Washington Brief

Mercenaries & Private Armies

Washington, DC. Feb. 17th, 2005 ---- Many wondered how the Bush Administration would fill the manpower gap in Iraq and Afghanistan without bringing in the Draft. The answer is becoming clear. They are using private armies, a hodge podge of Mercenaries and "Security Companies".

There has always been a demand for security advisers and training personnel drawn from ex-military specialists. I have done some training myself. The problems occur when you move these mercenaries from a training and support role to become part of the offensive, or interacting directly in the name of the State.

There are enough US Insurgents pitted against the Islamic Insurgents in the eyes of the Iraqi public. The many quasi civilians in various degrees of uniform, but all armed to the teeth are becoming a problem in the overall conflict. They are in many cases proving to be well below the expected level of behaviour compared to the regular military. Putting it another way many are bloody undisciplined Cowboys with a chip on their shoulder.

The rule of law is virtually non existant in dealing with these civilians. They are not subject to local laws, and in some cases they are not under US laws when they are involved in what would be serious crimes at home.

There has long been a controversy over these same companies in Central and South America, and parts of Africa. The ultra-conservative retired Generals and Colnels who founded many of the "security" companies have had enough political clout with the Bush family to protect themselves from investigation in the past, plus nobody in the mainstream media really is concerned of a few civilians being blown apart at roadblocks in Africa, or Central America. They went below the radar under Reagan, Bush I and the early years of Bush II. The demand for "security" mercaneries to fill in for regular military is so great these days that the caliber of some is suspect.

Many operate in shady operational duties beyond the oversight of the experienced military commanders. Many are trigger happy when not being observed. Unfortunately they are being closely observed by the Iraqi public. In the eyes of the Iraqi public they are American military. And that is the problem!

There needs to be central certification of these mercenaries, security guards or whatever you want to call them. If they carry an assualt weapon they need a licence to operate. If they open and close the gates, or load trucks they do not.

As they war is escalated the need for more contract specialists will increase. It's time to root out all the rotten apples and send the trigger happy cowboys back to the ranch. It's time to define the dress, weapons and rules of engagement for all these civilians, subject to the rule of law. If they are threatened, or under fire that is one thing. To loose off a clip to scare the crap out of the locals and show them who is boss is another.

Alan Simpson brings you regular commentary from the corridors of power in Washington DC . With experience of working in over 80 countries he looks at events from a global perspective.