L'Ombre de l'Olivier

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04 October 2007 Blog Home : October 2007 : Permalink

Use of Mercenaries

The lefties are of course all worked up about those dreadful mercenaries in Iraq. The ones who shoot at the slightest provocation and account for about 195,000 casualties in 4 years. As Jimbo at BlackFive notes that's a pretty good record when you also consider that they have perform literally thousands of missions and have lost precisely 0 of the VIPs they are assigned to protect (and even saved the ass of the Polish ambassador a couple of days ago whom they weren't paid to pretect). Still as Blackfive and others have noted there is a coordination issue, one that was well explained in this Small Wars Journal piece:

MNF-I should consolidate PSCs into a unified DoD-backed organization: Security companies could to be placed directly under the command of a field grade officer assigned to MNF-I, with appropriate liaison staff big enough to support the needs and operations of all PSCs. This provisional Force Protection Command (FPC) would be assigned the job of organizing, supporting, regulating all PSC personnel in Iraq and making them accountable under a commissioned military commander. It has precedence, as virtually every military base police force in the US, including the Pentagon, operates contract security on a similar model.

Such a provisional command would make sense in that it would allow PSCs to operate in their present defensive role guarding reconstruction efforts against the insurgents, but would allow them to answer to MNF-I and the Government of Iraq (GoI) officially, as do all other forces. PSCs provide a high standard of force protection capability and could be placed where needed to keep the reconstruction effort moving.

Some have asked if this meant that a security company would essentially be nationalized or drafted by MNF-I? No, in fact MNF-I would be providing a framework for operations that would have safeguards and guarantees for both the company and the client, most of whom are their subcontractors or US government entities. In the present freewheeling environment this may be a difficult concept to accept but the advantages for both parties would be enticing.

For MNF-I it would create a legal and contractual framework to place additional security resources in locations that need localized security and that do not have a continuing need for large combat forces. The army would also be obliged to ensure that the PSCs are adequately prepared to operate in these areas of operations.

For the PSCs, it would receive government furnished weapons, vehicles and limits on liability. They would be treated as is any other civilian Department of Defense employee.

But coordination, unified command etc. are not the same as getting rid of them and this clearly irritates people like Kevin Drum and Majikthise who think the US military needs to wean itself off its mercenary habit. Majikthise, however, seems ot be missing a trick when she writes:

No, the United States needs to change its foreign policy. If we can't attract enough volunteers, we shouldn't go.

The all volunteer military is an important democratic safeguard. We need to make would-be warmongers pay the political price for starting wars.  It's a lot easier to hire mercenaries than to call up the entire Army Reserve or bring back the draft.

Why do I say that? Well because the US Army is meeting its recruiting goals (via VodkaPundit):

October 4, 2007: The U.S. Army again achieved its recruiting goal (80,000 new recruits) for fiscal 2007 (that ended on September 30). That will also be the goal for 2008 as well, unless the army is given permission, and several billion dollars, to speed up their expansion of 13.5 percent (from 482,000 to 547,000), by doing that in four years instead of five.

In other words it looks like the only reason why the US does not have enough regular soldiers is that the US government doesn't want to spend so much on its regular army. The Army believes it could get more people if it had the budget, but the US government appears to prefer to spend the money on mercenaries instead of a larger army. This is not necessarily stupid: you can't fire 20,000 soldiers as quickly as you can do away with 20,000 mercenaries on short term protection contracts so if Iraq turns itself around then the army could end up looking too big. However it's probably more a case of different budgets - mercenaries are paid for by the State Department and other parts of the government that aren't the Department of Defence.

However it is interesting to note that the "mercenaries" in Iraq, even if they seem like loose cannons compared to the regulars, are behaving fairly well. As a commenter to Kevin Drum's post notes:

These people are mercenaries and are a problem for the populace in the same way that all mercenaries are. At least they don't have official permission to loot and rape the way some had in the past.

In fact of course the groups who do loot and rape these days are those "peacekeepers" hired by the UN. One of Jerry Pournelle's correspondents puts it this way:

If I were tasked to plan a peacekeeping operation somewhere in the world, and was told I couldn't get sufficient Western military forces to conduct the mission, I'd far rather hire private contractors than rely on UN forces or regional forces. I've been around those types, and don't want to do it again. This is one of the many reasons I've always told people who call for multinational forces that they clearly haven't ever worked in them.

I think it is pretty clear that none of the US lefties who protest the use of mercenaries and call for UN intervention have ever worked with UN "peacekeepers". I (and others) wrote about the possibility of the UN hiring mercenaries instead of poorly trained third world armies to do peace last year and nothing I've read about the behaviour of mercenaries in Iraq makes me change my mind that this solution would save UN money and keep the peace more effectively. However for some people it seems like armies of poorly trained and poorly armed third world personel are more suited to a blue beret than the former first world military folks who get hired by Blackwater and co.