06/15/2012 04:32 pm ET Updated Aug 15, 2012

Chapter 12 Redux

Back in April I wrote about a U.S. Army War College's Strategic Studies Institute edited study titled, Conflict Management and "Whole of Government": Useful Tools for U.S. National Security Strategy.

Specifically, I wrote about one of its chapters, which is titled "Ethical Lessons on Maximizing Private Contractor Value in Afghanistan and Iraq" by Doug Brooks and Mackenzie Duelge. Mr. Brooks is president of the International Stability Operations Association, a leading PMSC trade association.

I laid out most of my objections in the previous piece but I wanted to make two more points.

First, the authors discuss the value of industry self-policing, something I have long been skeptical of. For example, the authors discuss the ISOA Code of Conduct which all its member companies have to sign and abide by. They also write, "Anyone can bring a complaint against an ISOA member company based on the Code of Conduct and the complaint will be heard by the ISOA Standards committee," as if that is supposed to reassure people.

In 2009 I did just that, based on a news article I read concerning the performance of a member company in Afghanistan. (Back then ISOA was named IPOA.) While ultimately the article proved to lack sufficient corroboration to prove its point the ISOA complaint process could only be called, charitably speaking, laughable. You can find the correspondence between IPOA and me on this here.

However, despite its comic aspect I don't really blame ISOA for lack of due diligence. After all, the authors write in their chapter: "As a trade group, the goal of the Code is not to remove errant member companies out of the Association (although the bylaws allow that kind of penalty should accused firms be unusually recalcitrant), but instead the goal is to work with those firms to ensure they return to compliance."

Expecting a trade association to impartially investigate allegations of possible wrongdoing on the part of the member companies which funds it is as likely as expecting Rush Limbaugh to lead an aerobics class or for Donald Trump to be giving lessons on how to live a modest, self-effacing, non-egomaniacal life.

Actually, what I found more puzzling was this sentence, "While setbacks and failures can cost the stability operations industry millions of dollars and sometimes the lives of their employees, avoidable problems also cost the international community time, resources and ultimately human lives on a far more catastrophic scale."

I actually agree with their conclusion but what jumped out at me was "sometimes the lives of their employees."


I have to say that even though I am often critical of companies I usually have the greatest respect for the men and women out in the field working for various PMSC firms. And given how often they are killed, not even counting wounded, "sometimes" is absolutely the wrong word. Consider just a few recent statistics. There were at least 49 civilian contractor deaths filed in the first quarter of 2012. There were at least 418 contractor deaths in 2011. In the first half of 2010 more private contractors than soldiers were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, the first time in history that corporate casualties have outweighed military losses on America's battlefields.

Put another way, an article in the January/February issue of Armed Forces Journal noted:

In Iraq and Afghanistan, the tie between fuel demand and casualties is significant and quantifiable. With fuel and water being the majority of the tonnage hauled, the Army has developed a model from historical casualty data. In Afghanistan, one U.S. soldier or contract civilian is killed or wounded for every 24 16-truck fuel convoys. In Iraq, that number was one per 38.5 convoys.

More than half that fuel goes for aircraft. Translation, just keeping close air support means contractors have to die.

Given that level of sacrifice using the word "sometimes" is an insult.