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The number of armed contractors in Afghanistan has increased more than 65% since Trump took office
The number of armed private security contractors in Afghanistan has increased more than 65% since President Donald Trump took office, according to a review of Pentagon statistics.
The Pentagon's most recent report on contractor personnel numbers for the first quarter of Fiscal Year 2019 shows there are now 2,847 armed private security contractors supporting the Operation Freedom's Sentinel mission in Afghanistan, up from the 1,722 armed contractors it reported in Jan. 2017.
The use of armed security contractors seemed to be on the decline during President Barack Obama's last year in office. In Jan. 2016, there were 1,083 armed contractors in Afghanistan, and in the following months, the number fluctuated but never rose above that level before it settled at 813 armed contractors reported in October.
By the time the next report was issued in Jan. 2017, however, there were 1,722 armed contractors in Afghanistan, more than double the number deployed under Obama. It wasn't clear from the report whether the surge in contractors was a last minute decision by the outgoing administration, or a change initiated after Trump became commander-in-chief.
Col. Dave Butler, a spokesman for the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, explained that the increase in armed contractors was "primarily due to an administrative change in manning from shifts of 12 hours to shifts of eight hours in order to reduce fatigue on employees and improve coverage for when employees are unavailable due to leave, illness, or other events."
"The numbers of contractors routinely fluctuate in all mission categories as a result of requirements and overlapping personnel assignments," Pentagon spokeswoman Heather Babb said in a statement to Task & Purpose. "The DoD may contract for private security functions to fulfill non-combat requirements for security in military operations or exercises, and there is a robust framework of law, policy, regulations, and standards that address the use of private security contractors."
Meanwhile, a Jan. 2018 contractor report mentioned the "the expected Force Manning Level increase will drive an increase in contracted support requirements thus increasing contractor footprint" — a reference to the cap on the number of troops allowed in Afghanistan. There are currently about 14,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, according to CNN.
"As the force manning levels have taken effect, what we have done in some cases, is substitute contractors for soldiers in order to meet the force manning levels," Army Gen. John Nicholson, then-commander of the Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan, testified to the Senate in Feb. 2017.
Still, there's no doubt the use of armed security contractors has increased considerably on Trump's watch.
Armed private security contractors typically support four types of missions: static security, such as protecting military bases; providing security to personnel; protecting convoys; and security for internment operations, according to a 2010 handbook for armed contractors published by U.S. Joint Forces Command.
The increasing number of armed contractor jobs in Afghanistan have mostly been filled by "third country nationals" or local Afghans, according to the statistics. Of the 2,847 assigned to the DoD in Afghanistan, 84% were non-American, compared to 71% reported in Jan. 2017.
While U.S. citizens working as contractors often have military or law enforcement backgrounds that make it easier to pass security checks, according to a 2011 Congressional Research Service report, third country nationals are "generally cheaper," while local nationals are "generally the least expensive to hire."
However, that same report also outlined incidents of abuse from 2006 to 2009:
... private security contractors escorting supply convoys to coalition bases have been blamed for killing and wounding more than 30 innocent civilians in Afghanistan's Maywand district alone, leading to at least one confrontation with U.S. forces. And in May 2010, U.S. and Afghan officials reportedly stated that local Afghan security contractors protecting NATO supply convoys in Kandahar "regularly fire wildly into villages they pass, hindering coalition efforts to build local support." One officer from a Stryker brigade deployed in Afghanistan was quoted as saying that these contractors "tend to squeeze the trigger first and ask questions later." And unlike in Iraq, where a series of high profile incidents involved U.S. security personnel, in Afghanistan, many of the guards causing the problems are Afghans.
"Using local nationals as security contractors can also provide a number of potential benefits, such as providing jobs, building relationships and developing contacts with the local population, and having a security force that has a better understanding of the region. However, local nationals are often more difficult to screen and can be more easily infiltrated by hostile forces," the report said.
Jeff Schogol contributed reporting.
