In the 11 years since the Sept. 11 attacks, more than 2.4 million members of the armed forces have served in Iraq or Afghanistan. This is slightly less than the number (2.6 million) who served in Vietnam, and far more than the numbers who served in Korea, the first Gulf War, and the myriad deployments of the 1990s. We rightly venerate these veterans and provide them with care and benefits to bind their wounds and assist them as they transition from the military to civil society.
But as this week's events in Libya, Egypt, and Yemen show, we don't just send our soldiers into harm's way. We also send legions of diplomats, development specialists, intelligence officers, and other civilian government employees. Although these civilians face many of the same dangers and hardships as our troops, we provide them with far less support. And this highlights a gap in our foreign policy. Our national security strategy calls for a "whole of government" approach, relying on military and civilian agencies to be the leading edge of U.S. foreign policy. However, our government only fully supports the military personnel who deploy, failing to fully recognize or support the sacrifices made by the civilians we ask to represent and serve us abroad.
In combat, and particularly in counterinsurgency efforts like Iraq and Afghanistan, we now deploy a blended force that includes soldiers, civilians, and contractors, often operating side-by-side with little distinction between them. The much-lauded, State Department-led Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Iraq and Afghanistan operated with a mix of civilian and military personnel. The U.S. Agency for International Development deploys thousands of civilians and contractors (including many locals) in Afghanistan and Pakistan to support its efforts there. Our adviser teams working with Afghan security forces include military, contractor and civilian personnel, with civilians leading the efforts focused on police, corrections, and other civilian functions. The Drug Enforcement Agency leads counter-narcotics enforcement, a critical component of our Afghan strategy. Its agents, in turn, work closely with civilians from the Treasury Department and Justice Department who are fighting related problems, such as corruption and money-laundering that is supporting the Taliban. And beneath the radar, our intelligence agencies have deployed thousands of personnel to Iraq and Afghanistan, often putting the first boots on the ground in these countries and conducting some of the most dangerous missions there.
Although we have incomplete data on the size of these civilian deployments, we do know the human toll has been steep. According to recent studies and reports, civilian and contractor deaths in Afghanistan exceeded U.S. military combat deaths in 2011. In Iraq, where the number of contractors and civilian government employees exceeded the number of military personnel at the height of the war, civilian casualties generally exceeded those suffered by the military. According to the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, civilians (including Iraqis and foreign nationals) were twice as likely to be killed while engaged in reconstruction activities as U.S. military personnel.
However, these large deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan tell only part of the story. Today's State Department maintains a constant presence around the world in unstable places such as Libya, Pakistan, Yemen, Mexico, and Egypt. As a recent study by the Center for a New American Security reports, that presence is likely to increase in coming years as the U.S. appetite for large-scale military deployments diminishes and we depend more on civilian agencies to represent American foreign policy abroad.
In many ways, these deployments may be even more dangerous than those to Iraq and Afghanistan. In those two war zones, civilian personnel and contractors could leverage the tremendous capacity of the U.S. military, including everything from military convoys for protection to military helicopters for medical evacuation. In countries like Libya and Yemen, none of this exists. Diplomats, development specialists, and intelligence officers operate instead from austere diplomatic compounds and safehouses, using a less robust security force, relying on local infrastructure and commercial travel options. And although they do not face the dangers of combat on the scale of Fallujah or Helmand Province, civilians in these cities can be ambushed, as in Mexico City; attacked in compounds, as in Libya or Yemen; kidnapped, as in Pakistan or Lebanon; or bombed by international terrorists, as in Kenya and Tanzania.
Despite these dangers, we provide nowhere near the level of care and support to our civilian government employees and contractors that we do to our servicemembers.