‘Can the U.S. military do anything without KBR? No.’

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President Obama has inherited a U.S. military different from the one Defense War Secretary Donald Rumsfeld described in 2004 as “the army you have-not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time.”

Unlike at the start of the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, the U.S. military is now almost completely dependent on private contractors for nearly everything but fighting.

Pratap Chatterjee, author and journalist, asks What will Obama do with KBR?

Obama needs to ask his Pentagon commanders this: Can the U.S. military he has now inherited do anything without KBR?

And the answer will certainly be a resounding no.

Chatterjee writes, “KBR has grossed more than $25 billion since it won a 10-year contract in late 2001 to supply U.S. troops in combat situations around the world.”

KBR has left a dismal record over the past five years, including killing soldiers due to “shoddy electrical work, unchlorinated shower water, overcharges for trucks sitting idle in the desert, deaths of KBR employees and affiliated soldiers in Iraq, million-dollar alleged bribes accepted by KBR managers, and billions of dollars in missing receipts,” rapes of female employees, and worker riots. KBR employees are everywhere U.S. soldiers are deployed.

Today, there is one KBR worker for every three U.S. soldiers in Iraq — and the main function of these workers… is to build base infrastructure and maintain them by doing all those duties that once were considered part of military life — making sure that soldiers are fed, their clothes washed, and their showers and toilets kept clean.

These workers make a starting salary of $300 a month and “the majority of KBR’s labor force, some 40,000 workers (the equivalent of about 80 military battalions), are ‘third country nationals’ drawn largely from the poorer parts of Asia” such as India and the Philippines.

Chatterjee explains that this is an unprecedented shift in military contracting for the U.S. military. The U.S. military has long been dependent on the private sector to build bases and weapons to supply food and uniforms for the soldiers. “During the Vietnam War in the 1960s, a consortium of four companies led by the Texas construction company Brown & Root (the B and R in KBR) built almost every military base in South Vietnam.”

But the transformation to the KBR-dependant U.S. military that Obama has to command today began in 1991 during the First Gulf War when Defense War Secretary Dick Cheney “hired hundreds of separate contractors to provide logistics support” with mixed and often frustrating results.

Six years earlier, U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. John Wickham created a plan “to streamline logistics work on military bases under what he dubbed the Logistics Civilian Augmentation Program (LOGCAP)”. When Cheney left office he took the LOGCAP plan with him to Brown & Root.

Under President Clinton, the military liked the now-Brown & Root plan and hired them to build bases in Bosnia and Kosovo, plus “take over the day-to-day running of those bases in the middle of a war zone.”

When Cheney returned to power in 2001 and brought Rumsfeld along to run the Defense War Department, the dependency of the U.S. military on private contracting was already well established and for KBR, a former subsidiary of Cheney’s old company, Halliburton, it has been very lucrative relationship and there are no signs of the U.S. military contracting dollars ending.

In the first days of the new Obama administration, the company continues to win contracts. On January 28, 2009, KBR announced that it had been awarded a $35.4 million contract by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the design and construction of a convoy support center at Camp Adder in Iraq.

A rather odd contract for a Democratic administration to award since KBR is the largest non-union construction company in the United States and because Obama still plans on redeploying U.S. troops from Iraq. But even if Obama orders the troops home tomorrow, “he will effectively sign a blank check for billions of dollars in withdrawal logistics contracts” that will largely go to KBR.

Hopefully, President Obama will carry though with his intentions to, as Chatterjee notes according to the White House website, “create transparency for military contractors” and decide if “contracting makes sense”.

Because since the president also wants to “increase the size of the Army by 65,000 soldiers and the Marine Corps by 27,000 Marines”. With a 1:3 ratio of KBR employees to U.S. soldiers, it appears that KBR will be hiring about 30,600 people in the near future and billions of dollars more of taxpayer money will be going to KBR thanks to the system of private contracting Dick Cheney helped cement into place.


Cross-posted at Daily Kos.


1 comment

  1. Day after day, as I follow Obama’s policy actions, I am increasingly disappointed.  

    His words echo in an empty wind tunnel.

    His actions plod along the same old status quo path.

    I still participate in a neighborhood Obama group, the Live Oaks of Berkeley California, where our purpose is to advocate to push Barack in the direction of his more progressive words and to have-his-back when (if he ever) takes progressive stances.

    In the meantime, on issue after issue Obama appears incapable of freeing himself from the Faustian Deal he had to make to get both the nomination and the support of the Corporate rulers who call the shots in this increasingly tragic country and world.  

    I am sad.

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