Public War, Private Fight? The United States and Private Military Companies

Should Private Military Contractors Be Used To Squash An Insurgency?
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The Evolution of PMFs.

Central Command's area of responsibility, which includes both countries. We may be getting closer to answers though. For example, back in February , a relatively unknown senator named Barack Obama introduced the Transparency and Accountability in Military and Security Contracting Act, which required federal agencies to report to Congress numbers of security contractors, types of military and security equipment used, numbers of contractors killed and wounded, and disciplinary actions taken against contractors.

What kind of casualties do contractors suffer? In February it was reported that civilian contractors had died in Iraq since the beginning of the war. Another 4, contractors have been injured, according to insurance claims on file at the U. Department of Labor. As of December , at least contractors had been killed in Iraq and at least 7, wounded. According to U. Labor Department statistics, the first three months of brought the highest number of contract worker deaths for any quarter since the beginning of the Iraq war.

At least contract workers were killed, topping the previous quarterly record of killed at the end of From August to the beginning of June , private security workers were killed, and were wounded. In May the New York Times reported the total number of contractors killed in Iraq to be at least , along with more than 12, wounded in battle or injured on the job. Those statistics suggested that for every four American soldiers who die in Iraq, a contractor is killed.

By the end of June , the number of contractors killed in Iraq reached 1, But these numbers were likely understated, for the data only showed the number of cases reported to the Labor Department, not the total number of injuries or deaths that occurred. The Department broke down contractor deaths by company, leaving out almost a fourth for unspecified reasons, and did not include all companies whose employees or contractors have died in the war.

A report by the U. Government Accounting Office in April found that monitoring of civilian contractors in Iraq was so poor that there was no way to determine how many contractors are working on U.

At the end of January , a quarterly report sent to Congress by the inspector general appointed to audit U. It cited U. Labor Department statistics showing that companies had filed compensation claims under the Defense Base Act for workers killed there, an increase of 93 percent in the fourth quarter of In this sense outsourcing is advantageous for the administration. For example, it allows the administration to push costs that would otherwise be incurred by Veterans Affairs not just off the books but out of government altogether, at least for now.

Although those costs may be hidden in the short term and deferred in the middle term, they will have to be borne eventually. But instead of being addressed in a comprehensive, cost-effective way, the problems will be diffused and the burdens carried by individual families and communities. Think of the long-term social costs associated with the veterans returning from Vietnam, but without the government and social service available to veterans.

Those services have rarely been as generous as Vietnam veterans deserve, but at least we had a framework and means for providing such services. Some say that contractors, motivated perhaps by profit, deserve less than the troops.

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But had it not been for contractors, we would have needed more troops. So we would have had to pay the price one way or the other. However, part of the reason for using contract workers in Iraq was to avoid the political ramifications of calling up and paying for the number of troops that were actually needed. At most, contractors who are killed get an obituary buried in the back pages of their hometown newspaper, based on a press release by their employer, or perhaps a brief mention by a government spokesman if the contractor's client was a U.

Numbers like these tend to confirm the view long held by many observers of the industry that one reason government likes to turn to contractors is that it lowers their political costs. Bluntly put: if you are not on active duty in the U. Who works for these firms?

Taking the fight to ISIS: American mercenaries training to fight terrorists abroad

PMCs are employing personnel from numerous countries around the world, not only the United States. It is globalization in action. Though they are doing a wide variety of tasks in Iraq, the common link is helping, in one way or another, to provide security. Personnel from one country who are recruited by a company in another country to work in yet another country are called third-country nationals TCNs. Let's turn to oversight for a moment. It is simply inarguable that proper monitoring of contracts was woefully deficient in the first few years of the U.

And it still leaves much to be desired. A Government Accountability Office report released in March said that the Pentagon relies too much on contractors who often work alongside their government counterparts, cost more, and sometimes take on responsibilities they are not supposed to. The report said that as the government's workforce has shrunk, its demand for services has mushroomed and procurement deals have become more complex and hard to manage.

That has forced agencies to hire more contractors. It found that 42 percent of the Army's CCE procurement specialists are contractors, up from 24 percent in fiscal The report said that relying so much on contractors creates "the risk of loss of government control over and accountability" for government programs. Some companies early on argued that greater care should be taken in vetting the qualifications of their employees.

