June 1, 2007  

Opportunity missed

Logistics support contracts with locals would help stabilize Iraq

The hallmark of a professional army is its ability to analyze its performance after military operations and develop strategies that reinforce strengths and improve weaknesses for future operations. After four years of war in Iraq, a review of military operations is necessary to understand the tactics that have been successful and identify opportunities that have been missed.

An examination of U.S. military operations in Iraq reveals several deficient policies. And although there is no guarantee that a change in these tactics would have assured stability in Iraq, ignoring these omissions will increase the likelihood of replicating our experiences in Iraq and elsewhere in future conflicts.

The initial liberation of Iraq was a skillful and successful operation. The intervention lasted a scant 41 days before all major combat operations were declared complete. It was when the U.S. moved to stability and support operations that momentum was lost and the long road of insurgency and instability in Iraq began. Several components of how the U.S. executed stability and support operations present missed opportunities and misdirected tactics. The abusive methods of some U.S. forces, the lack of concerted planning prior to the transition to stability and support operations, a lack of unified command between civilian and military operations, and several other serious issues constitute the most obvious shortcomings.

This analysis will focus on the military’s role in Iraq — more specifically how the U.S. military could have had (and could still have) a positive economic impact in Iraq.

One specific policy would make a major difference, but it has not been previously understood or widely advocated: using indigenous personnel for a greater amount of the contracted defense logistics. This is an essential method of ensuring stability and security in a post-conflict environment. By using indigenous contractors in support of coalition forces in Iraq, several positive improvements would be made for coalition forces and the Iraqi population.

Stability and support operations are not new phenomena. Since nations and societies began engaging in wars of conquest, armies that conquered territory needed to pacify the people and make the newly gained territory suitable to produce benefits for the conquerors. Rome installed governors and demanded tribute; the modern imperial powers (Britain, France and Spain) established colonies and repressed the populations. Repressive methods are no longer acceptable, and the most successful approach to stability and support operations has been to interact with the conquered population. In post-war Germany and Japan, many of the needed supplies were procured locally, rebuilding the German and Japanese economies. In the present context, the U.S. needed to rebuild infrastructure and civil society after the liberation of Iraq to stabilize and democratize that country. Stability and support operations are the methods by which the U.S. attempts to achieve this goal.

In recent testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Toby Dodge of the Institute for International Strategic Studies articulated how the U.S. arrived at its current situation in Iraq. He identified the removal of the power of the state, its bureaucracies and its military as an enforcement mechanism as the leading cause of the insurgency. The state failure in Iraq has led to a complete breakdown of civil society and fostered civil, ethnic and sectarian strife that has made stability and reconstruction a dim prospect. The lack of basic services or police to protect citizens has increased lawlessness and politically motivated violence. It is because the Iraqis lost other alternatives to ensure their safety and the safety of their families that they decided to become criminals or join militias.


James Fearon and David Latitin, two political scientists who focus on civil war and ethnic conflict, argue this point even more clearly. Through their detailed analysis of several civil wars, they find that the largest determinant of civil war is not ethnic or sectarian tensions, which do exist in some cases, but the prevalence of poverty within the state. Poverty, and the continued exacerbation of poverty, drives individuals to seek security and stability for their families through political and criminal activities that may become violent. Poverty, coupled with a breakdown of civil society, forces the population to develop security along ethnic and sectarian lines, which entrenches political divisions based upon these new groups.

Poverty and dissolution of civil society in Iraq are two facets of an unstable environment that are mutually reinforcing and foster the development of insurgency and intrastate conflict. The U.S. sought to diminish these two threats after the intervention in Iraq through stability and support operations that focused on security and political development. The U.S. developed a military presence throughout most of Iraq, quickly followed by elections that sought to establish a government to represent the people of Iraq. Economically, the U.S. failed to provide meaningful employment or opportunities for investment to individual Iraqis. This lack of economic development after the initial combat operations is almost understandable, because there were so many areas within Iraq that needed funds to rebuild, such as electrical, petroleum and water production facilities. Meanwhile, the U.S. was spending billions of dollars on logistical contracting. That brings us to a question: Is it possible to contract with a local national population, and would there be meaningful benefits from such an action?

