Pentagon Contractors Left in the Dark on Afghanistan Withdrawal Plan

April 26th, 2021 - by Dave DeCamp /

There are currently 16,832 Pentagon contractors in Afghanistan and ‘most’ will leave under Biden’s withdrawal plan

Dave DeCamp /

 (April 23, 2021) — According to a report from Bloomberg Law, contractors in Afghanistan employed by the US military, who vastly outnumber US troops in the country, have been given minimal direction on President Biden’s withdrawal plan.

“We need a much clearer idea of what the endgame looks like,” said David Berteau of the Professional Services Council, which represents 400 government contractors, many of whom are in Afghanistan. “None of that has been revealed to us or our member companies and that is what we’re calling for.”

The report said the Pentagon currently has 16,832 contractors in Afghanistan, including 6,147 who are US citizens. US military officials have been vague when asked if the contractors are leaving with the combat troops, which number about 2,500, although some reports say the number is closer to 3,500.

Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the head of Central Command, told the House Armed Services Committee earlier this week that “most” of the contractors will be leaving. “Most of the contractors are going to leave, and certainly the US contractors are going to leave,” he said, offering no further details.

At a press briefing on Thursday, McKenzie again said the US contractors will be leaving, which suggests contractors of different nationalities could stay. “The US contractors will come out as we come out. That is part of the planned withdrawal we have in place right now,” he said. 

Last week, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin made it clear that the US will continue supporting the Afghan military financially. He said the US “will seek to continue paying salaries for Afghan security forces.” 

The issue is that the Afghan military, especially the air force, is almost entirely reliant on Pentagon contractors to maintain their equipment. Continued support for the Afghan military could be all the justification the US needs to keep contractors in the country.

Last month,  John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction (SIGAR), explained just how dependent the Afghan government’s military is on these contractors. One example he gave is that Pentagon contractors provide 100 percent of the maintenance for the Afghan air force’s Blackhawk helicopters and C-130 cargo planes.

The US military is also looking to maintain the ability to bomb Afghanistan after the withdrawal and is looking to reposition forces possibly in neighboring Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, or Uzbekistan, although the US currently has no basing agreements with these countries.

CENTCOM Chief: It Will Be ‘Harder’ to Bomb Afghanistan But ‘Not Impossible’

David De Camp /

(April 20, 2021) — The US military is looking for ways to maintain the ability to bomb targets inside Afghanistan without a troop presence in the country. On Tuesday, Gen. Frank McKenzie, the head of US Central Command, said it would be “harder” but “not impossible” to strike targets inside Afghanistan if President Biden follows through on his withdrawal plan.

“If you leave Afghanistan and you want to go back in to conduct these kinds of operations, there are three things you need to do: you need to find the target, you need to fix the target, and you need to be able to finish the target,” McKenzie told the House Armed Services Committee.

“The first two require heavy intelligence support. If you’re out of the country, and you don’t have the ecosystem that we have there now, it will be harder to do that. It is not impossible to do that,” he said.

Last week, a report from The New York Times said the US is considering repositioning forces to neighboring Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan. McKenzie said the US currently has no basing agreements with these countries but suggested the US could be working on possible deals. “We will look at all the countries in the region, our diplomats will reach out, and we’ll talk about places where we could base those resources,” he said.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken made similar comments on Sunday. He said the US will “have the means” to monitor Afghanistan and “take action” if needed. Last week, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin did not disclose details on where the US plans to reposition “counterterrorism assets” but said the US has the “reach and the ability” to “acquire targets and engage them in places where we are not.”

Austin also said the US plans to continue “paying salaries” to the Afghan military. While Biden said he plans to withdraw all troops by September 11th, it’s not clear if the plan extends to the 18,000 contractors in Afghanistan that are employed by the Pentagon, which the Afghan military relies on for maintenance and repairs.

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