around the world

Mercenaries instead of soldiers

How and why do leading world countries abandon the state army and choose private professionals.

Employees of the military company Blackwater. Holiday pictures AP
Employees of the military company Blackwater. Holiday pictures AP

With the advent of the first private military company, about 50 years have passed, and during this time firms have come from small budgets and small staff to giant empires, earning up to $ 300 billion a year. They supply states and rich firms with military consultants, engineers, technicians, security guards, bodyguards and, in extreme cases, professional SWAT soldiers for fire support.

Since 2000, almost all the leading countries of the world have taken advantage of this service, and, as experience of modern wars shows, it is more and more often more advantageous for states to pay hired soldiers than to declare mobilization and risk to anger citizens.

Reasons for popularity

When the Civil War broke out in Yemen in 1962, World War II veteran and British national David Stirling saw for himself and his colleagues the opportunity. Then he was already known as the founder of the United Kingdom’s Special Assault Service (SAS) and was considered a professional soldier with good connections. Together with his colleagues, he founded the first private military company (PMC) Watchguard International, which helped the UK during the war in Yemen.

The company offered to train soldiers, deliver provisions, provide protection for the rear. In other words, to engage in all military spheres except direct participation in hostilities. The British authorities liked the idea, and although the results of the war were mixed, Watchguard International did its work.

Mainly the company’s services were used by the British allies, including the United States. Many prisons for Vietnamese and logistical support during the Vietnam War built PMCs. Construction, air transportation, creation of the rear infrastructure – these services became the most profitable for military companies in the first years after the appearance. Thanks to the success of Stirling, his co-workers began to open similar PMCs. They mainly engaged in the release of hostages or counseling.

During a boom in South Africa in the 1980s, the country’s authorities hiredWatchguard International to battle animal killers. Then for many countries PMCs were a novelty, and therefore their activities were treated with loyalty. The treaty on the killing of poachers was signed even by the International Wildlife Federation.

US soldiers in Iraq. Reuters photo
US soldiers in Iraq. Reuters photo

However, to develop private military companies, it was not loyalty but war that was required. That is why in the 1990s, when the Cold War ended with the fall of the Soviet Union, the era of PMCs has come.

During the confrontation between the Soviet Union and the United States, each country had dozens of bases in different countries. The Balkans, the Baltics, Africa, the Middle East, Asia – each of the two superpowers held its troops in the countries of these regions.

They controlled stability and did not allow radical movements to become more active. With the end of the Cold War, Russia, emerging from the ruins of the Soviet Union, left many of its bases around the world, including in unstable Africa. Triumphant, the US also weakened its military grip.

The authorities of both countries have saved money on this decision. But for states in which the USSR and the US artificially supported the world for many years, the decision of the superpowers caused serious damage. The authorities of countries that have lost strong allies turned to PMC services to ensure stability in the state.

Wars in the Persian Gulf, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Yugoslavia, Chechnya occurred immediately after the end of the Cold War and the weakening of the military grip of the US and the USSR.

By 2002, private military companies operated in 42 countries and participated in 700 armed conflicts. During the war in the Persian Gulf, 65% of all transportations of troops and cargoes fell to military companies. All the rear support of the Saudi National Guard was provided by mercenaries. In the battle went with the specialists of military companies. The success of PMCs in the war led to their popularity in Saudi Arabia.

Even then, competition among firms was high. Often the failure of even one operation led to the termination of the contract with PMC, because the state could always find a similar firm.

In the 1990s, the British military company GSG failed the operation during the civil war in Sierra Leone with the rebels. In the first battle, the squad received heavy losses, and the commander was killed and ritually eaten by the rebels. After this, GSG was ripped off the contract.

The contract was intercepted by the British company SI and later found itself in the center of the scandal. It turned out that the company delivered 35 tons of weapons in Sierra Leone from Bulgaria in defiance of the international embargo. During the investigation it became known that this was done with the filing of the British High Commissariat in Sierra Leone and the US State Department.

