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Download PDF. The opening salvo of artillery was so intense that American troops took cover in foxholes for protection. After the barrage, a column of Russian tanks advanced on their positions, firing their millimeter turret guns at soldiers. They returned fire, but it was not enough to repulse the tanks.
They were in danger of being overrun. A team of about 30 special operations forces was pinned down at a Conoco gas plant. Roughly 20 miles away, a team of Green Berets and a platoon of Marines stared at their computer screens, watching the drone feeds of the battle. Their collective mission was to defend the Conoco facility, alongside Kurdish and Arab forces. No one expected an enemy armored assault. Attacking them were mercenaries, hired by Russia, who possessed artillery, armored personnel carriers, and T main battle tanks.
These were not the cartoonish rabble depicted by Hollywood and Western pundits. This was the Wagner Group, a private military company based in Russia, and like many high-end mercenaries today, they were covert and lethal. The American commandos radioed for help.
Scores of strikes pummeled the mercenaries, but they did not waver. Four hours later, the mercenaries finally retreated. Four hours. What happens when they have to face 1,? Mercenaries are more powerful than experts realize, a grave oversight. Those who assume they are cheap imitations of national armed forces invite disaster because for-profit warriors are a wholly different genus and species of fighter.
Private military companies such as Black male iso for nsa now not sp Wagner Group are more like heavily armed multinational corporations than the Marine Corps. Their employees are recruited from different countries, and profitability is everything. Patriotism is unimportant, and sometimes a liability.
Unsurprisingly, mercenaries do not fight conventionally, and traditional war strategies used against them may backfire. When people think of private military contractors, they imagine Blackwater Security Consulting in Iraq circa However, the market for force has moved on. Firms like Blackwater are quaint compared to the Wagner Group and other contemporary mercenaries. Curiously, this trend is overlooked by scholars, the mainstream media, and the Intelligence Community. Private force has become big business, and global in scope.
No one truly knows how many billions of dollars slosh around this illicit market. All we know is that business is booming. The Middle East is awash in mercenaries. Kurdistan is a haven for soldiers of fortune looking for work with the Kurdish militia, oil companies defending their oil fields, or those who want terrorists dead. Some are just adventure seekers, while others are American veterans who found civilian life meaningless. The capital of Kurdistan, Irbil, has become an unofficial marketplace of mercenary services, reminiscent of the Tatooine bar in the movie Star Wars —full of smugglers and guns for hire.
The United Arab Emirates secretly dispatched hundreds of special forces mercenaries to fight the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen. Hailing from Latin American countries like Colombia, Panama, El Salvador, and Chile, they were all tough veterans of the drug wars, bringing new tactics and toughness to Middle East conflicts. They were a bargain, too, costing a fraction of what an American or British mercenary would charge, so the Emirates hired 1, of them, paying two to four times their old salaries.
Private force has proved a useful option for wealthy Arab nations, particularly Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the Emirates, that want to wage war but do not have an aggressive military. Their mercenaries have fought in Yemen, Syria, and Libya in recent years. Turning profit motive into a war strategy, Syria rewards mercenaries who seize territory from terrorists with oil and mining rights.
At least two Russian companies have received contracts under this policy: Evro Polis and Stroytransgaz. These oil and mining firms then hired mercenaries to do the dirty work. Reports show there are about 2, Russia-bought mercenaries in Syria. Russia also uses them in Ukraine, and the Ukrainians fight back with their own mercenaries. Mercenaries were ubiquitous in the Ukraine conflict. Companies like the Wagner Group conducted a wide range of secret missions, all denied by the Russian government.
Billionaire Igor Kolomoisky employed private warriors to capture the headquarters of oil company UkrTransNafta in order to protect his financial assets. Nigeria secretly hired mercenaries to solve a big problem: Boko Haram. This Islamic terrorist group fights to carve out a caliphate in Nigeria, and the Nigerian army fights back, its methods no better.
There is a saying in Africa: When elephants fight, the grass gets trampled. Tens of thousands of people were killed, and 2. International outrage was swift but impotent. These were not the lone gunmen of B-grade movies, but a real private army. They arrived with special forces teams and Mi Hind helicopter gunships—flying tanks. Conducting search and destroy missions, they drove out Boko Haram in a few weeks. The Nigerian military could not achieve this task in 6 years. Some wonder if we should hire mercenaries to hunt and kill terrorists in the Middle East, given the slow progress of national armies and United Nations UN absenteeism.
