While the US military presence in Iraq is growing smaller, the State Department’s footprint in country continues to grow with plans to reach roughly 17,000 personnel, including 14,000 private contractors, said House lawmakers Wednesday. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s foreign operations panel, said these contractors will perform a variety of tasks, including flying remotely piloted aircraft, personnel transport, recovery of downed aircraft, and ordnance disposal. Chaffetz argued that the transition is shaping up to be “more of a political shell game than a drawdown of forces,” saying most Americans probably aren’t aware “that the troops will be replaced with a private army of security contractors.” Undersecretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy said a continued engagement with Iraq is “essential” to the United States’ national security interests. “Our diplomatic presence is designed to maximize influence in key locations, Erbil and Kirkuk in the north, Baghdad in the center, Bosphor in the south,” he said.
U.S. Air Force F-35s and F-22s regularly deploy deep into the Pacific region from Alaska, Utah, and Hawaii. In the future, though, the head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command would like to see the Air Force permanently station fifth-generation aircraft west of the international date line—closer to China.