Small Wars Journal

Options for U.S. Use of Private Military and Security Companies

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Options for U.S. Use of Private Military and Security Companies

Christophe Bellens

This article is published as part of the Small Wars Journal and Divergent Options Writing Contest which ran from March 1, 2019 to May 31, 2019.

Introduction

This article considers from the perspective of the United States government what options are on the table in the use private military forces. Decision makers have three possibilities, explained by their effectiveness in Iraq or Afghanistan, for a future PMSC-strategy.

Background

Since the start of the ‘Global War on Terror’, U.S. government organizations such as the Department of Defense (DoD), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Department of State (DoS) have contracted PMSCs to manage security risks. The employees of these corporations perform duties that until recently were fulfilled by military members, such as the protection of key personnel, convoys and sites. Due to a reduction in troop numbers and an environment where privatization was heavily favored, PMSCs became a vital component of counterinsurgency. Despite their importance, planners often overlook the role of these contractors. The two cases of Iraq and Afghanistan offer three pathways to reach the envisioned political, tactical, operational and strategic objectives during counterinsurgency. 

Significance

Private security contractors are part of contemporary small wars. In 2010, around 30,479 contractors worked for the DoD in Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition, the DoS and USAID employed around 1850 and 3770 security contractors respectively in Afghanistan alone. Hence, per 1 security contractor 3.7 U.S. military members were deployed in Afghanistan in 2010[1]. As a vital component of the security environment, they strongly influenced the outcome of the counterinsurgency. 

Option #1

The US employs mainly security contractors from outside the host state as in Iraq. Between Q3 2008 and Q4 2013, 90% of the private security contractors were non-Iraqi citizens[2]. 

Risk. Major potential drawbacks of employing non-native contractors exist in the political and strategic dimensions. PMSCs are there to protect their clients, not to win the hearts and minds of the population. This client protection focus led to a ‘shoot first, ask questions later’-policy vis-à-vis potential threats. During the ‘Nisour Square’-shooting seventeen Iraqi civilians were killed. The worldwide public outcry that followed, worsened relations between the Iraqi government and the U.S. Insurgents gladly used this outcry against the lawless look-alike U.S. military members. Insurgents later released a video named ‘bloody contracts’ bemoaning the abuse, aggression and indiscriminate killing by U.S. contractors[3].

Foreign nationality (especially British or U.S. citizens) make contractors a valuable target for insurgents[4]. During the 2004 Fallujah incident the non-American truck drivers were able to escape as the insurgents focused on what they imagined were agents of the Central Intelligence Agency. In fact, the convoy was rushed and understaffed by the PMSC to show how quick they could perform contract obligations. After a video of their bodies being paraded through the streets hit the news, U.S. President George W. Bush favored immediate military retaliation. The First Battle of Fallujah ended in an operational failure and shifted the focus away from the strategic goal of strengthening the Iraqi government. 

Gain. These PMSCs were often well equipped. Their arsenal existed of a variety of small arms, machine guns and shotguns in addition with grenades, body armor and encrypted radio communication. Their vehicles ranged from local undercover secondhand cars to military-style high mobility multi-wheeled vehicles. Blackwater even had eight Boeing Little Bird helicopters in Baghdad. The personnel operating this equipment often had a law enforcement or military background. In addition, contractors for the DoS had to undergo 164 hours of training in protective detail[5]. Hence, experienced foreigners are likely to demonstrate the necessary skills to ensure the successful completion of the assigned tasks.

Option #2

The U.S. employs mainly local contractors as in Afghanistan. Ninety percent of the private security contractors between Q3 2008 and Q4 2013 were Afghan citizens.

Risk. Eighty percent of the Afghan contractors were former militiamen or part of an existing armed group[6]. While this often provided valuable combat experience, it was a potential security hazard. Consequently, foreigners protected high-profile targets. Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s use of the PMSC Dyncorp security detail reinforced the image for many Afghans that he was a U.S. pawn. The former militiamen often lacked the ability to read or write, let alone speak a foreign language. This only reinforced the lack of integration with allied forces. 

