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Sunday, April 24, 2005

Part II-Who are the merceneries

yesterday, South African Defense Forces, today, Blackwater USA

Who are these mercenaries?

In the last part, the members of the Congolese militias tended to come from unsavory backgrounds, like the SS and the OAS. But of course, times change, after all, those men are in their 60's and beyond.

But there were no shortage of right-wing regimes and their soldiers, but many of them are just looking for a buck and come from the remnants of the British empire.

Indian soldiers lured by dollars
By Siddharth Srivastava

The first indication of the transfer of Indian personnel to Iraq was from the south Indian state of Kerala, which is the hub of Indians heading for the Middle East in general as engineers, construction workers and other skilled jobs. The reports said that around 500 ex-servicemen, who had served in various fighting units of the Indian Army (artillery, infantry armored core), had been recruited from the central districts of Kerala for deployment in Iraq. The contingent was termed as the first-ever "Indian regiment" to work as a mercenary force for the US, with the recruitment done by a Kuwaiti company working for the US Army. The entire process was done without the knowledge of the central government in Delhi, or bodies responsible for the welfare of ex-servicemen.

What followed was a series of similar details emerging from the north Indian states of Rajasthan, Punjab and Haryana, where the maximum numbers of retired soldiers reside. These ex-servicemen are approached by Indian private security agencies which front for the sub-contractors appointed by the US and British forces in Iraq.

The money, by Indian standards, is very good, due to which many ex-soldiers, who have to make do with low pensions, are willing to take the risk. A sepoy (private) is being offered as much as $750 a month, a captain $1,250, major/lieutenant-colonel $1,750, a colonel $2,500 and brigadier $3,500. A serving brigadier in the Indian Army earns much less than $1,000 a month - a private almost nothing. Most of the ex-servicemen chosen are below the age of 55 and medically fit. Preference is given to those who have been involved in counter-insurgency operations, fighting guerrilla attacks in northeast India or experience of war.

Action in Iraq

However, as everyone knows, life is not all that easy in Iraq. In an interview that has appeared in the weekly Outlook magazine, Colonel T Kapoor, among the first to serve in Iraq, spoke about his experience. Kapoor returned to India recently after being injured in a guerilla attack. "It's good money, but it's not all hunky-dory. You never know what you may encounter because it's a very volatile situation. Besides, the guerrillas have superior weapons, like rifle-fired grenades, while security personnel like us are given inadequate weapons like AK-47 rifles. Ordinary Iraqis are generally nice to Indians, but when you are working with the occupying forces, you get targeted by the resistance fighters," says Kapoor.

However, unlike illegal trafficking of humans, the transfer of ex-army personnel is an organized process with care taken to ensure that the interests of the individual are well protected. Executives (mostly former army men) of some of the of the security agencies, such as Trig Guardforce, based in Mumbai, and Gemini Veteran Global Placements, based in New Delhi, have spoken to the media detailing the organization. The sub-contractors pass on the Indian bio-datas to the US general office for screening and selection. Insurance cover ranges from $10,000 to $50,000, while valid visas-holders are usually routed through Kuwait into US bases in Iraq.

The Indian government has obviously got wind of these developments, but there has been no overt clampdown as of yet. There have been murmurs of protest within the Indian army establishment, with some serving officers feeling that it is wrong to indulge in mercenary activities when the Indian government has taken a strong stand against sending troops to Iraq. Others have voiced concern about ex-serviceman being privy to sensitive information related to national security.

But there are others, within the army as well, who are not averse to the idea and see it as an opportunity for ex-servicemen to find employment. More importantly, the sainik (soldier) welfare boards that are quite active in the north Indian states have come out in support of the deployment, given the abysmal state of the retired Indian soldier, who has to struggle to make ends meet.

Retired officers, too, are not averse. The Indian armed forces follow a steep hierarchical structure due to which several officers take premature retirement. Though young, the best years are behind them, the experience and training of these officers are often underutilized and they find employment in relatively lower-skilled jobs involving man-management. Heading to Iraq is harking back to the earlier days when life was a risk in any case, as well as another chance to utilize their skills for a decent salary.

