Contractor death toll surpasses military's in Iraq, Afghanistan

More contractors killed than military personnel since January

Since the beginning of 2010, more U.S. contractors have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan than military personnel, according to a study by a law student and procurement expert.

After analyzing data from the Defense and Labor departments, Steven Schooner, co-director of the Government Procurement Law Program at George Washington University, and Collin Swan, a law student at George Washington, estimated that 232 contractors have been killed in Afghanistan since January, compared to 195 U.S. troops. In Iraq, 204 contractors have been killed since January 2009, compared to 188 troops.

Schooner and Swan revealed their results this month in the Service Contractor, a quarterly publication that the Professional Services Council produces.

The pair wrote the article in part to call attention to the rising number of contractor deaths. “To the extent that the mainstream news media has failed to give these disturbing trends sufficient attention, the public remains largely ignorant of the extent of the contractor community’s sacrifice,” they wrote. "That’s a serious problem."

They also argued that more accurate data is needed on contractor deaths and injuries. Until the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act, DOD did little to keep track of contractors employed in Iraq and Afghanistan. With the 2008 law, DOD created the Synchronized Predeployment and Operational Tracker system to gather information on contingency contractor operations, including casualties.

Schooner and Swan's study used Labor data for insurance claims filed under the Defense Base Act.

Some of the contractor figures could be higher, they wrote.

“In a representative democracy, an honest, accurate tally is important for the public and the nation’s elected leaders to understand the true human toll of these conflicts,” Schooner and Swan wrote. “Transparency in this regard is critical to any discussion of the costs and benefits of our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

About the Author

Nick Wakeman is the editor-in-chief of Washington Technology. Follow him on Twitter: @nick_wakeman.

Reader Comments

Fri, Jun 3, 2011 Maria in Houston Houston, Texas

I recently accepted a job with a private contractor to go to Afghanistan. I did not go for many reasons but I was willing because I was unemployed and I was not getting the responses to my resume that I was used to. I must say that I am an educated professional who made a six figure salary before I was laid off, but because the job offers were not coming after several months of unemployment, I applied for a position with a private contractor for work in Afghanistan. I got the job but ultimately did not go because I found other employment here in the states before I deployed. There may be people that seek out jobs in war zones to "help support the troops", but most of us who have no military background accept the jobs for the money...that is the truth and the way it is. If we were young enough to qualify for military duty and had altruistic patriotic motives we would have joined the military rather than go over as highly paid private contractors. Please don't make the mistake of giving all folks who go into a war zone to work as benevolent self sacrificing folks who's main motivation is to support our troops. That is just not true of the majority of people who go with no prior military experience. WE GO FOR THE MONEY.

Sat, Apr 23, 2011 contractor Afghanistan

To the individual who made the comment that "contractors are there for the money and / or running from something back home wether it be bankruptcy, divorce, or legal problems" should get their facts straight. The majority of contractors are retired military who regardless of the amount of money, continue to serve in a capacity that allows the military to continue to focus on their missions which is stabilizing Iraq and Afghanistan. So while the public may be shielded from the numbers of contractor deaths and who would care...come back to me after you have given 23 years of service and decide to also join the ranks of the defense contractor. How dare you!

Wed, Apr 6, 2011 contractor

what do you expect, you want someone to hop in a truck and drive it , that you can see coming 10 miles away, that is a clear beneficial target, and you thought people were going to volunteer to do it based on what, honor, please withought a huge some of money to bribe people,nothing could get transported, and oh, yeah, thats the supplies you'll be using as well

Thu, Mar 3, 2011 Iraq

I'm on my 2nd tour in Iraq as a guardsmen, my first was in 05 and now today. While I certainly do not find the loss of human life acceptable, I have no sympathy for contractors that are well aware of the risks. They are here for the money and / or running from something back home wether it be bankruptcy, divorce, or legal problems. Contracted war is a numbers game to keep troop levels down. It is inefficient and costly. I agree the public is shielded from these casualty #'s but would they really care?

Wed, Mar 2, 2011

I must say that there is no difference if you are a contractor or military, everyone does it because they need the money and becasue they like to do something that matters. What this study does show is what everyone in contracting knows; there is a real lack of caring for the contractor force, which is greatly represented by veterans. Many of the soldiers that I met while in contracting spoke poorly of the contractor, but never hesitated to ask for advice on how to resolve issues, even if it was during our personnel time when we were trying to make contact with our family, but we are still seen as greedy people that do not care about what happens, only money. We do what is required from us to get the mission done. Most contractors work late withoout extra pay, we buy things that are needed for the mission with our own money, over 2K in a single year, and all to take care of a mission where the supply system, or approval process, is too slow to keep up. Many of the soldiers that were speaking bad about contractors made sure to gather infomration on the companies and contact information from us to try and become a contractor after retirement. Many change to the contractor side and noticed that the government was much more demanding of a contractor than a soldier. I just ask everyone to remember that it is a TEAM and one cannot function properly without the other. God bless all.

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