Monday, November 28, 2005

Off Leash Playground... For The Dogs Of War




Let's start by calling them what they are: Mercenaries. They hire themselves out for profit. Unlike the militaries from which most mercenaries emerge, they swear no oath, they have no loyalty to a state and they share no camaraderie with their brothers and sisters in arms. They show up in a theatre of armed conflict for one purpose: money... and lots of it. (Mercenaries in Iraq make 3 to 5 times what their uniformed, sworn counterparts earn. $110,000 is a common annual income for a junior NCO equivalent). When they appear alongside a uniformed national military they wreak havoc on morale. They are paid more (much more) for doing essentially the same job; they are not subject to a national code of military discipline and they generally have considerably shorter tours "in theatre". To a professional soldier, marine, sailor or aviator, a mercenary is lower on the human scale than the enemy. They are, in short, scum.

The recent video (courtesy Crooks & Liars) which was pulled from an employees' website erected by members of Aegis Specialist Risk Management shows a Personal Security Detachment on Route Irish, the road from the Baghdad Green Zone to the airport. The vehicle's rear gunner, known as the "Trunk Monkey", lays down fire with a light automatic weapon on any vehicle which comes within range.
Route Irish has a reputation for being extremely dangerous and has been plagued with Improvised Explosive Devices (IED), Vehicle Born Improvised Explosive Devices (VBIED) and Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPG). Government civilians leaving the Green Zone are not permitted on Route Irish without being accompanied by "shooters" which are assigned from either private security firms or from US armed forces resources. The vehicle convoy has a sign on the rear of each vehicle in arabic and english which reads "Do not overtake convoy. Stay 100 meters away. Deadly force."
In the video, several vehicles were well outside the safety zone until the convoy clearly slowed and the 'trunk monkey" went to work. It is the loosest possible interpretation of the rules of engagement, a demonstration of poor personal protection procedure, abysmal weapons discipline and immoral beyond comprehension. A real soldier would not do that, and I was a marine. It is a Grand Theft Auto video game using live beings to score points.

The mercenaries in Iraq have tried to acquire legitimacy by way of incorporation. They claim not to be mercenaries like Bob Denard, Mike Hoare and Jacques Schramme who became notorious in the 1960s for their role in the Congo and then reappeared in virtually every other African conflict into the 1980s. Instead, they come from established organizations known as Private Military Companies (PMC). The colonels become CEOs, trade in the beret for a pinstripe suit and call themselves reputable businessmen.

So what makes them different from the 1960s Dogs of War? Nothing. They behave in exactly the same way. Most come from high grade special forces units like the British SAS, US Marines, Rangers, Royal Marines and British army. Those who voluntarily separated to join one of the PMCs did it strictly for the money; those who have completed their service and are receiving a superannuation are attracted by the high pay and the action, (which they miss); and then there are those who found themselves outside their chosen military force due to character flaws which the PMCs ignore.

Aegis Specialist Risk Management, led by former Scots Guards Lt. Colonel Tim Spicer, has a $293 million US Dept of Defense contract to provide coordination and guidance to every single contract "security company" in Iraq. The company also provides 75 eight man security teams in the various regions of Iraq. In essence, what Spicer never achieved in the British army, he has managed through war for hire. He is now a general. He commands an armed force equal in strength to a reinforced US Army division of over 20,000 troops.

Spicer has said that he is investigating the incident which appeared on the video, but that he does not even know if it was his people. There's the difference between a light colonel and a general. Spicer's company is the coordinating authority for all contractors; they are all his people. And there are a lot of companies which answer to him.

Spicer himself has a less than stellar past. He was the head of Sandline International which was accused of illegal arms deals in Sierra Leone during a UN weapons embargo in 1998 and a fiasco in Papua New Guinea in 1997 which resulted in a coup. Sandline was created with Spicer by Simon Mann, also a former Scots Guards and SAS officer who is now serving a prison term in Zimbabwe for attempting to smuggle arms into Equatorial Guinea. Mann had been one of the operational leaders of Executive Outcomes, an earlier company of mercenaries which had been active in Angola, Congo and Sierra Leone. Spicer's, Aegis is little more than a morphing of the original Executive Outcomes with the now infamous Sandline International along the way. His reputation is well known and when the current contract was being let, there were several objections, including specific concerns from members of the US Senate and the House of Representatives.

My experience with mercenaries has usually been restricted to witnessing the aftermath of their actions. They are not inclined, nor do they have the structure to take prisoners. They often show a callous disregard for civilian populations which get in the way of their mission. And, as can be seen in the video, the rules of engagement mean very little. They are anything but heros.

So, why would the US and the UK engage the services of PMCs, which are simply mercenary armies with a corporate face? There are several reasons, none of which can be considered more important than the next.

The US and UK have gradually reduced the size of their ground forces over the past decade. In order to relieve already stretched combat organizations of the jobs of VIP protection, perimeter security and convoy protection, it is convenient to "hire" already trained professionals to do such jobs.

Using mercenaries paints a different picture of troop strength. While the US can claim they have 150,000 troops in Iraq, the mercenary strength goes unreported and does not show up on the Table of Organization and Equipment (TO&E). If the mercenaries and support contracters were included, actual strength on the ground would be closer to 190,000.

Mercenary losses do not affect the total count of troops killed, missing and wounded. It can also be argued that the use of mercenaries has staved-off the need for additional troop call-ups and possible conscription in the US.

None of that excuses the use of mercenaries by countries which claim to have a morally superior position in the world. Even if the American, British and other coalition troops believe in the cause, no mercenary is fighting for anything principled. A mercenary is fighting for the almighty buck; no moral platitudes to get in the way, no conscience, no mess to clean up. Their business is war and the longer it lasts, the more money they make. A quick end to the insurgency in Iraq is the end of El Dorado for the PMCs. Guess what they're wishing for.

Any government which employs mercenaries in the place of disciplined regular troops is morally bankrupt. But then we knew that about 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Washington and 10 Downing St. London quite some time ago, didn't we.

Note: The link which provides a list of Private Military Companies is but a sampling. There are dozens of mercenary outfits under contract in Iraq.

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