WASHINGTON -- Outlining for the first time his concern about private contractors in Iraq, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told Congress on Wednesday that he sent a fact-finding team to Baghdad and has reminded U.S. commanders that they have the authority to discipline contractors.
In remarks to the Senate Appropriations Committee, Gates said he understood the reason for having 137,000 private contractors in Iraq -- their presence allows U.S. troops to focus on combat while simpler tasks like providing food and laundry services and guarding fixed sites are done by private hires.
"But we clearly have to have proper oversight procedures and oversight activities in place to make sure they're doing what they're supposed to," he said, adding: "My concern is whether there has been sufficient accountability and oversight."
Gates appeared before the committee to spell out the administration's request for nearly $190 billion in new funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But the discussion quickly turned to the issue of private security contractors in Iraq, some of whom have been accused of rogue behavior.
-- The Associated Press