Private corporations have penetrated western warfare so deeply that
are now the second biggest contributor to coalition forces in Iraq
the Pentagon, a Guardian investigation has established.
While the official coalition figures list the British as the second
largest contingent with around 9,900 troops, they are narrowly
by the 10,000 private military contractors now on the ground.
The investigation has also discovered that the proportion of contracted
security personnel in the firing line is 10 times greater than during
first Gulf war. In 1991, for every private contractor, there were about
100 servicemen and women; now there are 10.
The private sector is so firmly embedded in combat, occupation and
peacekeeping duties that the phenomenon may have reached the point of
return: the US military would struggle to wage war without it.
While reliable figures are difficult to come by and governmental
accounting and monitoring of the contracts are notoriously shoddy, the
army estimates that of the $87bn (50.2bn) earmarked this year for the
broader Iraqi campaign, including central Asia and Afghanistan, one
of that, nearly $30bn, will be spent on contracts to private companies.
The myriad military and security companies thriving on this largesse
at the sharp end of a revolution in military affairs that is taking us
into unknown territory - the partial privatisation of war.
"This is a trend that is growing and Iraq is the high point of the
said Peter Singer, a security analyst at Washington's Brookings
Institution. "This is a sea change in the way we prosecute warfare.
are historical parallels, but we haven't seen them for 250 years."
When America launched its invasion in March, the battleships in the
were manned by US navy personnel. But alongside them sat civilians from
four companies operating some of the world's most sophisticated weapons
When the unmanned Predator drones, the Global Hawks, and the B-2
bombers went into action, their weapons systems, too, were operated and
maintained by non-military personnel working for private companies.
The private sector is even more deeply involved in the war's aftermath.
US company has the lucrative contracts to train the new Iraqi army,
another to recruit and train an Iraqi police force.
But this is a field in which British companies dominate, with nearly
of the dozen or so private firms in Iraq coming from the UK.
The big British player in Iraq is Global Risk International, based in
Hampton, Middlesex. It is supplying hired Gurkhas, Fijian
and, it is believed, ex-SAS veterans, to guard the Baghdad headquarters
Paul Bremer, the US overlord, according to analysts.
It is a trend that has been growing worldwide since the end of the cold
war, a booming business which entails replacing soldiers wherever
with highly paid civilians and hired guns not subject to standard
The biggest US military base built since Vietnam, Camp Bondsteel in
Kosovo, was constructed and continues to be serviced by private
contractors. At Tuzla in northern Bosnia, headquarters for US
peacekeepers, everything that can be farmed out to private businesses
been. The bill so far runs to more than $5bn. The contracts include
to the US company ITT, which supplies the armed guards, overwhelmingly
private citizens, at US installations.
In Israel, a US company supplies the security for American diplomats, a
very risky business. In Colombia, a US company flies the planes
the coca plantations and the helicopter gunships protecting them, in
some would characterise as a small undeclared war.
In Kabul, a US company provides the bodyguards to try to save President
Hamid Karzai from assassination, raising questions over whether they
combatants in a deepening conflict with emboldened Taliban insurgents.
And in the small town of Hadzici west of Sarajevo, a military compound
houses the latest computer technology, the war games simulations
challenging the Bosnian army's brightest young officers.
Crucial to transforming what was an improvised militia desperately
fighting for survival into a modern army fit eventually to join Nato,
army computer centre was established by US officers who structured,
trained, and armed the Bosnian military. The Americans accomplished a
similar mission in Croatia and are carrying out the same job in
The input from the US military has been so important that the US
can credibly claim to have tipped the military balance in a region
by four wars in a decade. But the American officers, including several
four-star generals, are retired, not serving. They work, at least
directly, not for the US government, but for a private company,
Professional Resources Inc.
"In the Balkans MPRI are playing an incredibly critical role. The
of power in the region was altered by a private company. That's one
measure of the sea change," said Mr Singer, the author of a recent book
the subject, Corporate Warriors.
The surge in the use of private companies should not be confused with
traditional use of mercenaries in armed conflicts. The use of
is outlawed by the Geneva conventions, but no one is accusing the
Pentagon, while awarding more than 3,000 contracts to private companies
over the past decade, of violating the laws of war.
