21st Century Privatized Warfare: Will Russia Pay the Price? Part 1


June 4, 2016 – 

Artem Dobrovolsky, PolitRussia-

Translated by J. Arnoldski 

According to the IRIN agency which deals with covering situations in problematic regions, in recent years around 40 armed conflicts have been ongoing in the world. Many have lasted for years, and some for decades. The number of victims of such conflicts exceeds tens of thousands of people. Over such long periods of time, the participants in such bloodshed begin to forget who and why they’re fighting, and the numbers of participants are supplemented by various volunteers, some of whom are real military men in disguise. Some of them are genuine idealists who believe in their rightness, but an increasing number of them are mercenaries. Sometimes they are presented as idealists, but many are acting according to contracts as hired military specialists. These people are the representatives of so-called private military companies (English abbreviation – PMSC’s – “private military and security companies”). 

A PMSC is a private, commercial structure staffed by highly-qualified technical specialists controlled by the state and acting in the interests of the state. Herein lies the notion of the fundamental difference between classic mercenary groups and terrorists. But as time passes, PMSC’s are beginning to resemble the latter. 

The main document which regulates the activities of private military companies is the so-called “Montreux Document” adopted by the UN on September 17th, 2008. According to this document, “PMSCs are private business concerns that provide military and/or security services, irrespective of how they describe themselves. Military and security services include, in particular, the provision of armed guards and the protection of persons and objects, such as convoys, buildings and other places; maintenance and operation of weapons systems; prisoner detention; and advice to, or training of, local forces and security personnel.” In this same document, it is specified that states have the right to conclude agreements with any PMSC’s. In such a case, however, they (the state-contractor) bear the responsibility of the actions of the structures hired by them, including for violations of international law.

The history of the emergence of “privateers”

One of the chronologies tracing the development of PMSC’s suggests three periods: 1940-1970’s; 1980-1990’s, and from the 1990’s to this day. The borders of such are of course highly circumstantial given that it is very difficult to define strict time frames for the transition from one state to another.

The appearance of paid mercenaries is noted after the Second World War when thousands of people internally devastated but professionally trained to kill were left discharged. A demand appeared for these professionals, and the first commercial units demonstrated themselves to be a unified and formidable force during the suppression of the wave of national liberation movements in Africa. The result was a prohibition of mercenary activities at the UN level. This ban was signed in the Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Convention concerning the defense of war victims in 1949. However, some countries, and in particular the US, did not ratify this document.

The remaining mercenaries were transformed into security services, who worked to defend both individual companies or entire governments. Private security companies gradually became a serious force for accomplishing “dirty work”, such as carrying out the orders of special forces or terrorist organizations.

Starting with the 1990’s, the role of already fully-fledged PMSC structures in local and regional conflicts dramatically increased. This was contributed to by the mass reduction of  the number of servicemen in both Western countries in the 1980’s and in the post-soviet space after the collapse of the USSR. Since then, PMSC’s have only increased their influence and combat effectiveness and have participated in military and peacekeeping operations alongside various facets of armed forces. 

If in the early 1990’s only one “privateer” existed for every 50 military personnel, then in 2012 this ratio decreased to 1:10 and this trend has only continued. In Afghanistan and Iraq alone there are several hundred private military and security companies working which feature more than 265,000 private contract personnel.

In 2012, there were more than 450 private military companies in the world covering all areas of activities relative to the various types of private companies. States gradually began to opt for the practice of outsourcing, i.e., delegating the carrying out of military and intelligence operations to PMSC’s staff forces. Parts of the function of armies and police forces were transferred to these entities. In contemporary international peacekeeping operations, these companies are subject to the law to the same extent that armed forces are.

