U.S. Cannot Manage Contractors In Wars, Officials Testify on Hill

With even more U.S. contractors now in Iraq and Afghanistan than U.S. military personnel, government officials told Congress yesterday that the Bush administration is not prepared to manage the contractors’ critical involvement in the American war effort.

At the end of last September, there were “over 196,000 contractor personnel working for the Defense Department in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Jack Bell, deputy undersecretary of defense for logistics and materiel readiness.

Contractors “have become part of our total force, a concept that DoD [the Defense Department] must manage on an integrated basis with our military forces,” he also said in prepared testimony for a hearing yesterday of the Senate homeland security subcommittee. “Frankly,” he continued, “we were not adequately prepared to address” what he termed “this unprecedented scale of our dependence on contractors.”

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Blackwater denies involvement in illicit arms trade

WASHINGTON (CNN) — Allegations that Blackwater USA — whose operations were suspended after 20 Iraqi civilians were shot to death last weekend — was “in any way associated or complicit in unlawful arms activities are baseless,” the company asserted Saturday.

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Blackwater employees patrol Baghdad by air in a February 2005 photograph.

Federal prosecutors are investigating allegations that employees of Blackwater illegally purchased weapons and sold them in Iraq, according to U.S. government sources.

A U.S. government official has said the U.S. attorney’s office in Raleigh, North Carolina, is in the early stages of an investigation that focuses on individual company employees, and not the firm.

Blackwater, which is based in Moyock, North Carolina, is a security firm hired by the State Department to guard U.S. staff in Iraq.

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