The Pentagon will "pursue additional opportunities to outsource and
privatise", the US defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, pledged last
and military analysts expect him to try to cut a further 200,000 jobs
the armed forces.
It is this kind of "downsizing" that has fed the growth of the military
Since the end of the cold war it is reckoned that six million
have been thrown on to the employment market with little to peddle but
their fighting and military skills. The US military is 60% the size of
decade ago, the Soviet collapse wrecked the colossal Red Army, the East
German military melted away, the end of apartheid destroyed the white
officer class in South Africa. The British armed forces, notes Mr
are at their smallest since the Napoleonic wars.
The booming private sector has soaked up much of this manpower and
It also enables the Americans, in particular, to wage wars by proxy and
without the kind of congressional and media oversight to which
conventional deployments are subject.
From the level of the street or the trenches to the rarefied corridors
strategic analysis and policy-making, however, the problems surfacing
immense and complex.
One senior British officer complains that his driver was recently
approached and offered a fortune to move to a "rather dodgy outfit".
Ex-SAS veterans in Iraq can charge up to $1,000 a day.
"There's an explosion of these companies attracting our servicemen
financially," said Rear Admiral Hugh Edleston, a Royal Navy officer who
just completing three years as chief military adviser to the
administration running Bosnia.
He said that outside agencies were sometimes better placed to provide
training and resources. "But you should never mix serving military with
security operations. You need to be absolutely clear on the division
between the military and the paramilitary."
"If these things weren't privatised, uniformed men would have to do it
that draws down your strength," said another senior retired officer
engaged in the private sector. But he warned: "There is a slight risk
things can get out of hand and these companies become small armies
And in Baghdad or Bogota, Kabul or Tuzla, there are armed company
employees effectively licensed to kill. On the job, say guarding a
peacekeepers' compound in Tuzla, the civilian employees are subject to
same rules of engagement as foreign troops.
But if an American GI draws and uses his weapon in an off-duty bar
he will be subject to the US judicial military code. If an American
employed by the US company ITT in Tuzla does the same, he answers to
Bosnian law. By definition these companies are frequently operating in
"failed states" where national law is notional. The risk is the
can literally get away with murder.
Or lesser, but appalling crimes. Dyncorp, for example, a Pentagon
favourite, has the contract worth tens of millions of dollars to train
Iraqi police force. It also won the contracts to train the Bosnian
and was implicated in a grim sex slavery scandal, with its employees
accused of rape and the buying and selling of girls as young as 12. A
number of employees were fired, but never prosecuted. The only court
to result involved the two whistleblowers who exposed the episode and
"Dyncorp should never have been awarded the Iraqi police contract,"
Madeleine Rees, the chief UN human rights officer in Sarajevo.
Of the two court cases, one US police officer working for Dyncorp in
Bosnia, Kathryn Bolkovac, won her suit for wrongful dismissal. The
involving a mechanic, Ben Johnston, was settled out of court. Mr
Johnston's suit against Dyncorp charged that he "witnessed co-workers
supervisors literally buying and selling women for their own personal
enjoyment, and employees would brag about the various ages and talents
the individual slaves they had purchased".
There are other formidable problems surfacing in what is uncharted
territory - issues of loyalty, accountability, ideology, and national
interest. By definition, a private military company is in Iraq or
not to pursue US, UN, or EU policy, but to make money.
The growing clout of the military services corporations raises
about an insidious, longer-term impact on governments' planning,
Mr Singer argues that for the first time in the history of the modern
nation state, governments are surrendering one of the essential and
defining attributes of statehood, the state's monopoly on the
use of force.
But for those on the receiving end, there seems scant alternative.
"I had some problems with some of the American generals," said Enes
Becirbasic, a Bosnian military official who managed the Bosnian side of
the MPRI projects to build and arm a Bosnian army. "It's a conflict of
interest. I represent our national interest, but they're businessmen. I
would have preferred direct cooperation with state organisations like
or the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe. But we had
choice. We had to use MPRI."