While problems with equipment did exist as the contractor normally was obliged to bring their own aging gun (AK47, AMD-65, PKM and RPK), studies show that a PMSC had 3.47 firearms per contractor[7]. The problem here is the lack of disarmament and demobilization by legitimizing existing armed groups. Consequently, the Afghan state couldn’t create a monopoly on violence. 

Gain. A major gain, among giving locals an instant job and income, is the use of local knowledge and connections. The downside, however, is the potential to insert oneself into local rivalries and even fuel conflict by starting competition over a contract[8]. 

Option #3

The U.S. helps to create a public company in the host state that offers protection services. An example being the creation of the Afghan Public Protection Force (APPF) in 2010.

Risk. In the beginning, the APPF lacked equipment and had to be trained by PMSCs. Customers lamented the slow reaction of the APPF[9]. The force was mainly based in Kabul where they offered their services. If they managed to offer their services in the periphery, the gain of using local contractors, such as their local knowledge and connections was lost.

Secondly, the creation of a public company gives a -potentially corrupt- host leadership indirectly incentives to let some level of threat exist in its territory. The public company -and hence the state- would lose income if the security environment improves.  

Gain. Compared to giving contracts to local warlords, the APPF-system reduces the risk of financing and legitimizing local organized crime and insurgent groups. 

Moreover, such a force can greatly improve the integration in the overall force due to centralization. In addition, in a state of emergency, the public enterprise can be used for the public good. 

End Notes 

[1] Bellens, Christophe, Antwerp. (2018). “De impact van de uitbesteding aan Private Military and Security Companies op de militaire doeltreffendheid van de COIN-campagnes in Irak en Afghanistan”, 18 & 60-62.

[2] Ibid.

[3] S.N. (2008), “IAI Documentary Exposes Blackwater’s Crimes in Iraq”, CBSnews. Retrieved from https://www.cbsnews.com/news/iai-documentary-exposes-blackwaters-crimes-in-iraq/

[4] S.N. (2007), “Blackwater says guards were betrayed by Iraqi forces on 2004 mission”, Newsweek. Retrieved from https://www.newsweek.com/blackwater-says-guards-were-betrayed-iraqi-forces-2004-mission-103555

[5] Isenberg, David (2008) “Shadow Force: Private Security Contractors in Iraq”, Praeger Security International, 31.

[6] Joras, Ulrike, and Adrian Schuster, editors. (2008). “Private Security Companies and Local Populations: An Exploratory Study of Afghanistan and Angola”, Swisspeace, 13, 33-34.

[7] Small Arms Survey, Geneva. (2011). Small Arms Survey 2011: States of Security (Small Arms Survey). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 15.

[8] See the case of Shindand airbase in: McCain, John. (2010). “Inquiry into the Role and Oversight of Private Security Contractors in Afghanistan”: Congressional Report: DIANE Publishing.

[9] Bellens, Christophe. (2018). “De impact van de uitbesteding aan Private Military and Security Companies op de militaire doeltreffendheid van de COIN-campagnes in Irak en Afghanistan”, 23 & 33-34.

 

About the Author(s)

Christophe Bellens is a policy advisor at the European Parliament. He completed two MS degrees from the University of Antwerp in History (2017) and International Relations (2018).  His thesis focused on the use of Private Military and Security Contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan. He can be found on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/christophe-bellens/ and on Twitter @ChristosBellens.

Comments

Sometimes it is useful to view matters from a different perspective; herein, for example, viewing matters through the lens of how someone else is doing things.

