The US military is using more than 5,500 contractors in the campaign to defeat the Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq, the Pentagon revealed in a quarterly report this week that acknowledges the use of contractors in the Syrian war zone for the first time.
The latest figures from US Central Command indicate that 5,508 US and foreign contractors are working alongside US troops in the two combat zones. That’s an increase of 581, or 12%, over January’s numbers, which did not include Syria. About half of the contractors are US citizens, while the rest are local or third-country hires.
The disclosure comes as President Donald Trump has signaled his desire to pull US troops out of Syria “very soon” after the end of the counter-IS mission. The role of contractors in Syria is also under increasing scrutiny after hundreds of Russian contractors died in a battle with US troops and the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in the oil-rich Deir ez-Zor province, as CIA Director and Secretary of State-designate Mike Pompeo publicly confirmed in his Senate confirmation hearing April 12.
Unlike the Russians, however, the US contractors are mostly focused on supporting the 2,000 US troops in Syria by delivering hot meals, gasoline and other supplies. More than 30% of them support logistics and maintenance, according to the quarterly Pentagon report, and another 27% help with support and construction of US military outposts in the region.