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Military contractors' mercenary motives


"Are we downhearted? No! Then let your voices ring and altogether sing," goes the patriotic song from the first world war. "Not while Britannia rules the waves. Not likely! While we have Jack upon the sea and Tommy on the land, we need not fret."

Almost a century later, in a different war led by George Bush and Tony Blair, and now by Barack Obama and David Cameron in Afghanistan and Iraq, patriotism is still rife in Washington and London. But one thing has changed: even if Jack was still a soldier, Tommy is probably now a private contractor. And those joining in the chorus are neither soldiers nor taxpayers, but corporate executives in boardrooms in Virginia and Texas.

For every soldier deployed in the decade long global war on terror, one private contractor worked alongside. The cost of this – according to the final report of the Commission on Wartime Contracting issued Wednesday – has been $206bn paid out to private contractors in the global war on terror. Roughly one out of every five dollars went to one contractor – KBR of Houston, Texas, a former subsidiary of Halliburton, which took in five times more than the next biggest contractor, Agility of Kuwait.

Outright fraud consumed something like 5-9% of that $206bn total, according to the commission, while waste was estimated to be as high as 20% of the total. All told, between $31bn and $60bn may have been misused, the commission estimates.

"It is disgusting to think that nearly a third of the billions and billions we spent on contracting was wasted or used for fraud," said senator Claire McCaskill, who helped create the commission.

"We are well aware of some of the deficiencies over the years in how we have worked contracts," US Marine Corps Colonel David Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters. "In many instances, it's a matter of saving lives, doing things more quickly because of the nature of conflict."


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