In this regard, let us look at a current Russian example of, shall we say, "modernizing" another state and its societies and, thereby, see if we can learn and/or apply anything to what we are considering here:

BEGIN QUOTE 

Rebuilding the Republic:

In spite of the destruction caused by the Russians, Putin appears to have adopted Colin Powell’s famous Pottery Barn rule - "you break it, you buy it". Between 2000 and 2010 the Russian government has spent 27 billion dollars on reconstruction in Chechnya , with a further $80 billion pledged to the North Caucasus region as a whole by 2025. When Ramzan became President of Chechnya in 2007 significant funds were given over to the republic and Grozny was rebuilt quickly. Kadyrov has undertaken a campaign of "Islamization", building the largest mosque in Europe, enforcing the wearing of headscarves and limiting alcohol sales. Whether this was a genuine drive to make Chechnya more pious, or simply a ploy to steal ground from the radicals, Kadyrov has consolidated control. After years of devastating war, peace is a high priority for many in Chechnya.

END QUOTE

https://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/the-other-side-of-the-coin-the-russians-in-chechnya

Bottom Line Question -- Based on the Above:

If the U.S./the West were to adopt the less-radical and more-culturally-friendly approach to "modernization" of other/"different" states and societies -- for example, such as the Russians seem to have done in Chechnya -- then how might this effect (if at all) our considerations of our author's PMSC thoughts and his Options 1 - 3 offered in his article above? 

(Note:  A review of the former Soviet Union's Old Cold War model of "modernization" and "transformation" would not seem to help us; this, given that it [a] looks so much like our own "radical" modernization and transformation processes post-the Old Cold War and with [b] similar negative results:

BEGIN QUOTE 

The overt attack on Afghan social values was presented, by the resistance forces, as an attack on Islamic values. This was also seen as an attack on the honor of women. The initiatives introduced by PDPA (the Afghan communist party) -- to impose literacy on women and girls -- inevitably raised questions as to the potential role of women outside the the home. This provoked defensive actions from men, concerned with protecting the honor of women with their families, and to also ensure that traditional roles of women within the domestic sphere continued to be performed. It also generated fears that the important roles of women, as the primary vehicles for passing traditional and Islamic values from one generation to another, would be undermined if they were exposed to external and, particularly, non-Islamic values. This enabled the exiled radical Islamic parties to claim leadership of the resistance and to also declare a jihad.

END QUOTE 

[The item in parenthesis above is mine.]

https://books.google.com/books?id=YeYBAwAAQBAJ&pg=PA58&lpg=PA58&dq=The+ )

 

From your comment below:

BEGIN QUOTE 

The article, however, takes the point of view of the USA government. The United States Department of State defines COIN as a "comprehensive civilian and military efforts taken to simultaneously defeat and contain insurgency and address its root causes."

END QUOTE

Question No. 1: 

If the job at hand (whatever we might may wish to call it; insurgency, counterinsurgency, etc) is, in truth, "imperialist," "expansionist," "revolutionary" and  "modernizing" in nature, to wit:

a.  Destroying -- against the will of the populations -- the traditional/status quo ways of life, ways of governance, values, institutions, norms, etc., of various "different" states and societies.  And, in the place of same, and specifically for our benefit,

b.  Installing -- against the will of the populations -- only our own -- modern/secular (and thus alien and profane) -- way of life, way of governance, etc., in such places, 

Then:

a.  How might this such understanding of what we are actually doing (whatever we may wish to call it)

b.  Effect (if at all) your thoughts re: the three options you provide above?

(Or, indeed, was this such "true nature" [imperialist/expansionist/revolutionary/modernizing/foreign, alien and profane] -- of what we are actually doing -- was this already taken into full and careful consideration by you re: your Options 1 - 3 above?)

Question No. 2: 

If:

a.  The job at hand (whatever we may wish to call it) is as I have described it above (see, for example, "destroying" and "installing" at Question No. 1), then:  

b.  How can we address the "root cause" of the -- very easily understood in this context -- "resistance" and "opposition" activities of the populations relating to same?  (In this regard, do we simply go home?)

(Herein, of course, the "root cause" of the [whatever we may wish to call it] is, obviously, "us.)

