Gates unhappy with contractor oversight

By ROBERT BURNS, AP Military Writer
WASHINGTON – Defense Secretary Robert Gates outlined for the first time Wednesday his concerns about oversight of private contractors in Iraq, telling Congress that he sent a fact-finding team to Baghdad and reminded U.S. commanders they have the authority to discipline private workers.

Gates also said he was troubled by security contractors’ practice of luring soldiers out of uniform by offering them higher salaries. He said he was looking for ways to put legal limits on that practice.

In remarks to the Senate Appropriations Committee, Gates said he understood the reason for having 137,000 private contractors in Iraq – their presence allows U.S. troops to focus on combat while simpler tasks like providing food and laundry services and guarding fixed sites are done by private hires.

“But we clearly have to have proper oversight procedures and oversight activities in place to make sure they’re doing what they’re supposed to,” he said, adding: “My concern is whether there has been sufficient accountability and oversight.”

Gates appeared before the committee to spell out the administration’s request for nearly $190 billion in new funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the discussion quickly turned to the issue of private security contractors in Iraq, some of whom have been accused of rogue behavior.

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