Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Private Military Contractors: Who are these Corporate Soldiers?

By: Regina Bullock

With the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we have heard more and more about the United States using private military contractors. For many of us, this is just another aspect of the war that we don’t have much information on. We just hear about it enough to know that it is something we should question. Who are these corporate soldiers and what do they do?

Private military contractors are small companies that provide military services. They perform most of the same duties as U.S. military troops, but on a smaller scale. Since a private contractor isn’t a part of the initial military they are helping, they are considered civilians. Private military contractors or PMC’s are used by the United States to train other military personnel and supplement the troops. Throughout history, the United States has used private military contractors instead of US troops for certain covert military operations. While the use of private contractors is nothing new, the increase in the usage of them by the United States is.
After the first Gulf War, the United States drastically cut back on their number of troops. This left many soldiers unemployed. Many of these soldiers went on to provide private military services and training. After 9/11, the market for private military contractors started booming. The beginning of the war in Iraq only increased the demand for PMC’s. The United States army doesn’t have the means to continue two long-term wars so they have increased their usage of private military contractors to aid their troops.

Private military contractors provide both security and military services. Security services can include everything from policing to catering. Military activities include protecting important U.S. and Iraqi officials, intelligence gathering, and security consulting. PMC’s also provide military training for Iraqi security forces. Different contractors provide different services. PMC’s are not just hired by governments. They are employed by corporations and humanitarian groups also.

There are an estimated 100,000 private contractors in Iraq who work for the United States Department of Defense. This is ten times the amount of private contractors being used since the Persian Gulf War. Private contractors account for about 20% of the US presence in Afghanistan and Iraq. One of the most noted private contractors is Xe, formerly known as Blackwater. Xe is made up of mostly ex-US Special Forces soldiers. They also employ Chilean ex-commandos. KBR is another big military contracting company in Iraq. KBR has more American contractors in Iraq than any other PMC. They also have a larger contract with the U.S. than any other private contractor. For a job like delivering a shipment of supplies, a private contractor can be paid as much as $1500 a day. Because of the demand for PMC’s and the ability to make large amounts of money, a lot American and British soldiers have resigned to join private contractors.

Private military contractors are nothing new to United States warfare. They have been used before, but not as much as they are now. The lack of military volunteers and the reduction of troops after the Gulf War have made them a necessary addition to the United States military. While they may be needed, PMC’s has opened a door for war profiteering. Soldiers are leaving their ranks to join private contractors to make more money. The use of PMC’s is also a way for the United States to carry out certain missions without having to report the cost or amount of casualties to the public. The use of private contractors is considered sanctioned war profiteering. Although this form of war profiteering is seen as acceptable, there are still many issues with contracting companies crossing the lines of sanctioned and unsanctioned profit. Big name contracting companies like Xe, KBR, and Halliburton have been investigated for overcharging for their services. As a measure against excessive profiting by PMC’s, there is an excess profit tax to try and control war profiteering. But since it’s hard to really declare what’s “excessive”, instances of excessive profits often go uninvestigated.

Not only have private military contractors been accused of excessive profiteering, there have also been allegations of them being caught up in other illegal activities going on in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2008, KBR came under fire for the negligent death of a Special Armed Forces officer after he was electrocuted in his bathroom stall due to faulty wiring put in by them. Because of this, they almost lost their contract with the U.S. in January of 2009. A former employee of KBR reported being gang raped by 7 other employees of KBR. Xe’s license to operate in Iraq was revoked in 2007 after a private security detail opened fire and killed 17 Iraqi’s while escorting some U.S. state department vehicles. Their actions were considered excessively forceful and without cause.

The current state of U.S. warfare has made private military contractors necessary. There are not enough troops to carry the country through two wars simultaneously. While the use of PMC’s may be necessary, the United States has made it that way. Even with more information on them, it’s hard to tell if the country benefits more from their use or if it’s just more convenient. The United States may need to use private contractors, but their overuse is making war a profession.

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