Three categories of private military contractors (also known as PMSC’s) exist:

  1. “Suppliers”: their actions (at least according to the charter) are purely defensive as they provide training and private security services in conflict zones
  2. “Consulting” firms: these represent consulting services offered by retired senior officers with administrative capabilities 
  3. Material-technical support companies: these companies guarantee supplies and logistics with the aid of hired civilian builders and engineers with work experience in combat zones. In relation with the development of piracy in the Gulf of Aden, a new field of activities has been taken up by PMSC’s which includes maritime services, i..e, fighting piracy, escorting ships, and negotiating the transfer and ransom of captured ships and crews.

On this note, the Russian political analyst Veronica Krasheninnikova remarked on the pages of the magazine “Russia in Global Politics” in 2008 on the professional level of the commercial military companies and their high status:

“Military contractors bear little resemblance to the dashing mercenaries that flourished in the 1980’s-’90’s in Africa. Their companies have become objects for the investments of the richest corporations from the Fortune-500 list. They are well integrated into the establishment and their senior positions are occupied by former high-ranking civil servants.”

Back in 1992, the secretary of defense of the USA, Richard Cheney, instructed the Brown and Roots company (now named Kellogg, Brown, and Root) to study the scenario of utilizing private military contractors in conflict zones. In 1995, Cheney headed the parent company Halliburton until returning to public service in 2000.

The largest Western PMSC’s

Of the more than 400 private companies who earn money for war, only some are widely known. Let’s list a few of the most famous such PMSC’s:

Academi (USA) – this company was founded by the retired US Navy Seals officer Erik Prince. It has at its disposal a modern training arena, helicopters, boats, and patrol ships which are used by the US Coast guard. This company builds training facilities for schooling its own employees and also works on contracts with the US armed forces and intelligence agencies to train their personnel. 

Formerly called Blackwater, this company became widely known after the incident in the Iraqi city of Fallujah in April 2003 when its employees came into conflict with the local population which triggered them to open fire. As a result of clashes, 4 employees of the company were captured by extremists and brutally murdered. In response, troops of the united coalition stormed the city which led to numerous victims among the civilian population. In 2007, the company received more than one billion dollars from the American government for performing special operations on Iraqi territory. Academi has a representative office in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. 

Kellogg, Brown, and Root (USA) – This company is the structural division of the former vice president of the USA Dick Cheney’s Halliburton which actively participated in the Yugoslav conflict as a logistical company and as the main agency which trained local police. This agency also deals in the defense of oil fields and industrial sites in Iraq.

Groupe-EHC (France) – Established in 1999 by former officers of the French Army, this was the first French military company, and is represented in the USA. This company works in high-risk regions, particularly in former French colonies and African countries. It has work experience Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Indonesia, and Poland.

MPRI International (Military Professional Resources) Inc. (USA) – This company provides a wide range of comprehensive services for the US armed forces and foreign governments in more than 40 countries. The company provides training and support programs for special forces, programs for stabilizing conflict situations in various regions, and services in educating and training in managing state military personnel, analytical support, special operations, etc. MPRI leads security programs in Afghanistan, Kuwait, Bosnia, and Equatorial Guinea.

In addition to its main functions, MPRI International assists public agencies in developing strategies for the effective analysis of information, supports the conduction of research, and evaluations of public opinion. It runs a program for combatting corruption which includes the establishment and operation of a special institute of general inspectors in ministries and departments for identifying corruption in both stable and unstable conditions.

At the moment, the company’s management is headed by General Carl Vuono, the former chief of staff of the expeditionary forces of the US Armed Forces during the operations in Panama and “Desert Storm”, and General E. Soyster, the former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency the US’s military intelligence.

Participation in conflicts

PMSC’s have participated in almost all modern global conflicts. In February 1994, the president of Bosnian Muslims, Alija Izetbegovic, and Croatia’s president Franjo Tudjman, were forced under US pressure to sign an agreement on the cessation of hostilities between Croats and Muslims in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the war of 1993-1994 in exchange for PMSC’s committing to guarantee military resistance against the Serbs. The realization of these provisions on behalf of the US State Department fell to MPRI International.