Back in September , ArmorGroup, the London-based company, published a white paper arguing that companies offering armed guards abroad should be vetted under the Private Security Industry Act. At that time only companies offering services within the United Kingdom were covered by the law. Christopher Beese, director of ArmorGroup International, said, "It seems extraordinary that the doorman for a nightclub, catering for a particular clientele in a particular part of town may have to be vetted and licensed, when the same man can be equipped with a rifle and an armoured vehicle and be engaged to protect diamond concessions for a foreign regime in clear breach of public interest and perhaps even in contravention of human rights, but needs no such regulation.

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About six months later a spokesman for ArmorGroup said: "We are demanding regulation. It is extraordinary that door supervisors have to be licensed but any Joe Public can get a Kalashnikov and work with a security company abroad. This is an issue of accountability, as these companies can be set up so quickly.

Of course, what constitutes proper vetting is debatable. In March , five years after Mr. ArmorGroup was hardly the only company concerned about weeding out gunslingers. At a conference at Oxford University in December , Colonel Tim Spicer, chairman of Aegis Defence, and Harry Legge-Bourke, who runs Olive Security, argued that the security industry should be tightly regulated and new restrictions placed on their operations.

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Of course, the big companies also had a self-interested motive in doing this, namely, eliminating the competition. The smaller security companies took away huge chunks of the pie. When an industry becomes highly regulated, it drives the smaller firms out because of administrative and compliance costs. The need for better supervision of contractors has been apparent for years. It is not just a matter of law.

There are, actually, quite a few laws and regulations governing the use of contractors. The problem is that there are not enough auditors to monitor contracts. For example, back in late the Defense Contract Management Agency went on a hiring spree. It needed civilian employees experienced in overseeing contracts and producing items needed by the military services. The agency wanted people experienced in contract management so they could be deployed to various hot spots, including Iraq, 90 days after they were hired. Although there were not many contractors involved in Abu Ghraib I devoted a chapter to it just because it was so notorious.

Though much of the most relevant material is still classified, the bulk of the evidence to date suggests that most of the abuses were carried out by regular military forces. Though several PMC contractors seem guilty of criminal behavior and merit prosecution, it does not appear that the use of translators and interrogators from private firms like Titan and CACI were part of any effort to deliberately avoid oversight. If anything, such efforts came from government agencies like the CIA, which requested the Army to keep certain prisoners off the books, that is, the so-called ghost detainees.

Abu Ghraib, like the overall slipshod, ill-planned way the United States prepared for post-major combat operations, is a reflection of broader policy failings. In short, the Bush administration has tried to fight a war and build a nation on the cheap. It failed to commit the necessary number of trained and qualified personnel and failed to supply the necessary resources required for an occupation force under international law.

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Not to be outdone, in , presidential candidate George W. As recently as , Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said that as many as , jobs filled by military personnel could be turned over to civilians. Though private security contractors are reportedly not used for offensive maneuvers, many are armed similarly to members of the military, may fire in self defense, or attack at an order from the State Department. By Alan Feuer. Not even the most bloodthirsty mercenaries of centuries past could have imagined committing the kind of carnage for which that contemporary regular military forces routinely plan and train.

In such a scenario, failure and criminal behavior by both private and public actors were virtually inevitable. The CIA and civilian leadership higher up the chain of command in the U. Department of Defense DoD created and encouraged the culture in which such offenses occurred. In short, Iraq has shown that higher standards of accountability are required in both the public and private sector. In addition, while Abu Ghraib has shown that certain tasks, such as prisoner interrogation, are too sensitive to be outsourced to the private sector without proper government oversight because of the potential for human rights violations , it is a sad, current reality that the U.

In the past some of the primary U. The act gives the president full authority to promulgate regulations for this purpose and to designate items as defense articles and defense services by placing them on the United States Munitions List. Any person or organization that manufactures, exports, or imports the goods or services on the list must register with the U. Criminal penalties can result from a failure to register properly. First, it does not provide a mechanism to force presidential compliance. Second, the AECA's reporting requirements provide inadequate information for Congress to assess private military service contracts.

However, if legislation passed in makes it into law that may begin to change. Finally, the AECA provides only limited public information regarding unclassified contracts that may commit the nation to acts of war.