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Private Firms Have Role to Play in Peace Operations in Africa


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United States Department of State (Washington, DC)

October 22, 2003
Posted to the web October 23, 2003

Jim Fisher-Thompson
Washington, DC

D. Brooks explains use of private contractors at State Department forum

Private-sector contractors called Military Service Providers (MSPs) are doing a good job supporting peacekeeping as well as peace-enforcement operations in Africa and should be employed more often, an official with an advocacy group representing private security firms told a State Department-sponsored seminar October 6.

Explaining his view on the sometimes controversial topic, Doug Brooks of the International Peace Operations Association (IPOA), said that where the international community has made the decision to intervene to support peace agreements on the troubled African continent, sometimes flawed results have revealed the deficiencies of traditional peacekeeping approaches.

He spoke on a panel discussing the topic: "Are Private Security Firms the Answer for Africa?" sponsored by the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR). Ambassador Robert Houdek -- the first U.S. envoy to the Republic of Eritrea from 1993-1996 -- moderated the discussion. Houdek is national intelligence officer for Africa with the National Intelligence Council (NIC), the U.S. Government think tank that reports directly to the Director of Central Intelligence.

At a time when many countries lack the political will or manpower to help African nations deal directly with conflict, MSPs have proven to be useful tools in working with regional bodies like the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and United Nations to help end conflict in war-torn regions, Brooks told the panel.

He declared: "If we truly desire successful peace operations, we must reconsider how the international community can more fully utilize this private sector capacity."

While often tagged with the term "mercenaries," Brooks explained that MSPs are "lawful, profit-seeking international companies" that operate "under normal legal and financial constraints. MSPs have little in common with the infamous 'mercenaries' of the past that thrived on anonymity and individual gain. MSPs are legal, visible and accountable."

MSP is actually an umbrella term covering a number of functions, Brooks said. "It can be used to describe anything from mundane logistics and demining firms, or 'Non-lethal Service Providers' (NSPs), to the 'Private Security Companies' (PSCs) that protect other private firms and investments in zones of conflict to 'Private Military Companies' (PMCs) that provide training and advice and, in rare cases, even offer combat services to their government clients."

In Africa firms like these have proved "to be of great utility in filling the vacuum left by absent Western militaries, and particularly useful for supporting internationally-mandated peace operations," Brooks added.

For example, he said, "PSCs like ArmorGroup have provided crucial security for humanitarian extremely dangerous conflicts. NSPs such as PAE and ICI of Oregon have time and again supported ECOWAS and UN peacekeepers with logistics and transportation services [helicopters] without which operations would simply be impossible" in places like Sierra Leone and Liberia.

"At the more robust end of the spectrum," Brooks pointed out that assistance by the former British firm Sandline International to ECOMOG (ECOWAS Monitoring Group) forces in Sierra Leone in 1998 helped restore the democratically elected government to power" and fight off a rebel movement that specialized in hacking off the limbs of innocent civilians.

Even in a stable country like Nigeria, ICI helicopters were contracted in the fall of 2002 to support U.S. Special Forces members training five infantry battalions for emergency service in Sierra Leone. In addition, Brooks said, some African peace enforcers currently serving in Liberia were trained with the help of an American MSP called MPRI, as part of the former U.S./African military partnership called the African Crisis Response Initiative (ACRI).

For future operations, other MSPs, like AirScan, could provide surveillance aircraft to help peacekeepers in remote and vast areas like eastern Congo "with vital intelligence and monitor 'ground truth' in support of peace agreements," he added.

Brooks demonstrated that MSPs are nothing new on the continent. "One of the great hypocrisies of Africa is that few people have expressed any qualms about armed private security being used to protect UN warehouses and NGO (non-governmental organizations) operations, but many raise an uproar when such effective security is proposed for people like refugees, IDPs (Internally-Displaced Persons), towns, villages or even entire countries," he said.

MSPs can and should be held accountable for their actions, Brooks stressed. "MSPs are willing to accept virtually any level of oversight and supervision in order to prove their value and have been open to every legal structure proposed to facilitate their use. Those in the military services industry know they can provide the security that can foster stability and prosperity on the African continent -- and they can do so professionally, cost-effectively, transparently and accountably."

At the same time, Brooks told the panel, "MSPs cannot replace international organizations; they cannot replace the many talented NGOs and humanitarian organizations that do so much to provide relief and reconstruction. They cannot replace diplomats who bring warring factions together to negotiate peace agreements, and they cannot operate without the blessing and mandate of the international community. But they can bring the missing elements that make peace operations work."

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:

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