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Private Armies Growing In Iraq, Afghanistan

by Julio Godoy

on Vinnell Corp.
(IPS) PARIS -- The growing number of private military companies operating in Iraq and Afghanistan point to far-reaching changes in the business of war since the 1990s, experts say.

"A wind of privatization of military operations is blowing through the United States and Britain," says Jean-Dominique Merchet, military analyst for the Liberation newspaper published in Paris.

"The U.S. government granted Vinnell Corporation a $48 million contract last July to train what should be the new Iraqi army," Merchet told IPS. Vinnell, a private military company (PMC) located close to the Pentagon is among several such companies that have found a new gold mine in the Iraqi and Afghan wars.

"Military Professional Resources Inc. (MPRI) which has more high-ranking military officers per square metre than the Pentagon itself is also active in Iraq and Afghanistan," Brechet added.

Vinnell operates mainly in the Middle East. MPRI has had a long presence in the former Yugoslav republics where its officers guided and often led Croatian and Bosnian during the secession wars of the 1990s.

French military analyst George Malbrunot says Kellog, Brown & Root, a subsidiary of the Texan oil giant Halliburton has billed the U.S. government more than $1.2 billion for logistical and other military support activities in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Vice President Dick Cheney was Halliburton's chief executive officer until December 2000. He left the company to become deputy to President George W. Bush but still receives paychecks from the firm.

"Several Western countries have engaged the South African PMC Meteoric to secure their embassies in Baghdad," Malbrunot added. "The United Nations delegation to Iraq has given a contract to Global Risks Strategy, yet another PMC."

Several private enterprises doing business in Iraq and Afghanistan have contracted PMCs to protect their executives, Malbrunot says.

A recent study by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) says at least 90 PMCs are providing "services normally performed by national armies" in Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and Asia. These companies usually provide services such as military training, logistical support for military operations, and removal of mines, the report says. But they have also engaged in active combat, the ICIJ report says.

The report 'Making a Killing -- The Business of War' published in March this year says PMCs are the "new world order's mercenaries."

Phillip van Niekerk, the South African journalist who managed and co-edited the ICIJ report says the transition from mercenaries of the old school to globally active private military companies began after the fall of the Berlin wall, as tensions within the West eased.

"During the 1990s Western governments increasingly shied away from sending national troops into conflicts in the Third World that were not popular at home," van Niekerk told IPS.

"The common refrain was that these countries were not worth shedding the blood of Americans, Britons, or Frenchmen. In order to get the job done, governments increasingly relied on contractors to perform tasks that national armies would have performed in earlier decades," van Niekerk said.

Van Niekerk sees the growing presence of PMCs in Iraq and Afghanistan in tasks such as protecting diplomats "a sign of the U.S.-British alliance getting stretched thin."

PMCs enlist their personnel from the same ranks that old-style mercenaries came from -- former soldiers, military officers and secret agents who need to go on living off the business of war.

Mercenaries have often found business in former colonies. Former soldiers and army officers founded the French mercenary tradition in the late 1950s and early 1960s as French colonial reign in northern and sub-Saharan Africa ended.

French diplomatic and secret services frequently employed former soldiers and spies in Africa to control new regimes in oil-rich areas. French mercenaries have also worked with private companies in the oil and diamond business.

French prosecutors investigating the involvement of the French oil giant Elf Aquitaine in the wars in Western Africa found documents in the company's archives which suggest that it engaged mercenaries to support friendly regimes.

In a document dated April 23, 1991, Col. Jean-Pierre Daniel, then security chief at Elf Aquitaine wrote: "A team of mercenaries is ready to intervene from Libreville, the capital of Gabon, on the orders of former French police officers Jean-Charles Marchiani and Daniel Leandri."

French mercenaries have been active in the civil war in the Cote d'Ivoire.

The police captured Ivorian opposition leader Ibrahim Coulibaly and a group of French mercenaries Aug. 23 this year. Coulibaly and the French mercenaries had allegedly planned to assassinate Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo.

Coulibaly was released, but the French mercenaries are still in prison on charge of planning terrorist action.

French mercenaries face a new law that forbids mercenaries to engage in "direct participation in combat." But they can continue to provide military services necessary for war.

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Albion Monitor November 19, 2003 (

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