As the war in Iraq turns bloodier by the day, there are going to be winners and losers, wherein economic compulsions may override other risks. But, a life lost, whether American, Iraqi or Indian, will always be a tragedy.

The Indians are well-regarded professionals who are disciplined soldiers. The most like recruits come from the Ghurka units. The former members of the British regiments have routinely hired out as private merceneries and it is like the Indians are in on that deal, since being an Indian Ghurka doesn't pay all that well. Having also fought the Tamil Tigers and insurgents in Kashmir, this makes them valued additions to any mercenary force

But not all these men have such professional and relatively clean backgrounds. Some, like their SS and OAS mercenary predecessors, come from a less savory background.

Now, while Americans may get the press, they are far from the only ones working in Iraq as merceneries.

Mercenaries 'R' U.S.
Private Pentagon contractors are paying soldiers of fortune from Chile and South Africa up to $4,000 per month for stints in Iraq

On March 31, four retired Special Operations forces employed by the private security firm Blackwater Security Consulting were ambushed, killed, and their bodies mutilated in Fallujah. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, an estimated 15,000 "private security agents" are currently operating in Iraq.

With the U.S. casualty toll ticking ever upward, and its troops stretched thin on the ground, the Bush administration is looking to mercenaries to help control Iraq. These soldiers-for-hire are veterans of some of the most repressive military forces in the world, including that of the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and South Africa's apartheid regime.

In February, Blackwater USA, a North Carolina-based Pentagon contractor, began recruiting "former commandos, other soldiers and seamen" from Chile, offering them up to $4,000 a month "to guard oil wells against attack by insurgents," the Guardian reported. The company "flew a first group of about 60 former commandos, many of who had trained under the military government of Augusto Pinochet, from Santiago to a... [large] training camp in North Carolina," wrote Jonathan Franklin, reporting from Santiago, Chile.

These recruits will eventually wind up in Iraq, where they will spend six months to a year: "We scour the ends of the earth to find professionals -- the Chilean commandos are very, very professional and they fit within the Blackwater system," Gary Jackson, the president of Blackwater USA, told the Guardian.

Michelle Bachelet, Chile's defense minister, told Franklin that she was concerned about "whether paramilitary training by Blackwater violated Chilean laws on the use of weapons by private citizens," and she "ordered an investigation." Bachelet also was troubled by stories that "people on active duty were involved." According to Franklin, "Many soldiers are said to be leaving the army to join the private companies."

While Blackwater USA is not nearly as well known as Halliburton or Bechtel -- two mega-corporations making a killing off the reconstruction of Iraq -- it nevertheless is doing quite well financially, Gary Jackson said. "We have grown 300% over each of the past three years and we are small compared to the big ones. We have a very small niche market, we work towards putting out the cream of the crop, the best."

The company was founded in 1998, and at the time, it was like playing "roulette, [it was] a crapshoot," Jackson, the former Navy seal, told Mother Jones reporter Barry Yeoman.

"Their investment paid off," Yeoman wrote. "Since the attacks of September 11, the company has seen its business boom -- enough to warrant a major expansion of its training facility this year. 'To contemplate outsourcing tactical, strategic, firearms-type training -- high-risk training -- is thinking outside the box,' Jackson said. 'Is this happening? Yes, this is happening.'"

Ah, Chlieans. Who's experience in combat is near nil, but in torture and repression? Well, that they have experience in. But Chile is a small country. And there are other countries with pools of combat vets who aren't all that particular about human rights.

Privatised War: The South African Connection
by Andy Clarno March 06, 2005
and Salim Vally

There are currently 130,000 US soldiers, 9000 British, and 15,000 other coalition soldiers operating in Iraq. With estimates of more than 30,000 private 'security experts,' mercenaries now compose the second largest military force in the country. The vast oil resources and uncontainable resistance have made the country a magnet for mercenaries. War profiteers such as Bechtel and Halliburton hire private armies to protect their assets, paying mercenaries up to $1000 a day for special assignments quelling uprisings in Iraqi cities.

