I am sure that many will view the latest military contract award to Kellogg, Brown and Root (former subsidiary of Halliburton) — worth upwards of $2.8 billion for work in Iraq — through a political lens. We all know the company’s hold on Washington to be as tenacious as a barnacle on a pirate ship. However, KBR’s relationship has gone far beyond political favoritism. When the paymasters at the Pentagon say KBR is the only outfit to do the job, believe it. The “job” has turned into a massive shift of military operations to the private sector. There is no going back now. KBR is the largest and most capable defense contractor out there, and without it doing everything from building airfields and barracks to serving food, handling waste removal, delivering water and fuel — well, the Pentagon would not be able to wage the war alone.
“In short, we will be bringing as many contractors as we are troops – especially KBR [Kellogg, Brown and Root] – because they now feed and house the military, and the military has no real choice, because they have let that part of their logistics atrophy,” pointed out Dina Rasor, director of the Follow the Money Project and co-author of Betraying our Troops: The Destructive Results of Privatizing War, in an interview last year on the surge of new contract opportunities into Afghanistan.
Consider this: last year, the head of Army contracting admitted to the Commission on Wartime Contracting that they relied so much on KBR that it is unlikely that the “organic” force could handle the load if KBR was suddenly dropped from the war. Others told Rasor in interviews for her book that individual Army commanders did not push KBR (then part of Halliburton) on perceived overcharges because the Army did not want to risk the company pulling out of deals and leaving their men and women high and dry without the supplies the company was contracted to deliver. The Commission on Wartime Contracting has been rattling cages on this issue, but they have no teeth and no one is listening. As long as the administration insists the U.S must have upwards of 200,000 service members in Iraq and Afghanistan, there will be a need for a corresponding “shadow force” in equal number. Currently, there are 242,230 contractors on the U.S payroll serving in those war theaters alone.
So, as long as there is this demand, the Pentagon is forced to retain a company that is accused and/or responsible — according to numerous audits, investigations and lawsuits — for myriad waste, fraud and abuse of taxpayer funds since 2001. The latest: a huge class action suit by sick vets who say KBR was responsible for untreated potable water and the massively polluted burn pits on various Army bases, as well as the death of at least one soldier who was electrocuted by a shoddy base shower built by KBR subcontractors. There are ongoing probes into at least 17 similar electrocutions. The company has denied that it had anything to do with it — and has denied connections to the dirty water and burn pits, too.
Waging war “on the cheap” — that’s what the Pentagon has wrought. Now it is a victim of its own “practical” schemes.