Defense logistics has always been a complex and demanding task for the military. Over the past few decades, it has become fashionable for the military to contract many elements of its logistical requirements to private companies. As we analyze defense logistics and its role in stability and support operations, we seek to understand whether different methods of procuring defense logistics are able to develop economic infrastructure in post-conflict operations. To answer this question, we must ask three supporting questions:

• Does the U.S. military require external logistical contracting?

• Can Iraqi contractors conduct work similar to U.S. companies?

• Will the effect of contracting with indigenous companies be beneficial for the local community?

The military must be ready at a moment’s notice for any situation imaginable. Developing a system of logistics to support a force that can go anywhere in the world is complex and costly. Moreover, a typical military operation requires more logistical support than combat forces. Combat forces are mobilized and deployed at a faster rate than logistics forces; logistics forces take much longer to get to a theater of operations because of their lower priority and greater space requirements. To counter this burden, the military developed a program for each branch of the armed services under which private companies can provide logistical support for contingency operations anywhere in the world.

In Iraq, the U.S. Army has responsibility for the majority of the bases inhabited by U.S. forces. The Army’s contingency support program is called the Logistics Civilian Augmentation Program (LOGCAP) and is being implemented by KBR. KBR has developed and executed contingency plans to feed, house and support U.S. forces anywhere in the world. This contract was initially valued at an estimated $4 billion; it has increased in value to more than $20 billion.

But how much money has actually gone into the LOGCAP program? Are there enough funds in the program for it to even be of value to the local national population? According to a Government Accountability Office audit, between 2001 and 2004, the Army spent $15.4 billion on the LOGCAP program to support bases and soldiers. The House of Representatives’ Committee on Government Reform issued a report highlighting that more than $5 billion worth of contracts were paid to KBR in 2005 alone. Combined, more than $20 billion was spent through the LOGCAP program up to the start of 2006, and since then, even more contracts have been negotiated.

Some of the life-support logistics that the LOGCAP program provided include meals for soldiers, laundry services, construction and the transportation of supplies to each of the bases. These tasks, although difficult during an invasion, can easily be performed by the local national population once major combat operations have ceased. Iraqi companies and contractors could have provided laundry services and transportation services fairly quickly after the fall of Saddam’s regime. As time progressed, food service could also have been taken over by indigenous companies.

When the U.S. military first took positions within Iraq, extra-state logistical support was required. U.S. and multinational companies were perfectly suited to bring supplies from America and Europe and transport them directly to the bases, meeting logistical shortfalls and easing the burden on the U.S. military’s internal support system. Although these logistical contracts are initially necessary, their purpose is not for long-term support. The original vision of the LOGCAP program was for it to last for only six months from implementation, but in Iraq, they have been contracting for more than four years.

Iraqi companies and contractors would not have been able to meet the requirements from Day One, but an evolutionary development of logistical networks within Iraq could have been implemented. This effort could have begun with small contracts for nonperishable goods and services, such as laundry and bottled water, that then would increase in scope and size as Iraqi contractors showed their proficiency and professionalism. Building up the economic networks that the invasion destroyed would have rebuilt economic infrastructure and brought money into the local community.

If even 10 percent of the money that has been expended in the LOGCAP program was used to procure logistics from indigenous companies, more than $2 billion would have been injected into Iraqi businesses. Some people claim that KBR does support Iraqi communities by hiring local nationals to assist in the execution of its contracts; this is a half truth. KBR has brought in personnel from 38 countries to work on Iraqi contracts, but the Iraqis they hire are not employed in long-term positions — they are short-term workers for limited contracts.

If the contracts went directly to Iraqi citizens, enduring employment opportunities would develop and the profits would go into the community. Profits from the contracts would spread to other small businesses, developing civil society and decreasing poverty. The logistical footprint of the U.S. military would remain reduced and would most likely cost less than it currently does. Interaction among neighbors would increase and lead to better communication among indigenous individuals who would otherwise withdraw to their ethnic or sectarian group as a source of support. Although these benefits are important, closer examination reveals more benefits for both the local community and the U.S. military mission can be found when the U.S. contracts with an indigenous population.


