Sunday, August 14, 2005

The best army money can buy 

The difficulties the U.S. military has been having finding people to volunteer for the meat grinder that is Iraq are well known. What is not as well known is one of the ways they have gotten around their recruiting difficulties – using mercenaries. The U.S. military, with the acquiescence of the media, have largely kept quiet about this. But today the New York Times (articlehere by subscription only) shed some light on it. The first thing of interest they pointed out was how widespread the use of mercenaries is in Iraq:

The firms employ, in Iraq, a great number of armed men. No one knows the number exactly. In Baghdad in June, in a privately guarded coalition compound in the Green Zone, I talked with Lawrence Peter, a paid advocate for the industry and -- in what he called a ''private-public partnership'' -- a consultant to the Department of Defense on outsourced security. He put the number of armed men around 25,000. (This figure is in addition to some 50,000 to 70,000 unarmed civilians working for American interests in Iraq, the largest percentage by way of Halliburton and its subsidiaries, doing everything from servicing warplanes to driving food trucks to washing dishes.)

The numbers involved here are amazing. The number of mercenary combatants is more than twice the entire number of soldiers the U.K. has contributed to the war. The 50 to 70k involved in support activities is also amazingly large. When added up the mercenaries make increase U.S. forces in Iraq by two thirds. And make no mistake about it – these people are mercenaries too. Driving supply trucks, setting up camps, preparing food and carrying out administrative duties are all functions historically carried out by uniformed soldiers. In WWII and Vietnam for example all of those functions were carried out by members of the U.S. military.

And as an aside, that when they give these jobs to civilians that they use only U.S. civilians is quite telling. After all, one would think they would want to help Iraqis with jobs and pump money into their economy. But the bottom line is they simply can’t trust Iraqi’s enough to let them drive a supply truck or work on a U.S. base. This simply goes to show that despite their propaganda and sham elections the U.S. knows it can’t trust average Iraqis.

And how much of a roll are the mercenaries playing in actual combat? Quite a bit it turns out:

It is impossible to say exactly how many private security men have been killed in Iraq. Deaths go unreported. But the figure, according to Lawrence Peter, is probably between 160 and 200. That's more deaths than any one of America's coalition partners have suffered.

It should be noted that above quote was only regarding the combat mercenaries. It doesn’t include, for example, civilian truck drivers killed when their convoys were attacked. So these Soldiers of Fortune are not sitting around drinking and sharing old war stories in bars. They are actively engaged in the war, killing and being killed.

And what brings these people, mainly retired soldiers, to Iraq? The same thing that has always motivated mercenaries – money:

Americans and other Westerners in the business tend to make between $400 and $700 a day, sometimes a good deal more. (The non-Westerners earn far less. Triple Canopy's Fijians and Chileans make between $40 and $150 dollars each week and sleep in crowded barracks at the Baghdad base, while the Americans sleep in their own dorm rooms. The company explained the difference in salaries in terms of the Americans' far superior military backgrounds and their higher-risk assignments.) Americans with Triple Canopy stay in Iraq for three-month rotations, working straight through. Then they're sent on leave for a month, returning if they wish. Depending on how much time they spend in the States over the course of a year, most of their income can be tax-free.

Four hundred to seven hundred dollars tax free is certainly a tidy sum. The article pointed out that such high pay has induced some members of the military to retire early so they can get in on the piles of cash being given away. To counteract this, it was further noted, some Special Forces units of the U.S. military have been offering $150,000 re-enlistment bonuses to keep their members. No wonder poor Iraqis can’t figure out why despite hundreds of billions being spent on this war their lives haven’t improved. The big money is going to military contractors and mercenaries!

What is more than a little ironic in all of this is that virtually every day the U.S. talks about how the Iraqi insurgency is on its last legs and is about to collapse. Personally though, I think the side that is having to resort to using highly paid mercenaries to do its fighting is the one that is in trouble.


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