Our American Foreign Legion-cash and carry
Our American Foreign Legion-cash and carry
Security Companies: Shadow Soldiers in Iraq
By DAVID BARSTOW
Published: April 19, 2004
his article was reported by David Barstow, James Glanz, Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Kate Zernike and was written by Mr. Barstow.
They have come from all corners of the world. Former Navy Seal commandos from North Carolina. Gurkas from Nepal. Soldiers from South Africa's old apartheid government. They have come by the thousands, drawn to the dozens of private security companies that have set up shop in Baghdad. The most prized were plucked from the world's elite special forces units. Others may have been recruited from the local SWAT team.
But they are there, racing about Iraq in armored cars, many outfitted with the latest in high-end combat weapons. Some security companies have formed their own "Quick Reaction Forces," and their own intelligence units that produce daily intelligence briefs with grid maps of "hot zones." One company has its own helicopters, and several have even forged diplomatic alliances with local clans.
Far more than in any other conflict in United States history, the Pentagon is relying on private security companies to perform crucial jobs once entrusted to the military. In addition to guarding innumerable reconstruction projects, private companies are being asked to provide security for the chief of the Coalition Provisional Authority, L. Paul Bremer III, and other senior officials; to escort supply convoys through hostile territory; and to defend key locations, including 15 regional authority headquarters and even the Green Zone in downtown Baghdad, the center of American power in Iraq.
With every week of insurgency in a war zone with no front, these companies are becoming more deeply enmeshed in combat, in some cases all but obliterating distinctions between professional troops and private commandos. Company executives see a clear boundary between their defensive roles as protectors and the offensive operations of the military. But more and more, they give the appearance of private, for-profit militias — by several estimates, a force of roughly 20,000 on top of an American military presence of 130,000.
"I refer to them as our silent partner in this struggle," Senator John W. Warner, the Virginia Republican and Armed Services Committee chairman, said in an interview.
The price of this partnership is soaring. By some recent government estimates, security costs could claim up to 25 percent of the $18 billion budgeted for reconstruction, a huge and mostly unanticipated expense that could delay or force the cancellation of billions of dollars worth of projects to rebuild schools, water treatment plants, electric lines and oil refineries.
In Washington, defense experts and some leading Democrats are raising alarms over security companies' growing role in Iraq.
"Security in a hostile fire area is a classic military mission," Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, a member of the Armed Service committee, wrote last week in a letter to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld signed by 12 other Democratic senators. "Delegating this mission to private contractors raises serious questions."
The extent and strategic importance of the alliance between the Pentagon and the private security industry has been all the more visible with each surge of violence. In recent weeks, commandos from private security companies fought to defend coalition authority employees and buildings from major assaults in Kut and Najaf, two cities south of Baghdad. To the north, in Mosul, a third security company repelled a direct assault on its headquarters. In the most publicized attack, four private security contractors were killed in an ambush of a supply convoy in Fallujah.
The Bush administration's growing dependence on private security companies is partly by design. Determined to transform the military into a leaner but more lethal fighting force, Mr. Rumsfeld has pushed aggressively to outsource tasks not deemed essential to war-making. But many Pentagon and authority officials now concede that the companies' expanding role is also a result of the administration's misplaced optimism about how Iraqis would greet American reconstruction efforts.
The authority initially estimated that security costs would eat up about 10 percent of the $18 billion in reconstruction money approved by Congress, said Capt. Bruce A. Cole of the Navy, a spokesman for the authority's program management office.
But after months of sabotage and insurgency, some officials now say a much higher percentage will go to security companies that unblushingly charge $500 to $1,500 a day for their most skilled operators.
"I believe that it was expected that coalition forces would provide adequate internal security and thus obviate the need for contractors to hire their own security," said Stuart W. Bowen Jr., the new inspector general of the authority. "But the current threat situation now requires that an unexpected, substantial percentage of contractor dollars be allocated to private security."
"The numbers I've heard range up to 25 percent," Mr. Bowen said in a telephone interview from Baghdad. Mark J. Lumer, the Pentagon official responsible for overseeing Army procurement contracts in Iraq, said he had seen similar estimates.
But Captain Cole said that the costs were unlikely to reach that level and that the progress of reconstruction would eventually alleviate the current security problems.
The American Foreign Legion is a highly paid mercenary force draining the regular Army of needed special operators. We have 10,000 mercenaries under only nominal US control and with the full expectation that privates making $1300 a month will come to their rescue. We have no idea what kind of deals they're making, what triggered an attack, or how they behave with Iraqis. Yet, some kid feeding his family off food stamps will be expected to die for these people who make in a day what he makes in a month.
No wonder professional soldiers are not running to save their mercenary buddies. They well could be walking into a blind trap caused by mercenaries violating law and common sense.
The failure of Iraq policy has been clearly ennunciated by the reliance on this foreign legion of ex-soldiers and SWAT team members. And in some cases, ex-torturers have been enlisted. A few members of the old SADF, the Chilean Army have been called to Iraq. What are they doing to the Iraqis who fall in their hands? Who is responsible for anything they do? The US, private companies? What if they hook some electrodes to the testicles of an unwilling Iraqi? Who is ultimately responsible? Who are they ultimately loyal to.
They aren't soldiers, they can quit at any time and go home.
While outsourcing repair functions and other tasks is one thing, buying the services of private soldiers is highly risky and filled with downsides.
I know the idea of a private army may appeal to some on the right, the risks to our policy and soldiers is just too high.
posted by Steve @ 10:04:00 AM