Today private military contractors supporting the U.S. occupation in Iraq far outnumber U.S. troops inside the country.
All together, these non-uniformed workers have cost nearly $100 billion, accounting for roughly 20 percent of the total U.S. budget for the five-year war.
That's according to the most comprehensive study to date (.pdf) of private contractors in Iraq, released today by the Congressional Budget Office.
The CBO estimates that more than 190,000 contractors were working on U.S.-funded contracts in the Iraq theater as of early 2008. This is somewhat higher than past estimates and far outnumbers the roughly 150,000 U.S. troops inside the country.
The report provides the first reliable breakdown of who these contractors are and where they come from.
Only about 20 percent are U.S. citizens, who work jobs such as armed security or logistical services for firms such as Blackwater or KBR.
Under 40 percent of contractors are citizens of the country where they work, mainly Iraq, some Kuwait and Jordan. (Surrounding countries such as Kuwait and others are considered part of the "Iraq theater" where logistical services essential to the occupation are provided.)
And the report for the first time estimates that about half are from other countries, mostly poor, unskilled workers from places like India or the Philippines These migrant workers are paid far less than Americans yet are critical to the day-to-day operations of the occupation.
The full cost -- in both money and lives -- related to these contractors has gone largely unreported. There are no reliable estimates on non-Americans who have been injured or died working for the U.S. military.
Working as bodyguards, engineers, translators, drivers, construction workers cooks, janitors and laundry operators, these workers have helped the Pentagon hold down the number of military personnel sent to Iraq and avoid public discussion of a draft.
The CBO study notes that U.S. dependence on contractors is radically higher than during prior conflicts. Contractors in Iraq are proportionally about 5 times higher than in Vietnam.