“It is something that we are looking at from a legal standpoint ... from a policy standpoint, exactly what our responsibilities should be in current situations and in future wars,” Jerry Jennings, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for prisoner of war and missing personnel affairs, told National Defense.
Personnel recovery is no longer limited to high-risk, specialized troops as was the case in the past, said Air Force Lt. Gen. Norton Schwartz, director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “Isolated personnel now include U.S. military, contractors and other government civilians, as well as coalition partners.”
Contractors are tempting “soft targets,” said Marine Maj. Lance Landeche from the U.S. Central Command, which is in charge of the ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Who ultimately is responsible for contractor security is murky, Landeche said at the National Defense Industrial Association’s personnel recovery conference.
CENTCOM, for example, doesn’t oversee many contracts. Most of the contractors in Iraq are working for other military units and civilian agencies, all of which have varying approaches to providing for their contractors’ security.
The U.S. government lacks a clear policy to ensure that contractors are protected when they support U.S. missions abroad in high-threat locations, according to an Institute of Defense Analysis report on interagency national personnel recovery architecture.
The kidnappings and beheadings of American contractors in Iraq have raised questions about the lack of government accountability for these contractors.
Last year, the Government Accountability Office reported that the military services lack consistent policies for contractor integration and protection.
The report cited a lack of continuity in how contractors are integrated into the plans of the military units or other agencies.
According to the IDA report, published in July, the contract language for Operation Iraqi Freedom was lifted directly from existing contracts in Kosovo, which is a more permissive and safe environment than Iraq. “These shortfalls disproportionately increased the potential for contractors to be captured, detained or isolated from U.S. control,” said the report.
The focus of the IDA study is to formulate a new national security presidential directive, or NSPD, said Jennings. With congressional impetus and funds, Jennings commissioned the study back in 2001.
“The National Security Council asked for this draft document and supports an NSPD for personnel recovery,” he said at the conference. “We are very close to having it on the street.”
Accounting for contractors on the battlefield is a significant challenge, said Lt. Gen. Gene Renuart, the vice commander of Pacific Air Forces. “When do you decide to bring that contractor on, and when do you identify that contractor? Sometimes, it is really late in the process,” he said in an interview.
“We have to do better working on a routine basis with the traditional contractors, so that they get code of conduct training, or SERE [survival evasion, resistance and escape] training, and NBC [nuclear, biological and chemical] protection.”
The Defense Department may not have the resources to train those contractors, but by being aware of who the contractors are, the military could give them a training program which the companies can fund and monitor, Renuart said.
There is a wide variance between services when it comes to managing risk to contractors. Among the services, the Army has the most comprehensive policy, according to IDA.
The Army’s expertise could be expanded across the Defense Department and other government agencies as a set of best policy and practices for the protection of contractors, the report suggested.
Meanwhile, the contracting community also is gaining an increased understanding of contractor vulnerabilities and is trying to “apply those lessons learned, albeit often on an ad hoc basis,” said IDA.
Among the report’s recommendations is the development of a database to keep track of contractors’ activities in a high-risk environment.
To help prepare contractors for deployments, the U.S. Army CONUS (Continental United States) Replacement Center at Fort Benning, Ga., could be developed into an “excellent primer” for force protection and personnel recovery collective and individual training, said the report.
The CRC already provides pre-deployment administrative processing and training for military forces, Defense Department civilian employees and some select government agencies, as well as a few government contractors.