It’s become increasingly apparent that official data on US military personnel deployed in so-called war zones overseas may be understating the actual number. Likewise, active duty military casualties account for only a portion of the American deaths suffered in Washington’s various overseas crusades in the last 20 years.
The principal mechanism for that statistical deception is the Pentagon’s growing use of "civilian contractors," like the one killed in a drone strike targeting US military on a coalition base in eastern Syria last week.
According to the Congressional Research Service in January, at the end of 2022 there were approximately 22,000 contractor personnel working for the DoD throughout Central Command’s area of responsibility, with a reported 7,908 contractors located in Iraq and Syria.
When most people hear that term used, they assume that the individuals involved are support personnel providing food, transportation, and other services to the military. This is true.
But in many cases the contractors are substituting for armed security — mercenaries if you will — and they can suffer casualties at a rate similar to troops who are officially members of the U.S. armed forces.
In 2017, U.S. Army General John Nicholson, then Commander of the NATO Resolute Support Mission and United States Forces – Afghanistan, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Pentagon had to “substitute contractors for soldiers in order to meet the force manning levels” in Afghanistan.
As of October 2018, there were over 25,000 contractors in Afghanistan. Of them, 4,172 were private security contractors in Afghanistan, with 2,397 categorized as armed private security contractors.
The peak of contractor use, of course, was during the Global War on Terror, when the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan, said in its final report in 2011 that there was an "unhealthy over-reliance" on military contractors by DoD, Department of State, and USAID.