Employees Blackwater, 2004 year. Photos of Harvard Blog
Employees Blackwater, 2004 year. Photos of Harvard Blog
In 1995, when the war in Yugoslavia ended, international organizations for the protection of human rights and the United Nations paid more than a billion dollars to military companies for the clearance of the country’s territory. Money in the operation was invested by the USA, Germany, Japan, Sweden, Great Britain and France.

Such a great demand accelerated the already rapid growth of military companies. Dozens of soldiers quit the army and went to private firms, where their professional and great military experience was much appreciated. This trend was beneficial to both parties.

For the government of Western democracies it is much cheaper to hire a private company than to deploy military mobilization and persuade, for example, Congress to approve the use of regular troops.

The soldiers of the PMC, unlike the army fighters, consist exclusively of professionals with experience in special forces. Since these are private individuals, they do not receive benefits or pensions and do not pay insurance. Losses of military specialists from private firms are not taken into account in statistics and do not create such a resonance as the death rate in regular troops.

Work principles

After several major scandals with PMCs during the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, PMC workers increasingly became associated with cruel mercenaries. However, private military companies – this is a much larger phenomenon than the company for the production of people fighting for money.

Large PMCs are entire business structures with branches, offices, office workers and accountants, often controlled by the government. Companies work only with recognized states or rich companies for the extraction of diamonds, gas or oil.

This is not snobbery, it’s just that the average American company can hardly afford to hire professional soldiers. In US firms, on average, one day of work, military specialists receive between $ 200 and $ 1,000, if they are close to the war zone.

For the protection of industrial facilities, American PMCs are paid from 600 to 6 thousand dollars a month. The salary depends on the location of the guard station and the citizenship of the soldier. The initial equipment costs the employers about a thousand dollars. For comparison, the rank and file sergeants of the US Army receive up to four thousand dollars a month.

Employee of private military company Blackwater at the shooting range. Photo by Associated Press
Employee of private military company Blackwater at the shooting range. Photo by Associated Press
PMCs are popular among oil companies of the Middle East, and in the west, the services of military firms are usually resorted to by the authorities. For example, in 2009, the US military company DynCorp received under a military contract from the US $ 915 million. The company’s annual budget of $ 3 billion was 96% of the payments made by the US authorities.

This is not a unique case and far from the most famous, but it reflects the attention shown by the US authorities to military companies. For domestic work, they are required to obtain a license from the State Department. If the value of the transaction exceeds $ 50 million, the issue of the permit is considered by the US Congress.

Before starting work in the PMC, the military is checked by the Ministry of Defense. Because of the strong popularity of companies in the early 2000s, sometimes inspections took more than a year. During the boom of military companies, American PMCs took solely citizens of the United States and Britain. From a legal point of view, it was easier.

Repeatedly the department of inspections was accused of neglect and bribery. Ostensibly the employees took money and approved the soldiers without a thorough check. In the UK, the authorities did not require such thoughtful investigations and accepted military experts faster, including foreign ones.

The PMC specialist advises soldiers of the Iraqi army, 2015. Reuters photo
The PMC specialist advises soldiers of the Iraqi army, 2015. Reuters photo
The long-lasting and non-decreasing wave of popularity of PMCs has brought mainly multi-profile . Not all or even most military companies send military specialists for direct fire support.

The profit brings logistical logistics, construction of supply routes, air transportation of soldiers and cargo, demining of territories, consultations of soldiers, construction of barracks and staffs, protection of objects or persons.

The construction company KBR, often receiving state contracts from the Pentagon, hired a contractor to raise the K-141 nuclear submarine “Kursk” that sank in 2000. Since 2009, the company has been sending cargoes to the US Army in Afghanistan with the support of Russian Railways. For these purposes, KBR financed the construction of a transit center in Ulyanovsk. The total earnings of the company from 2000 to 2012 – 39.5 billion dollars.

