U.S. Plans Private Guard Force for Iraq

The State Department is preparing to spend close to $3 billion to hire a security force to protect diplomats in Iraq after the U.S. pulls its last troops out of the country by year’s end.

In testimony Monday before the Commission on Wartime Contracting, Patrick Kennedy, undersecretary of state for management, said the department plans to hire a 5,100-strong force to protect diplomatic personnel, guard embassy buildings and operate a fleet of aircraft and armored vehicles.

Underscoring the security risks in Iraq, five American troops were killed Monday in an attack in Baghdad, the largest single loss of life for the U.S. military there since April 2009.

Fewer than 50,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq. Under a 2008 U.S.-Iraqi security agreement, all U.S. troops are supposed to leave the country by the end of the year, leaving behind only a small military office to oversee arms sales.

While U.S. officials have expressed a willingness to station a small residual force in the country, it is unclear if the Iraqi government will make the request, which faces strong opposition in Iraq.

A large U.S. diplomatic presence will remain, however, and the departments of state and defense are wrestling with how to provide security for the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad—which is a target of rocket attacks—and diplomatic outposts in the provinces.

As the military withdraws, Mr. Kennedy said, the State Department will rely on contractors to carry out a range of military-style missions that he said were “not inherently governmental,” including providing emergency medical evacuation, operating systems to detect and warn against incoming rocket or artillery fire, or rescue diplomatic personnel under attack.

The contract security force slated for Iraq would far outstrip the State Department’s in-house diplomatic security force. Mr. Kennedy said the State Department currently employs around 1,800 diplomatic security personnel around the world.

According to Mr. Kennedy, the military is handing over nearly 4,000 pieces of military hardware to the State Department, equipment valued at approximately $209 million. The hardware includes biometric equipment for screening personnel, and 60 armored vehicles designed to withstand roadside bomb attacks. The military is handing over systems that provide warning of attacks.

The State Department has awarded a series of multiyear contracts to private security companies for guard forces, including a $974 million award to SOC Inc. to guard the embassy in Baghdad, $1.5 billion to Triple Canopy Inc. for mobile security, and $401 million to Global Strategies Group Inc. for guarding a consulate in Basra. The State Department has also awarded a contract for medical services.

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