Even terrorists hire mercenaries. Malhama Tactical is based in Uzbekistan, and they only work for jihadi extremists. In the future, jihadis may hire mercenary special forces for precision terrorist attacks. If terrorists can hire mercenaries, why not humanitarians? Some think the UN should augment its thinning peacekeeping missions with certified private military companies. Stopping atrocities would leave quite the legacy. Actress Mia Farrow considered hiring Blackwater to end the genocide in Darfur in Multinational corporations are the biggest new clients of mercenaries, especially the extractive industries.
Companies working in dangerous places are tired of relying on corrupt or inept security forces provided to them by host governments, and they are turning to private force. Someday ExxonMobil or Google may hire an army, too. There are mercenaries on the sea as well, similar to privateers 2 centuries ago. International shipping lines hire them to protect their ships traveling through pirate waters in the Gulf of Aden, Strait of Malacca, and Gulf of Guinea. After the ship passes through pirate waters, the team returns to its arsenal ship and awaits the next client.
The industry is based in London, and seeks legitimacy through ISO certification. Americans will be pleased to know that Congress is authorized to hire privateers under Article 1, Section 8, of the U. Constitution, and this could prove more efficient than sending Arleigh Burke —class destroyers after pirate zodiacs.
There are even mercenaries in cyberspace, called hack back companies. Hack back companies cannot undo the damage of a network breach, but that is not the point. They serve as a deterrent. If hackers are choosing targets, and they know that one company has a hack-back company behind it and the other does not, they select the softer target.
Also known as active defense, this practice is currently illegal in many countries, including the United States, but some are questioning this edict since the National Security Agency offers scant protection for nongovernmental entities. For example, the WannaCry ransomware attack in May infected more thancomputers in over countries. If countries cannot protect their people and organizations from cyber attack, then why not allow them to protect themselves? Private force is manifesting everywhere.
After years underground, the market for force is returning in just a few decades and is growing at an alarming rate. In military strategy, there are five domains of war: land, sea, air, space, and cyber. In less than 20 years, private force has proliferated among every domain except space, but that too may change.
Space is already privatized with companies like SpaceX, and it is possible that private armed satellites may one day orbit the Earth. Worse things are to come. In just 10 years, the market for force has moved beyond Blackwater in Iraq and become more lethal. Mercenaries are appearing everywhere, and no longer just in the fringe.
Contract warfare has become a new way of warfare, resurrected by the United States and imitated by others. The rise of mercenaries is producing a new kind of threat—private war—that threatens chaos. It is literally the marketization of war, where military force is bought and sold like any other commodity. It is an ancient form of armed conflict that modern militaries have forgotten how to fight. Should this trend develop, the super-rich could become superpowers, leading to wars without states. In such a world, states would be mere prizes to be won rather than agents of their own destiny. This has the potential to upend international relations as we know it.
Since the emergence of this new warrior class in the s, volumes of academic ink have been spilt on differentiating them from mercenaries. However, such labels are little more than euphemism. Academic typologies overcomplicate an already complex problem, helping no one. In simplest terms, a mercenary is an armed civilian paid to do military operations in a foreign conflict zone. For example, civilians conducting direct actions or training troops in foreign conflict zones are mercenaries because they are performing uniquely military functions.
Federal Express, a courier company, delivering a parcel to Kabul during the Afghanistan War is not a mercenary firm because logistical supply is not an exclusively military task. There are five characteristics that distinguish mercenaries from soldiers and armed nonstate actors, such as terrorists.
First, they are motivated more by profit than politics. This is not to suggest that all mercenaries disregard political interests and serve merely at the whim of the highest bidder, but they are fundamentally profit-maximizing entities. Second, they are structured as businesses, and some of the large private military corporations have even been traded on Wall Street and the London Stock Exchange, such as DynCorp International and Armor Group.
Third, they are expeditionary in nature, meaning they seek work in foreign lands rather than provide domestic security services.
There are exceptions to this, especially when it comes to homeland defense, but in general, mercenaries are foreign-focused and are not domestic security guards. Fourth, they typically deploy force in a military manner, as opposed to a law-enforcement one. The purpose of military force is to violently defeat or deter the enemy, while law enforcement seeks to de-escalate violent situations to maintain law and order.
This intrinsically affects how they operate.
Fifth and most important, mercenaries are lethal and represent the commodification of armed conflict. Soldiers and politically motivated armed nonstate actors do not seek to marketize war and monetarily profit by it. There will always be exceptions to these five features, but they serve as a good test of whether an armed actor is a mercenary or not.Black male iso for nsa now not sp
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Mercenaries and War: Understanding Private Armies Today