Mercenaries 'R' Us
By Bill Berkowitz, AlterNet
Posted on March 24, 2004, Printed on April 23, 2007
AlterNet: Mercenaries 'R' Us
With the casualty toll ticking ever upward and 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 hiring former combat personnel in Chile, offering them up to $4,000 a month to guard oil wells in Iraq. The company flew the first batch of 60 former commandos to a training camp in North Carolina. 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.
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 thanks to the White House's war on terror. The company specializes in firearm, tactics and security training and in October 2003, according to Mother Jones magazine, the company won a $35.7 million contract to train more than 10,000 sailors from Virginia, Texas, and California each year in 'force protection.'
Business has been booming for Blackwater, which now owns, as its press release boasts, "the largest privately-owned firearms training facility in the nation." Jackson told the Guardian, "We have grown 300 percent 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 practice of using mercenaries to fight wars is hardly new, but it is becoming increasingly popular in recent years. During the first Gulf War, one out of every 50 soldiers on the battlefield was a mercenary. The number had climbed up to one in ten during the Bosnian conflict. Currently there are thousands of Bosnian, Filipino and American soldiers under contract with private companies serving in Iraq. Their duties range from airport security to protecting Paul Bremer, the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority.
Apart from Chile, the other popular source for military recruits is South Africa. The United Nations recently reported that South Africa "is already among the top three suppliers of personnel for private military companies, along with the UK and the US." There are more than 1,500 South Africans in Iraq today, most of whom are former members of the South African Defense Force and South African Police.
According to the Cape Times, among the South African companies under contract with the Pentagon are Meteoric Tactical Solutions, which "is providing protection and is also training new Iraqi police and security units," and Erinys, a joint South African-British company, which "has received a multimillion-dollar contract to protect Iraq's oil industry," the Cape Times reported.
The recruitment of its citizens, however, isn't making either the Chilean or the South African governments happy. The Regulation of Foreign Military Assistance Act prohibits South African citizens from direct participation as a combatant in armed conflict for private gain. Michelle Bachelet, Chile's defense minister, has ordered an investigation into whether such recruitment is legal under Chilean laws. Bachelet also was troubled by stories that soldiers on active duty are leaving the company to sign up as mercenaries.
It is also only a matter of time before U.S. soldiers grow unhappy with the presence of mercenaries in their midst. The high salaries and shorter terms of employment offered to mercenaries will inevitably make a serious dent on the military's budget. As Blackwater's Jackson acknowledged in the Guardian, "If they are going to outsource tasks that were once held by active-duty military and are now using private contractors, those guys [on active duty] are looking and asking, 'Where is the money?'"
Raenette Taljaard, a member of the South African Parliament, describes the ubiquitous reach of this "booming cottage industry" of private security companies:
"In addition to becoming an integral part of the machinery of war, they are emerging as cogs in the infrastructure of peace. US-allied military officials and civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan are quickly becoming familiar with the 'brand services' provided by companies."
In the era of globalization, war has become just another industry to be outsourced.