Employees of a private military company along with the US Congressman. Photo by The New York Times
Employees of a private military company along with the US Congressman. Photo by The New York Times

Providing immediate soldiers is the most difficult part of PMC’s work, not only from the position of human resources, but also legal aspects. Military companies conclude an agreement with insurance companies in case of injury or death of soldiers. If insurance agents find at least a few violations in the soldier’s actions, damage to a civilian or non-compliance with the route, they refuse to pay money and go to court.

Influence in the Middle East

A few days before the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (Donald Rumsfeld) established a new military doctrine. The idea was to use high-tech troops and special forces in the war. This strategy greatly changed the US army and led to a “golden” century in the history of private military companies.

In 2003, a coalition of Western countries led by the US invaded Iraq. 145 thousand American and 45 thousand British soldiers were offensive. However, the rear support to the forces of the United States and Britain was fully provided for by private military companies. As the participants in the Iraq war later told the Discovery Channel, without the help of PMC, the US coalition would not have won the war.

They built bases, delivered cargo, planned routes, guarded government officials – engaged in everything, except for direct clashes. Every day, private military companies delivered cargoes of up to 10 thousand tons in weight and by helicopters. The transport was fired with heavy fire and many helicopters were knocked down, but these incidents were not widely publicized.

American soldiers in Iraq. US Marine Corps photo

By the end of 2003, 40,000 employees of military companies worked in Iraq. From 2000 to 2012, American PMCs earned more than $ 350 billion, including through conflicts in the Middle East. Since 2003, the number of private military companies in Iraq has increased from 20,000 in 2003 to 126,000 in 2007. Thanks to the development of PMCs during the Iraq war, by 2008, about 150,000 people worked for US private military companies, including branches in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Pakistan, and Yemen.

With the withdrawal of some US troops from Iraq, the US administration has developed a plan that increases the number of mercenaries in Iraq. It was assumed that the employees of military companies will serve as a buffer between loyal US forces and radicals. In 2011, US President Barack Obama allocated $ 100 million to train Iraqi policemen. Training should have been provided by military companies.

According Mother Jones, from 2000 to 2012 the US government spent about $ 385 billion on PMCs, including the creation of bases and logistics in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, Asia and Europe. In 2012, The New York Times reported that about 600 mercenaries of US military companies were killed in Afghanistan since 2002.

Employees of the US military company in Iraq. Reuters photo
Employees of the US military company in Iraq. Reuters photo

Blackwater History

The most famous and scandalous military company is Blackwater. Formed in 1997 by a former Marine and CIA agent, Erik Prince, she became a participant in high-profile conflicts in the Iraq war.

The first few years after the founding in Blackwater, only six people worked, but thanks to Prince’s contacts with the ruling Republican Party, the company won a state contract for the protection of CIA employees without a tender. The companies allocated 5.4 million dollars for this task. By 2003, it received under a new contract $ 35 million to protect US government officials in Iraq.

With this money, the company set up a security consulting department, hired 36 bodyguards, three armored cars, an armored car, two dog handlers, three helicopters, a two-engined transport, four pilots and machine gunners, and a ground crew.

Bodyguards in Iraq daily received from 300 to 600 dollars. Some could earn up to 10 thousand dollars a month, but even professionals could not work continuously in the military atmosphere. The best soldiers received up to 100 thousand dollars a year. If the employee violated the rules and showed cruelty to the civilian population, then usually they only broke the contract. The government did not initiate further investigation. The mercenaries of PMC knew about the loophole.

In Iraq, Blackwater employees rammed cars and fired at buildings if they saw them as a threat. They fired from machine guns in busy streets, made noise and swore. Sometimes it came to fights or murders of civilians.

By the beginning of 2004 Blackwater began to hire military specialists from South Asia. It was cheaper, but also more dangerous – the special forces of Asia could hardly compare with professionals from the United States. The desire to save and failed Blackwater on March 31, 2004.

