There was a ceremony held at Baghdad’s airport at the end of 2011 to celebrate and mark the withdrawal of America’s combat forces from Iraq. The last 4,000 troops left with pride, while an equal or greater number of private contractors replaced them from eight different Private Military Companies (PMCs). What’s been happening in the past year? Mercenaries come with a price tag; it is estimated by the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) that the cost of employing them is around $300 billion annually. Of course black budgets cannot entirely be revealed to the public.
According to the Congressional Research Service, as of March 2011, in both Afghanistan and Iraq, the total amount of contractor personnel amounted to 155,000 versus 145,000 uniformed personnel. In 2010 over 260,000 were active all around the world. With so much money pouring into firms that are unaccountable to the public, it is impossible to determine the presence, or measure the extent, of any corruption.
Assuming that PMCs were perfectly regulated, a moral question would still arise: Who should carry out our wars? These companies are well under the congressional radar and serve the U.S. with much immunity and impunity. Although a large number of contractors are employed to replace uniformed personnel to carry out essentially the same tasks, there is no public outrage, or even any concern. A study appearing in April 2012 in the European Journal of Political Theory mentions that “private contractors are recruited from databases and do not spend time training together, which harms cohesion and preparedness of PMC operations.” Also, Incidents happen. In 2007, Blackwater employees escorting a U.S. State Department convoy opened fire in a Baghdad traffic circle killing 17 Iraqi civilians. An investigation later revealed there was no threat to the convoy. Following the incident, Blackwater changed its name in 2009 to Xe. Xe is now known as Academi.
The mass media may not regularly cover the use of private contractors, but their role is significant in many ways. They are used for training security forces abroad, giving advice, weapons systems management, transportation and many other services. Mercenaries operate in post-conflict regions and although the U.S. has many legal tools to ensure the compliance of contractors to avoid abuses of power, as the U.S. Army Field Manual’s incorporation of the Nuremberg Charter or the Special Maritime and Territorial Jurisdiction Act, PMCs manage to slip through the loopholes. There have been very few prosecutions for offenses against human rights and many of the employees of the private firms are not American.
To illustrate the size of these companies one can point out the number of employees they have. According to their website, G4S has over 657,000 employees worldwide. It is to be noted that the war business has been booming: in the early 1990s, during the Gulf War, one combatant out of fifty was a private contractor. In 2003, at the start of operation Iraqi Freedom, combining forces from the U.S., the U.K. and other countries, private contractors were the second largest force in the invasion.
So Obama ended operation Iraqi freedom by calling back the troops. This resulted in as many civilians employed and deployed into the region to maintain security. The necessity to apply legal tools and proper regulations upon PMCs is crucial for the sake of accountability. It is difficult to measure accountability and to monitor the respect of human rights when governments are reluctant to use their own troops.
– Mathieu Paul Dumont