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.
The U.S. supports “a stronger and more capable” European defense, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said during an Oct. 22 press conference in Brussels—but that defense should not duplicate the functions and capabilities of the NATO alliance.