Then several inexperienced employees of the company were sent to deliver kitchen appliances to the rear of the American soldiers in the Iraqi city of Fallujah. The task did not seem complicated to the specialists: they did not write a clear route, they did not arm badly and chose non-armored vehicles for the trip.

As a result, the convoy was hit by machine-gun fire. All four employees were killed, and their cars were blown up. The furious crowd pulled the corpses of soldiers, set them on fire, and then hung them on the bridge. The process was recorded on video cameras.

Residents of the United States were indignant when the record of atrocities hit the media. Employees of Blackwater were dressed in expensive equipment and camouflage, and at first people decided that the dead were US soldiers. This only stirred up the indignation more. The Ministry of Defense took radical measures to reassure the people.

Soon after the incident, a coalition of Western countries attacked El Fallujah. At first the city was bombed from the air, and then the infantry cleared the streets and houses. The first attempt at seizure turned into heavy losses for the coalition, but later the city was captured. Totally, during the seizure, 107 people were killed and 613 from the US alliance were wounded. More than a thousand Iraqi insurgents died.

Eric Prince. Photo by The Times
Eric Prince. Photo by The Times
The cruelty during the operation in Fallujah and the disregard of the specialists of military companies to the inhabitants of Iraq led to the strengthening of radical sentiments. More and more, American soldiers and mercenaries were called “invaders.”

The result of the negative attitude of Iraqis to the soldiers of a foreign country was the attack on the headquarters of the US allied forces in the Iraqi city of Najaf in April 2004. The government building was guarded by eight members of Blackwater, a pair of Marines and Colombian special forces, when about 700 armed rebels attacked the building.

The next four hours the soldiers of the coalition defended themselves. Employees of Blackwater for a long time could not contact the headquarters, but later the helicopter took away three wounded fighters of the company. This case was not widely publicized, but became evidence of radical sentiments about US forces and mercenaries.

The culmination of scandals with Blackwater occurred in September 2007, when the war in Iraq slowed down, exhausting the United States. The convoy of the four Blackwater cars was driving along the road not far from Baghdad Square, when the Iraqi car did not give way to them. It is not known what exactly caused the conflict, but after the convoy stopped the mercenaries got out of the cars and opened fire. In the exchange of fire, 17 Iraqi citizens were killed and 20 people were wounded, including children.

The incident received a wide response in the United States. Blackwater chief Eric Prince was summoned for testimony to the US Congress. Under the oath, Prince said that the soldiers defended themselves, and their actions are justified. He did not specify from whom the employees were defending, but noted that shortly before the shooting, an explosion occurred in the square, and probably this also aroused the mercenaries.

Prince added that Blackwater employees did not directly kill any Iraqi person that day. According to him, the wounded and killed people probably hit the ricochet bullets. After the investigation of the shooting site, the Iraqi police stated that no AK-47 shells were found in the zone, a popular weapon among the rebels. This information only strengthened the version that the Blackwater manager lied. Later, FBI experts said that 14 people died in a shootout unjustifiably. The first shots that killed three people were considered as self-defense.

Holiday pictures AP
Blackwater paid compensation to the families of the victims for a total of eight million dollars. In 2015, three employees of Blackwater, guilty of shooting, were sentenced to 30 years in prison. The fourth employee received a life sentence.

In 2000 Blackwater earned 204 thousand dollars. In 2007 – 1.3 billion dollars, including through participation in wars in the Middle East. Because of the shooting scandal in Baghdad, the company changed its name to Xe Services LLC, and later to Academi. After re-branding, Blackwater employees began to be called specialists in global stabilization.

According to Bird in Flight, in 2012, Blackwater mercenaries destroyed pirate fishing in the Somali region of Puntland and transferred control to an Arab family. Officially, this data is not confirmed, but the head of Blackwater announced plans to “deal” with pirates in both 2008 and 2010 . In October 2012, The New York Times reported that the UAE authorities plan to fight piracy.

