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.”