The drones are the latest example of the State Department’s efforts to take over functions in Iraq that the military used to perform. Some 5,000 private security contractors now protect the embassy’s 11,000-person staff, for example, and typically drive around in heavily armored military vehicles.
The State Department’s fleet of roughly two dozen unarmed UAVs in Iraq—which provide surveillance and situational awareness services for Diplomatic Security—join a hardware inventory that is increasingly robust for a civilian diplomatic agency. In addition to the high-tech surveillance drones, the State Department expanded its aircraft fleet by an additional 20 helicopters for use in Iraq and received among other military equipment from the Department of Defense, 50 MRAPs and counter-rocket artillery and mortar (CRAM) early notification systems in order to provide security for civilian personnel in Iraq.
State considers diplomacy and development the twin pillars of America’s civilian power, but the new mission in Iraq goes beyond expanding our diplomatic presence and providing development assistance to include training the Iraqi police, as well as “advising, training and equipping Iraqi forces, supporting professional military education, and planning joint military training exercises.” US Embassy Baghdad inherited these responsibilities when the military left at the end of last year.
With the new mission focus on training, plus the need to provide security for diplomats and development workers, private security contractors make up one third of the people the State Department has in Iraq. With that many armed people, and a growing list of expensive hardware, State’s changing toolkit in Iraq could have implications for the Department’s role in Afghanistan, or elsewhere.