Thank you for your comment.

While I understand your point of view, I stand by my concept of COIN. 

In university one of my theses explained the involvement of political advisors to the Siamese (Thailand) court between 1892-1902. It partly explains (leaving geopolitics aside) why Thailand has never been colonised. One major reason being the king as driving factor in the modernisation of his realm (his diplomatic corps, the law, the army,...). He introduced everything what a colonial power hoped to do and opened up his economy. In a similar way Afghanistan and Iraq were 'modernised' in the American way (democracy, open markets,...). And as always during a radical change opposition will arise. And these actions were indeed 'revolutionary'. 

The article, however, takes the point of view of the USA government. The United States Department of State defines COIN as a "comprehensive civilian and military efforts taken to simultaneously defeat and contain insurgency and address its root causes". In the book 'The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War' it is clearly shown that command perceived their activities in Iraq and Afghanistan as a real effort in COIN. Hence, I analysed how PMSCs are analysed within a the context/perspective used by western governments/officials. 

This does not mean you are mistaken. The revolutionary change installed by foreign governments and parts of the local population are indeed a major stimulus for an insurgency and should be taken into account.

I hope you see where I am coming from..

Regards.

From the "Background" section of our article above:

"Since the start of the ‘Global War on Terror’, U.S. government organizations such as the Department of Defense (DoD), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Department of State (DoS) have contracted PMSCs to manage security risks. The employees of these corporations perform duties that until recently were fulfilled by military members, such as the protection of key personnel, convoys and sites. Due to a reduction in troop numbers and an environment where privatization was heavily favored, PMSCs became a vital component of counterinsurgency. Despite their importance, planners often overlook the role of these contractors. The two cases of Iraq and Afghanistan offer three pathways to reach the envisioned political, tactical, operational and strategic objectives during counterinsurgency."

First, as Kilcullen notes in his "Counterinsurency Redux" (see the link below), we must understand that:

a.  These contracted PMSC personnel were not engaged in a "counterinsurgency," to wit: in an effort to THWART a "revolutionary"/"transformative" revolt by native populations. (Wherein, it is the local government that seeks to maintain and defend the established way of life, way of governance, values, etc., "status quo.")  Rather, in the cases of Iraq and Afghanistan,

b.  These such contracted PMSC personnel were, instead, engaged in an "insurgency," to wit: in an effort to ACHIEVE a "revolutionary"/"transformative" result; one which, in this case, was desired by a foreign entity.(Thus, in cases such as these, it is the populations that seek to maintain and defend their established way of life, way of governance, values, etc., "status quo.")      

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00396330601062790 (See the paragraph which begins with "Politically, in many cases today, the counter-insurgent represents revolutionary change.")

Thus, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, for all practical purposes, were more like:

a.  Classic imperial/colonial (and, thus, classic "insurgent?") "small wars," for example,  

b.  As described by C.E. Callwell here:

"Small wars are a heritage of extended empire, a certain epilogue to encroachments into lands beyond the confines of existing civilization and this has been so from the early ages to the present time.

The great nation which seeks expansion in remote quarters of the globe must accept the consequences.

Small wars dog the footsteps of the pioneers of civilization in the regions afar off."

https://www.amazon.com/Small-Wars-Their-Principles-Practice/dp/1438513887 (See the section entitled "The Causes of Small Wars.")

(Herein, "pioneers of [Western] civilization," indeed, being an apt description of both who we were, and what we we sought to achieve, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, etc., in the post-Cold War Era?)

Bottom Line Thought -- Based on the Above: 

Thus and accordingly: 

a.  It is only in the imperial-colonial "we are the insurgents seeking revolutionary change in another country for our benefit" "small wars" light that I offer above, 

b.  And thus not in "counterinsurgency" terms might we agree, 

c.  That we should consider and evaluate the author's "Options for U.S. Use of Private Military and Security Companies" paper above?