Private military companies in Russia

In April 2012, Vladimir Putin said he was not against the creation of private military companies in Russia, but according to the March 17, 2017 data, no large-scale legislative steps had been taken to this.

Disembarkation of employees of the military company. CNN Photos
Disembarkation of employees of the military company. CNN Photos
In December 2013, Fontanka, referring to anonymous sources, spoke about the illegal PMC “Slavic Regiment”, which has been operating in Russia since 2011. According to the publication, the company’s leaders offered former veterans of Russian wars to guard state facilities in Syria for four thousand dollars a month.

The agreement on sending to the Middle East signed about 250 people. Shortly after the arrival of the mercenaries in Syria , the terrorists of the “Islamic state” fired at the soldiers, after which the soldiers retreated, and a few days later went back to Russia.

At the airport, soldiers and leaders of the “Slavic Regiment” were detained by the FSB. Later, the employees were released, and the company’s founders were accused of mercenarism and in 2014 they were imprisoned for three years. In Russia, the most severe punishment under this article is 15 years imprisonment. It is not known who ordered the “Slavic Regiment” to go to Syria and what it was for.

In March 2016, “Fontanka” said that in the territory of Syria allegedly fighting the “Wagner”, formed on the basis of the Slavic Corps. According to the publication, since the spring of 2014 PMC operated in the Crimea, and then in the territory of Lugansk region.

The publication claimed that the head of the PMC – the former commander of the special forces “Vityaz” and the colonel of internal troops, Eugene Wagner, whose real name is Dmitry Utkin. According to the “Fontanka”, 600 people work in the Wagner PMC, not including civilian personnel.

In December 2016, the publication “Fontanka” noticed the commander of “WVC’s Wagner” Dmitry Utkin at a reception in the Kremlin. It is not known why he arrived in the Kremlin and was awarded for some military operations.

In August 2016, RBC  study on the activities of the “Wagner” PMC. According to the publication, the company’s work in Syria cost 10.3 billion rubles. RBC’s interlocutorclaimed that the company “Wagner” trains at the base in Molkino in the Krasnodar Territory, where the special forces of the GRU of the Ministry of Defense are located. For rent of buildings and the site PMC does not pay.

The average salary of an employee of the company “Wagner” in Syria – 150 thousand rubles a month. According to RBC, with the maximum number of the company “Wagner” of 2.5 thousand people, their total salary from August 2015 to August 2016 could be from 2.4 billion to 7.5 billion rubles.

In March 2016, with the support of Russian aviation, the Syrian army repulsed Palmyra in 20 days. The source of RBC said that the soldiers of the “Wagner” PM played a big role in the liberation of the city.

In December 2016, the State Duma allowed existing and former military personnel to conclude short-term contracts for special operations and counter-terrorism operations outside of Russia. According to the adopted bill, employees on call or under contract, as well as reserve soldiers, will be able to conclude short-term contracts with the state to participate in military operations outside of Russia.

In October 2014, the “Fair Russia” faction prepared bill on private military security companies based on American experience.

In January 2017, Deputy Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee for International Affairs Viktor Vodolatsky said that the State Duma will consider the draft law on PMCs in April-May 2017. According to the bill, to create a private military security company will require 100 million rubles of registered capital. The management of firms will be allowed to clear the territories and “regulate armed conflicts” abroad.

In conversation with Fontanka, the general director of Morak Security Group, Boris Chikin, said that the adoption of the bill would not change anything for his firm, as it is registered in another country. The head of the company said that it would be difficult for Russian PMCs to obtain licenses, for example, in the Middle East, because the American administration is responsible for issuing permits there.

The General Director of the PCB “RSB” Oleg Krinitsyn told “Fontanka” that the bill was “written by people who have nothing to do with the army.” The head of the company noted that the required authorized capital of 100 million rubles is an unreasonable amount for his company. Krinitsyn believes that the opening of PMCs is just another source of “profit” for corrupt officials. Krinitsyn like Chikin noted that the bill would not help the development of PMCs in Russia.

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