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Security for sale
By David Isenberg

On August 13, the Voice of America was due to broadcast a television show exploring "the role played worldwide by mercenaries, and whether such private armies have a legitimate place in the execution of policy".

It is just the latest sign that private military companies (PMCs) are playing an increasing role in the realm of international security affairs, and the acronym PMC is even listed in the US Department of State Office of Contingency Planning and Peacekeeping's database of acronyms. The web page states:
"These acronyms have been selected based on their appearance in cable traffic and/or documents utilized in the Office of Contingency Planning and Peacekeeping. In general, therefore, they relate to complex humanitarian emergencies, contingency planning, regional conflict, conflict prevention and resolution, civil-military operations, and peace support operations."

While the doings of some PMCs have received much publicity over the past decade, it has usually been in the context of specific countries or regions; first the South African firm Executive Outcomes in Angola and Sierra Leone in Africa, then the US firm MPRI in Croatia and Bosnia in Europe, and another US firm, DynCorp, in Bosnia and in Colombia.

But it is not well appreciated that PMCs now operate all over the world. While no authoritative figures are available, there are estimates that the PMC industry generate US$100 billion in annual revenues and that PMCs operate in more than 50 countries. According to a study published last year by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, since 1994, the US Defense Department has entered into 3,061 contracts valued at more than $300 billion with 12 of the 24 US-based PMCs.

According to Peter Singer of the Brookings Institution, author of the recently published book Corporate Warriors, " In the last decade, PMCs have been active in zones of conflict and transition throughout the entire globe. They have been critical players in a number of conflicts, and in many the determinate actor. They have operated from Albania to Zambia, often with strategic impact on both the process and outcome of conflicts. PMCs have been active on every continent but Antarctica, including in relative backwaters and key strategic zones where the superpowers once vied for influence."

And Asia is no exception. One example is Papua New Guinea, which was the setting for the well-publicized aborted 1997 intervention by the UK firm Sandline. According to Singer, other, lesser-known countries include:

  • Sri Lanka, where the government has hired PMC pilots to fly gun ships.
  • Nepal, where ex-Ghurka soldiers have formed a PMC of their own, Ghurka Security Guards. Incidentally, a Ghurka working for a PMC was recently killed in Iraq. He was working for a private security contractor, Global Security, and was in a vehicle that had been delivering mail for the United Nations. Another contractor employed by Kellogg Brown & Root, a subsidiary of US company Halliburton was killed when a remote-control bomb exploded under the truck he was driving north of Tikrit.
  • In Cambodia a French PMC provides de-mining services.
  • In 1996, Executive Outcomes provided training and support to the Indonesian special forces in hostage rescue operations. The training was to aid the Indonesian special forces in an operation in West Papua (Irian Jaya).
  • In the Philippines the combined number of PMC employees outnumber the police or the army. Grayworks Security, a Filipino company, provides military training to government forces. Control Risks Group provides security planning for mine sites in the Philippines.
  • In Taiwan PMCs have also provided advisory services to the military.
  • In the South China Sea PMCs like Trident have taken on anti-piracy duties. Last year the Economist reported on two PMCs - Marine Risk Management and Satellite Protection Services (SPS) - that deploy airborne mercenaries to deal with piracy. SPS even suggested stationing 2,500 former Dutch marines in Subic Bay in the Philippines - for a mere $2,500 per day per combatant.
  • In East Timor Australian forces leading the UN Transitional Administration peacekeeping force in 1999 were dependent on logistics outsourced to private companies, while the UN employed private intelligence and security firms to assist.
  • In Malaysia TASK International trained the Royal Malaysian Police in close protection, hostage rescue, defensive driving and crisis management for the Commonwealth Games held September 1998 in Kuala Lumpur.

    In the former Soviet Union and the Middle East, a huge increase in PMC activity has taken place since the end of the Cold War, with thousands of ex-Soviet soldiers working in the industry. One example is the Moscow-based Alpha firm, founded by former KGB Special Forces personnel, which has a linkage with the international Armorgroup firm. Contract soldiers have been found alongside regular forces in Chechnya and have defended facilities in Azerbaijan, Armenia and Kazakhstan.

    Given the unstable security situation, a region like Central Asia, with oil reserves that international firms want to exploit, is likely to attract PMCs in a big way. Future pipelines slated to run through conflict-ridden zones such as Chechnya and Georgia will need to be secure. PMCs have long been used to guard pipelines in other countries, such as Colombia. In fact, British Petroleum hired a PMC to work with a battalion in the Colombian army.

    PMCs are also notable in the Middle East. Israeli-based PMCs such as Levdan, Ango-Segu Ltd and Silver Shadow have worked in the Congo, Angola and Colombia. Some Persian Gulf states are known to depend on PMCs. In Saudi Arabia, US-based PMCs practically run the armed forces, with defense contractor BDM, parent of Vinnell, providing logistics and training and advisory services to the Saudi general forces. Vinnell itself trains the Saudi National Guard, while Booz-Allen Hamilton runs the military staff college, SAIC supports the navy and air defenses and O'Gara protects the royal family and trains local security forces. In Kuwait, DynCorp supports the air force.

    Currently, as the Financial Times recently reported, 150 employees of DynCorp are guarding Hamid Karzai and other leaders in the US-backed Afghan government against assassination attempts. Similarly, in Iraq, DynCorp is recruiting and training a police force. Kroll, the US security firm, may train a private security force. Vinnell Corp is training the Iraqi army.

    Clearly, making the military your business is good business.

    (Copyright 2003 Asia Times Online Co, Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact for information on our sales and syndication policies.)
    Aug 14, 2003


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