WHSBP - Untold Stories - US Private Military Contractors Recruit in Africa
Like it or not, our next president will have to deal with conflicts all over the world. The nature of warfare has been changing (a lot of ink has been spent on this already) but obviously, this administration did not read the memo.
In this context, it is important to remember how significant it is that Hillary Clinton has pledged to remove military contractors from Iraq, something that her Democratic rival disagrees with. It is easy to dismiss this as campaign talk and this may seem as a side issue to the grand scheme of things of the war in Iraq and beyond, but it is a significant first step, and a risky one too in terms of campaigning since defense and military contractors are big campaign contributors. In a speech marking the 5th anniversary of the War in Iraq, at George Washington University, she stated
"I will also work to remove armed private military contractors who are conducting combat-oriented and security functions in Iraq. For five years their behavior and lack of supervision and accountability have often eroded our credibility, endangered U.S. and Iraqi lives and undermined our mission. Now, Senator Obama and I have a substantive disagreement here. He won't rule out continuing to use armed private military contractors in Iraq to do jobs that historically have been done by the U.S. military or government personnel. When I am president I will ask the Joint Chiefs for their help in reducing reliance on armed private military contractors. With the goal of ultimately implementing a ban on such contractors."
I think this validates Jane Hamsher and Naomi Klein's points that this primary allows people to pressure candidates to get what we want and hold their feet to the fire. And yes, Clinton may be more hawkish than Obama (and even that could be argued) but their respective (or former) foreign policy advisors (I'm thinking Richard Holbrooke for HRC and Samantha Power, for BO before she put her foot in her mouth) are not exactly peacenicks either. But at this juncture, this particular move on HRC's part is significant and progressive. Heck, I would like it from anyone to align himself or herself with Bernie Sanders!
Why do I care so much about this particular issue? (And I have written about it already) Because I want a president who understands the nature of new wars, and privatization and denationaliziation of forces are a central aspects of the changing nature of warfare. Hillary may not have been dodging sniper bullets in Bosnia but the fact that she went there (and to other conflict places as well) tells me this is something that's on her oh-so-analytical mind. And I am sure something like the issue below would attract her attention.
"Namibia’s independence war ended nearly 20 years ago, but the experience gained by many soldiers during the conflict has made the country a fertile hunting ground for private security companies seeking recruits for the world's 21st century wars."
Like many African countries that have experienced civil wars since their independence, Namibia found itself with an oversupply of men whose only marketable skills were tied to guerilla warfare. So, when an American private military company came to recruit, it was a golden opportunities for many of them, especially considering Namibia's 35% unemployment rate.
Private military companies are facing recruitment issues in the United States so, they have now turned their attention to recruiting Third-Country Nationals (TCNs) to staff their missions in Afghanistan and Iraq (sometimes without telling their recruits that that's where they will be going). Currently, there are about 155,000 private military contractors in Iraq, and about 30% of them are TCNs. We already know that their presence there is controversial, as illustrated by multiples incidents and practices (See Blackwater). But of course, TCNs have several attractive qualities:
"The growth of the private security industry is increasingly targetting developing countries where many TCNs have valuable conflict experience, said Doug Brooks, president of the International Peace Operations Association, a Washington DC-based trading group for private security companies.
"They have some knowledge about risk mitigation, and about what is risky in a war zone. Most people in the world don’t know what this is. People in Africa do. I mean a lot of people have been in these areas and they have this amazing amount of experience they bring to their jobs," Brooks said.
Hiring personnel from Africa also has another attraction. "They tend to be much cheaper than Americans or Westerners – maybe by a factor of 5 or 6," Brooks told IRIN. "Should the US government only hire Americans to do these jobs, the costs would be just insane." What is inexpensive by Western standards can be a pay bonanza in Africa and other developing countries. In Namibia, word of mouth spread that the security jobs in Iraq and Afghanistan would pay about US$550 per month, or about 10 times the monthly wage of a local security guard."
So, TCNs can be used to take more risks, they might have gained their experience with warlords of more or less dubious reputation, and they are cheap. I also love the name of that lobbying group of private military companies; the reference to peace is quite touching. But, if you listen to the industry, it is all good for such countries and can contribute to their development. It's a win-win situation.
These recruitments have of course been controversial, especially for local human rights groups. As mentioned, recruits may not have access to the media and know what is going on in Afghanistan and Iraq and may not be told that these will be the terrains of their missions. Moreover,
""We’ve seen a lot of third country nationals where their passports are taken, or where they were delivered to a place to work which was different to what they were promised," said Erica Razook, legal fellow at Amnesty International USA’s Business and Human Rights Unit. Rights groups told IRIN that some TCNs effectively work in conditions of "indentured servitude," in which they sign employment contracts that last for three to five years, "but spend their first year just paying off travel expenses," Razook said."
And then, there is the general issue of oversight and legal training. The recruits may have come from militia, paramilitary groups, insurgency groups. They probably do not have any sense of Geneva convention and other legal frameworks that apply to combat zone and the treatment of prisoners and civilians. We already know it is a major issue with military contractors, even when they come from Western countries and are supposed to know better. And the question is raised as to whether these recruiting practices violate the International Convention against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries
Of course, private military companies do NOT like to be likened or compared to mercenaries. They want a more professional standing and reputation. But in the case of Namibia, the government fought back:
"In terms of Article 4 (8) (b) of the Constitution, Namibians are not allowed to get involved in the military or security forces of other countries without the written permission of the Namibian government. The Defence Act of 2002 criminalises the involvement of Namibians in the military, reserve or any auxiliary force of any country without the written permission of the defence minister as an offence punishable with a fine, prison service or both."
What is the Namibian government afraid of? That when these men are dismissed from their PMC contracts, they will come back home, maybe with more money, but not exactly different skills than what they had when they left. They might still present a security risk to their own countries.
- P.W. Singer, Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry
- Deborah Avant, The Market for Force: The Consequences of Privatizing Security
- Jeremy Scahill, Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army
- Madelaine Drohan, Making a Killing: How and Why Corporations Use Armed Force to Do Business