law Program, Schooner also works as a director of the Procurement Round Table, a trade group. Collin D. Swan, a student at the law school, co-authored the study.

Schooner and Swan drew much of their statistics from a database maintained under the U.S. Defense Base Act. The numbers themselves come from a Labor Department unit that tracks worker’s compensation claims, which Schooner and Swan argue may understate the actual civilian casualties because not every incident leads to someone filing for related benefits.

Labor Department statistics can be viewed at:

In recent years, “contractors are bearing an increasing proportion of the death toll,” the study says. “In other words, contractors supporting the war effort are losing more lives than the U.S. military waging these wars.”

For example, contractors accounted for only 4 percent of U.S. fatalities in 2003. But from the beginning of 2008 through the first six months of 2010, the figure climbed tenfold to 40 percent.

Citing statistics from the Congressional Research Service, the authors say the Pentagon employs nearly as many civilian contractors in Iraq as military personnel.

Combined, the Iraq-Afghanistan theaters represent “the most contract-dependent armed conflict in U.S. history,” the authors write. “The sheer number of contractors employed in Iraq and Afghanistan – and, of course, their length of service – distinguishes the extent of the reliance on contractors from any previous conflict.”


Michael A. Robinson has written articles for some of the nation's more prestigious publications. As...

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    Alpha Centauri

    This is what happens when civvies try to do real military work. they are no better than mercenaries. they deserve what they get.

    li class="comment odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-323">
    Chuck Oldham (Editor)

    Revanchist, here’s a thought experiment:

    Pilots of the American Volunteer Group, better known as the Flying Tigers, were paid $500 per Japanese plane shot down, along with a generous monthly salary of between $250 and $750 per month. This was during the 1940s, when that constituted a considerable amount of money.

    By your definition, these men were “no better than mercenaries.” Did the Flying Tigers who were killed in action fighting against the Japanese in the desperate early days of World War II “deserve” what they got because they were being paid by the Chinese government?

    Why or why not?

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-324">

    The Civvies “Alpha Centuri” refers to are most likely former Special Forces and Marine Corps NCOs. They are not “Civvies.”. As a former Security Program Manager I had many of them working for me to provide security for US Military and State Department personal in Iraq. Moreover, my son who was one of those “civvies” was wounded in an IED attach while he protected US Corps of Engineers personnel. Mr “Alpha Centuri” is an uninformed idiot.

    li class="comment odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-325">
    Tyree Cafaro Boggess

    My dad flew for Air America in Laos and Vietnam during the Vietnam War while the family lived in Vientiane, Laos. He told me that it was well known U.S. military pilots were offered these jobs first, but refused as they felt the conditions were impossible. My dad flew for AA for 8 years. Without these incredible pilots a lot more U.S. and allied forces would have been killed.

    Thank God for those who will do the impossible!

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-326">
    Chuck Oldham (Editor)

    “Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries”

    These, in the day when heaven was falling,
    The hour when earth’s foundations fled,
    Followed their mercenary calling,
    And took their wages, and are dead.

    Their shoulders held the sky suspended;
    They stood, and earth’s foundations stay;
    What God abandoned, these defended,
    And saved the sum of things for pay.

    A.E. Housman