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The US Congressional Research Service (CRS) recently published a study on Pentagon "armed contractors". It appears that the contingent of mercenaries in Iraq has halved, a trend that corresponds to the displacement of US troops outside of Iraq towards other countries in the Middle-East. At the same time, the number of contractors has multiplied by five in two years.

In reality, these two phenomena cannot be compared. “Armed contractors” in Iraq are foreign mercenaries. They had been hired during the Rumsfeld era with the idea that, in a capitalist world, armies should also be privatized. The aim was to lower the costs of colonial expeditions by resorting to competition. Those days are over, mainly because the military were opposed to the downgrading of their status.
In Afghanistan, on the other hand, “armed contractors” are Afghans that could not be integrated in the national forces and that the Pentagon rents from local warlords. This situation points to the collapse of state-building efforts, which has temporarily been dissimulated through the domestication of the warlords.

According to the study, the enlistment of mercenaries has profoundly perturbed counter-insurrection operations, causing them to backfire. The CRS therefore recommends that their use should strictly be limited to the tasks usually entrusted to security companies in developed countries.


The Department of Defense’s Use of Private Security Contractors in Afghanistan and Iraq : Background, Analysis, and Options for Congress, by Moshe Schwartz, Congressional Research Service, 26p., 2011 (300 Ko).

Translated from French by Nadège Boinnard.