PMSC’s consisting of retired American officers managed to, in the shortest possible period, train the top echelons of the Croatian and Bosnian militaries. The sufficiently high military success of the offensive operations conducted by Croat and Bosnian troops in the spring-autumn of 1995 (the so-called “Balkan Blitzkrieg”) against the Serbs in Croatia, Bosnia, and Herzegovina was to the credit of private military company specialists directly involved in the conflict. Another, no less famous PMSC, DYNCORP Inc., actively participated in policing operations in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo.

During the Yugoslav conflict in 1994, MPRI International organized the training of the high command of armed formations in Croatia and Bosnia and developed and employed an effective system of rapid communication between their headquarters and NATO soldiers.

MPRI played a key role in organizing the Croatian Army’s “Storm” massacre operation in Serbian Krajina in the spring and fall of 1995. 

After the end of the active phases of the conflict, the company continued to work with the KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army) and then worked with Albanian armed groups in Macedonia in 2000-2001, as well as with government forces in Liberia and Colombia.

Thus, the US, without officially interfering in political process, achieved impressive results. According to their programs for training reserve officers, MPRI employees work in military educational institutions as teachers and administrators. The company’s specialists prepare manuals for the Pentagon to use in cooperation with PMSC’s in carrying out military operations. The company’s specialists have also dealt with the selection of weapons and their procurement (including preparation and implementation contracts), the reforming of the Georgian Armed Forces according to the brigade model adopted in most NATO countries, the training of soldiers and non-commissioned officers (at the Camp Yankee base in Kuwait before their deployment as coalition soldiers to Iraq), the preparation of staff officers, the development of Georgian military doctrine, educational manuals and training programs for soldiers, the holding of military exercises, and the development of military operation plans against the independent states of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

The real takeoff for PMSC’s was NATO’s war in Afghanistan and Iraq. The main source of income for PMSC’s was logistical support, for the guarantee of which in Iraq 138 billion dollars was spent. In 2008, the number of American troops numbered 160,000 persons, while the employees of PMSC’s numbered around 180,000.

PMSC’s have been criticized a number of times for their excessive brutality against civilian populations. One of the most infamous incidents involving mercenaries took place on September 16th, 2007 in Baghdad when employees of Blackwater formed part of the convoy of the US State Department. Shooting suddenly started (to be more precise, a single shot), after which they proceeded to kill 17 civilians.

There exist several versions as to the reasons for this situation. Of course, the employees of the company justify themselves by the fact that a number of them were threatened by an explosive device after which they opened fire in self-defense. According to the Iraqis, there was no attack on the convoy, but rather one of the escorts merely lost his mind as the passing convoy refused to stop at the request of Iraqi police.

The consequence of the massacre was the deprivation of the company’s license for a whole week. The investigation did not find confirmation of an attack on the convoy. The Iraqi government initiated the withdrawal of Blackwater from the country only then to renew the contract after some time. Subsequently, the company was disbanded and rebuilt under a different name. Now Blackwater is known as Academi and is successfully continuing its activities around the world.

The inhuman treatment of civilians is far from the only accusation which has been presented to PMSC’s. These agencies are also suspected of money laundering, arms smuggling, and not to mention performing secret, illegal assignments for special forces.

Money laundering is rather simple as the funds that come into the possession of these companies are enormous and tracking the flow of cash flow is extremely difficult. Money directly used “on the ground” can be signed off for anything from “irrevocable losses” to “broken weapons”, “medical needs,” and so on. The list can be continued indefinitely. 

One of the most prominent specialists and masters of money laundering was the former defense secretary of the US, Dick Cheney. We will mention only one accusation from the long list (none of which, of course, have been disproven): an audit of Kellogg, Brown, and Root, a subsidiary company of Dick Cheney’s oil services of Halliburton, revealed an inflation of 67 million dollars for the project of creating a network of cafeterias for the US military in Iraq. 

Continued in Part 2 

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