The number of South Africans in Iraq is estimated to range from 5000 to 10 000. According to a recent United Nations report, South Africa is among the top three suppliers of personnel for private military companies operating in Iraq next to the US and the UK. At least 10 South African based companies have been sending people to Iraq. Most of those recruited operate as drivers and bodyguards, protecting supply routes and valuable resources. Yet several hundred South Africans are alleged to have fought alongside the Americans and the British in Fallujah and other hotspots. Members of special police units, such as the South African Police Services' Elite Task Force, who protect senior state officials like President Mbeki, have sought early retirement to join private military companies in Iraq.

The most heavily recruited South Africans are those with backgrounds in the elite apartheid-era special forces. Many members of Apartheid-era security groups such as the Civil Cooperation Bureau (CCB), the 32 Buffalo Battalion, the Parachute Brigade, Reaction Unit 9, the Reconnaissance Commandos, Koevoet, and Vlakplaas - many of whom received amnesty from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission - are now in Iraq. This fact emerged last January when a bomb in Baghdad killed Francois Strydom and maimed Deon Gouws.

Strydom and Gouws were recruited by Erinys International to provide bodyguard services to a US general. In the 1980s, Strydom worked for Koevoet, a brutal wing of the South African military whose members were reportedly paid bounties for the bodies of SWAPO activists in Namibia. A former member of Vlakplaas, Gouws, admitted to the TRC that he petrol-bombed the homes of 40-60 anti-apartheid activists, assassinated KwaNdebele homeland Cabinet minister and ANC activist Piet Ntuli, firebombed the home of the late Fabian Ribiero, and murdered nine activists.

Gouws has recently changed his mind about mercenary activity and is now discouraging South Africans from going to Iraq. In a recent interview he is quoted as saying, "To go to Iraq is to sign a death warrant it is hell, people do not want us there, no amount of money is worth it". Thus far, 13 South Africans have been killed in Iraq.

Last April, Gray Branfield, working for a contractor called the Hart Group was killed in the eastern Iraqi city of Kut. After spending the 1970s in an elite Rhodesian paramilitary unit, Branfield was recruited by the SA Defence Force in the 1980s. Part of 'Project Barnacle,' he helped track down and assassinate top anti-apartheid leaders in Southern Africa - including Joe Gqabi, the ANC representative in Zimbabwe. During one covert operation in Zimbabwe, Branfield kidnapped a police officer, strapped explosives to his body, and took his family hostage in order to secure the release of a captured South African commando. He also helped plan an attack on an ANC safe house in Botswana in which 14 people, including a child, were killed in their sleep.

The brutal foot soldiers of the Apartheid era are much in demand. In fact, building on a long tradition of mercenary activity throughout Africa, South Africans pioneered the re-packaging of mercenary activity as 'legitimate' private business. In the late 1980s, Executive Outcomes (EO) was formed and drew heavily on members of the 32 Buffalo Battalion and operatives of the notorious Civil Co-operation Bureau (CCB). During the 1990s, EO conducted 'counter-insurgency' operations throughout Africa in exchange for mining and oil concessions. In the late 1990s, EO morphed into Sandline International, which later shut down and re-emerged as Aegis Defense Systems. Last June, Aegis was awarded a massive $300 million contract by the US authorities to protect the 'Green Zone' in downtown Baghdad and to coordinate the activities of all private security companies operating in Iraq.

Just because the SS is old and gray, who says you can't hire savage war criminals to fight for you. They're huntting down Selous Scouts, Rhodesian SAS, RecceCommandos and the other elite of the apartheid era. Elite meaning people who would murder women and children without pause. And these people are now working for the US government in Iraq.

Don't be confused by the names of the units, they specialized, more or less, in terror. Destroying villages, hunting down guerrillas, in short, war crimes of various natures and types. And now they work for us.

Our next part will look at the birth of the new "private military corporation" Executive Outcomes.

posted by Steve @ 2:34:00 AM

2:34:00 AM

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