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Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA) will announce legislation Wednesday aiming to "fix" a new Trump administration citizenship policy that affects some children of U.S. service members stationed abroad.
The inside story of how The Village People shot the Navy's most controversial recruiting video onboard an active warship
The video opens innocently enough. A bell sounds as we gaze onto a U.S. Navy frigate, safely docked at port at Naval Base San Diego. A cadre of sailors, dressed in "crackerjack" style enlisted dress uniforms and hauling duffel bags over their shoulders, stride up a gangplank aboard the vessel. The officer on deck greets them with a blast of a boatswain's call. It could be the opening scene of a recruitment video for the greatest naval force on the planet.
Then the rhythmic clapping begins.
This is no recruitment video. It's 'In The Navy,' the legendary 1979 hit from disco queens The Village People, shot aboard the very real Knox-class USS Reasoner (FF-1063) frigate. And one of those five Navy sailors who strode up that gangplank during filming was Ronald Beck, at the time a legal yeoman and witness to one of the strangest collisions between the U.S. military and pop culture of the 20th century.
"They picked the ship and they picked us, I don't know why," Beck, who left the Navy in 1982, told Task & Purpose in a phone interview from his Texas home in October. "I was just lucky to be one of 'em picked."
Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Tuesday casually brushed aside the disturbing news that, holy shit, MORE THAN 100 ISIS FIGHTERS HAVE ESCAPED FROM JAIL.
In an interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour, Esper essentially turned this fact into a positive, no doubt impressing public relations and political talking heads everywhere with some truly masterful spin.
"Of the 11,000 or so detainees that were imprisoned in northeast Syria, we've only had reports that a little more than a hundred have escaped," Esper said, adding that the Syrian Democratic Forces were continuing to guard prisons, and the Pentagon had not "seen this big prison break that we all expected."
Well, I feel better. How about you?
On Wednesday, the top U.S. envoy in charge of the global coalition to defeat ISIS said much the same, while adding another cherry on top: The United States has no idea where those 100+ fighters went.
A senior administration official told reporters on Wednesday the White House's understanding is that the SDF continues to keep the "vast majority" of ISIS fighters under "lock and key."
"It's obviously a fluid situation on the ground that we're monitoring closely," the official said, adding that released fighters will be "hunted down and recaptured." The official said it was Turkey's responsibility to do so.
President Trump expressed optimism on Wednesday about what was happening on the ground in northeast Syria, when he announced that a ceasefire between Turkey and the Kurds was expected to be made permanent.
"Turkey, Syria, and all forms of the Kurds have been fighting for centuries," Trump said. "We have done them a great service and we've done a great job for all of them — and now we're getting out."
The president boasted that the U.S.-brokered ceasefire had saved the lives of tens of thousands of Kurds "without spilling one drop of American blood."
Kade Kurita, the 20-year-old West Point cadet who had been missing since Friday evening, was found dead on Tuesday night, the U.S. Military Academy announced early Wednesday morning.
"We are grieving this loss and our thoughts and prayers go out to Cadet Kurita's family and friends," Lt. Gen. Darryl Williams, superintendent of West Point, said in the release.
The U.S. Army's Next Generation Squad Weapon effort looked a lot more possible this week as the three competing weapons firms displayed their prototype 6.8mm rifles and automatic rifles at the 2019 Association of the United States Army's annual meeting.
Just two months ago, the Army selected General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems inc., Textron Systems and Sig Sauer Inc. for the final phase of the NGSW effort — one of the service's top modernization priorities to replace the 5.56mm M4A1 carbine and the M249 squad automatic weapon in infantry and other close-combat units.
Army officials, as well as the companies in competition, have been guarded about specific details, but the end result will equip combat squads with weapons that fire a specially designed 6.8mm projectile, capable of penetrating enemy body armor at ranges well beyond the current M855A1 5.56mm round.
There have previously been glimpses of weapons from two firms, but this year's AUSA was the first time all three competitors displayed their prototype weapons, which are distinctly different from one another.