In today's war zones, mercenaries have evolved from rag-tag, failed soldiers into private armies of elite, specialist-trained combat units.
The mercenary has changed. He is no longer a stereotype, not just the failed soldier seeking action abroad, fighting for a rag tag underhand subversive cause. The modern mercenary industry has been through a massive re-branding and, under the new guise of private security companies, have been involved in consolidating British and American military interests in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are service providers, their task contracted out by the government. Except this is not any industry, but war, where private sector businesses are placed into a role where accountability and moral integrity are of utmost importance. The British people are not aware of these men, yet there are, according to the Pentagon, between 20,000 and 30,000 armed security contractors working in Iraq who make up roughly 20 percent of the total of US occupation forces. They work behind a veil of state and corporate secrecy while nurturing the wholesale contracting of military work. One might argue that this is one of the most outrageous forms of war profiteering taking place under the auspices of the Bush Administration.
Scores of private security companies with intimate connections to the British and American political establishment are playing a crucial role in the US occupation of Iraq. They wear no standardised uniform or identification and drive through the streets in unmarked vehicles, manning roadblocks or waiting outside buildings with machine-guns. But to whom are these private armies responsible? Who dictates their policy? They are not obliged to uphold the Geneva Convention, nor are they prosecutable under the military engagement laws. Even the security companies’ listings website, www.globalsecurity.org, quotes that “The U.S. government assumes no responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms whose names appear on the list.” And here lies the problem. To whom are they answerable? Although the governments who employ these guns for hire are happy to pay for the services they provide, they are not willing to take responsibility. In 2006, Global Risk Strategies received a $28 million contract to organise the secure changeover of Iraq’s currency. On 1 December, its Fijian mercenaries were involved in a massacre in Samarra, where they indiscriminately fired on built-up areas after the attack of a currency changeover convoy. At least 10 Iraqi civilians were killed and numerous others wounded. But who was to blame? And what news coverage did it receive? None. On 5 December 2005, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (architect of Army Lite, private sector initiatives in the US Army to improve financial efficiency) held a lecture dubbed "The Future of Iraq" where, after being questioned by Kate Bateman over what laws these mercenaries adhere to, Rumsfeld admitted that the private military companies contracted out by the US government are “not subject to the uniform code of military justice; we understand that.” When Bateman got the opportunity to question President Bush in April, Bush initially dodged the question saying that he was going to ask Rumsfeld himself. Bateman insisted on a more specific answer to the question and Bush was forced to reply.
“I appreciate that very much. I wasn't kidding –[Laughter] I was going to -- I pick up the phone and say, Mr. Secretary, I've got an interesting question. [Laughter] This is what delegation -- I don't mean to be dodging the question, although it's kind of convenient in this case, but never -- (Laughter) I really will -- I'm going to call the Secretary and say you brought up a very valid question, and what are we doing about it? That's how I work. I'm -- thanks. [Laughter]"
Several of these private US military contractors have been accused of having been involved in committing war crimes such as the deaths of Iraqis during interrogation. At present, despite President Bush’s “no kidding” attitude, there is still no method of formally trying such people for war crimes.
Only recently with the kidnappings of Britons in Iraq, employed by Gardaworld, a security company based in Montreal, have the media even recognised their existence in this country. The government procures their services whilst allowing them to fall into a lawful and moral black-hole. Naturally, it is big business, no longer the realm of just failed veterans, but independent companies head hunting only the finest ex-special forces candidates for the job. It is clear that mercenaries make a good living, simply because there is a market for their highly desirable service. The British military has openly expressed concerns that it is losing large numbers of its most highly trained personnel to private firms. As many as 40 members of the Australian SAS, who fought in Iraq during the invasion, have resigned to go back as security contractors. The British firm AKE claims to be employing 13 SAS-trained Australians in Iraq. “I know of serving soldiers who are returning, signing off and then taking the opportunity to go back to Iraq to provide security services out there,” says Robin Horsfall, an ex-SAS trooper and security guard, in an interview with the BBC. But this is military savvy steeped solid business foundations. The companies can afford the best because the contracts they receive are large. The private military support is a $100 billion a year industry. Custer Battles, a morbidly named American security firm, has a contract to provide security at Baghdad International Airport. The American company DynCorp has a $50 million contract to train Iraqi police officers. Vinnell, a subsidiary of weapon systems company Northman Grumman, has a $48 million contract to assist in the training of a new Iraqi National Army. USA Environmental has teams of weapons and explosive experts in Iraq and a $65 million contract to collect and destroy unexploded ordinance. The British/South African company Erinys has a $100 million-plus annual contract to provide security at Iraq’s oil facilities and pipelines. However, Erinys’ Iraqi employees, some 14,000, do not share the high wages of their mercenary cousins from the west. On an average of $150 per month, they are supervised by dozens of former British and apartheid-era South African military.
Currently, private military companies in Iraq are demanding the right to carry more and more powerful weapons after the deaths of a number of their personnel in clashes with insurgents. Where is the line drawn between government troops, government sanctioned troops and mavericks? Who can authorise the carrying of powerful weaponry and to what means? This is just the tip of the iceberg as the world is slowly waking up to the realities of modern warfare: the influence of the corporation and greed in world conflict. Combatants can be bought in order to peddle whatever political endgame is desirable, free from responsibility and commitment.
1st August 2007