Contracting directly with the local national population would have several substantial positive effects for both Iraqi and U.S. forces. The first such benefit would be the development of a logistical network for the Iraqi population and military. As networks of logistics were developed for supporting the U.S. military, local logistical support could use the same routes, vehicles and systems. For example, if a company proved that it could bring produce to an area for the U.S. military, then it could also bring produce for the Iraqi population in the area. These networks of logistics would also support the Iraqi Army as it stands up and U.S. forces stand down. It is no secret that one of the most limiting factors on the Iraqi military is that it requires logistical support from the U.S. military; by building indigenous logistical networks, this problem would be solved.

Another benefit of indigenous contracting would be closer cooperation between the local national population and the military. By contracting directly with the local population, the U.S. military would begin cooperating with them. Once each group — the military and the local population — understood that it benefits from working together, greater trust and reciprocity would develop. The U.S. military would respect and appreciate the Iraqi population because it would be logistically supporting them and the local national population would be paid by the military. Both sides would benefit and appreciate one another, and that is an important component when a military is conducting stability and support operations.

The insurgency and the criminal groups within Iraq use the high numbers of unemployed young men in Iraq to conduct their attacks and criminal activities. By developing economic opportunities for Iraqis, unemployment would be reduced, thus depriving the anti-government elements of Iraq of their manpower. Without these young, poor males, the insurgency would lack the power to operate in a significantly offensive manner. Furthermore, these employment opportunities represent an enduring source of economic distribution that would continue after U.S. forces leave Iraq, ensuring that the insurgency will not reemerge once the U.S. withdraws.

Although a fairly positive picture has been painted in this argument, there are four caveats:

• Using indigenous personnel for logistical support during an insurgency is a very real security threat for U.S. forces. Although the threat is difficult to overcome, force protection systems would need to be developed to support the large number of local national contractors that would have access to the installations troops live on.

• Iraqis would not have had the capacity to support U.S. forces immediately and would have had to build capacity through an evolution of contracts, which, although difficult, is possible and necessary.

• An intervention such as the one in Iraq will undoubtedly produce instability, which has the potential to affect the regularity of logistics deliveries. Irregular deliveries have the potential to put the U.S. military in awkward positions, lacking necessary equipment or supplies for periods of time. Robust stockpiles to counter these irregular deliveries would have to be established within each base.

• Directly contracting with Iraqis would require massive amounts of manpower from the U.S. military to manage, negotiate and audit these contracts. The current LOGCAP contract integrates the private contractors from the very beginning in the military planning process, and they provide the documentation necessary. With indigenous contracting, new systems and procedures would have to be developed and would require much more manpower than the Army has allotted for contracting operations.

Even with these caveats, it is in the best interest of the U.S. to contract with indigenous companies. It has become accepted military practice to assist the development of Iraqi small businesses through micro-finance loans, but to have the local population assist in logistics for the U.S. military would provide another viable source of funds. In the future, the U.S. military will continue to contract vital logistical requirements; some of these logistical requirements can be fulfilled through local national companies. The positive impact from these contracts would bring employment and stability to the area where the U.S. military operates, and although it would require significant changes in the way the military operates, it would assist in achieving U.S. goals. The benefits from indigenous contracting during stability and support operations are as follows:

• There would be a significant “surge” of economic resources into the country that goes to the indigenous people instead of U.S. corporations’ coffers.

• Lower unemployment would mean that militias and criminal activities would not be such promising avenues for young Iraqis.

• It would build indigenous infrastructure that would be used by both military forces and the civilian population.

• Trust and respect between the local national population and military forces would increase as they become more interdependent.

• By sourcing locally, the logistical footprint of the military could be significantly reduced.

• Local national logistical support would cost less than that provided by U.S. companies because of lower wages, lower cost of living and other overhead requirements.

The U.S. military faces many challenges in its execution of stability and support operations when it is faced with both instability and an insurgency. Using defense logistics to co-opt the indigenous population is one method for breaking barriers between the inhabitants and the intervening force. It accomplishes two missions at once: First, it helps develop economic infrastructure, which reduces poverty; and second, it encourages cooperation and interaction, which helps rebuild civil society and trust. Although a difficult mission to accomplish, indigenous contracting can be a powerful tool to successfully conduct stability and support operations. And although it may be too late to break the entrenched divisions within Iraq, we must identify this option as a possible method for stability and peace in the future.

Richard May is a former Army officer who served in Afghanistan and Iraq. His last assignment was as medical team chief at Fort Knox, Ky. He is a fellow at the Center for Defense Information in Washington, D.C.