Forty Colombian ex-soldiers are currently part of the large international body of security contractors now in Afghanistan, bolstering the U.S.-led war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
Following the precedent set four years ago in Iraq, where a large number of ex-Colombian soldiers were recruited by Western contractors to perform various security-related roles across the country, many Colombians today are attracted by the prospect of earning up to $4500 a month in Afghanistan.
Colombian former soldiers are in demand to work in Afghanistan because of their experience in unconventional warfare, and in spending long periods in combat areas. They are popular hires because they are paid less than half the salary of American or European contractors, who receive around $10,000 a month, reports El Tiempo.
The risks incurred by those who take up the offer include not just include death or injury in combat, but also the threat of not being paid the promised salary.
According to El Tiempo, many Colombians who were contracted to work in Iraq accuse their employers of failing to pay the agreed wage, or, in some cases, abandoning them at Baghdad airport.
The 40 Colombian civilian contractors currently in Afghanistan form part of the largest contractor contingency in any war in recent history. According to the New York Times, there are more civilian contractors in Afghanistan than there are U.S. troops.
Blanca Luz Castro, a retired Colombian sergeant whose husband is currently working in Afghanistan, told El Tiempo her story.
According to Castro, after she and her husband retired from the military in 2007, they were approached by representatives of Blackwater, a firm which recruits security contractors for Iraq. A recruitment letter from the firm said “Do you remember the people who went to Iraq and returned with lots of money? Here is the same offer, but for Afghanistan, and they also accept women. $4500 per month.”
After applying, Castro decided that the risks were too great, and backed out at the last second. “Although it is legal, I felt very vulnerable because the contract stipulates that we cannot talk about our work with anyone and if we die, everything will remain hidden, secret, and anonymous.”