12 June 2019

Private security military campaigns do not militate for privatization, but for war’s effectiveness, says, in 2019, a former US Navy Seal. Does that mean that all they want is make money?

Daniel Ilie

When talking about private security and military campaigns (PSMC) and the international market in the field, we firstly think at two important, yet controversial, names: Blackwater (US) and Wagner (Russia).

Image source: Mediafax

More and more often, states are transferring competences, responsibilities and tasks, in terms of armed conflict’s management, to PSMC, for different reasons, the most important being the economic profitableness, flexibility, reduced bureaucracy and reaction time. However, these activities’ monitoring and control stay discretionary.

Hereof, international experts are becoming more and more concerned on human’s rights, but also on democratic societies’ fields, claiming that as these companies are unrecorded, unregulated and are only chasing economic benefits, they are undermining states’ institutions authority and are acting in collusion where human’s rights are broken, in areas conflicts are taking place.

All the international juridical obligations of states which are using private military and security companies in armed conflict situations are foreseen in the 2008 Montreux Document, created after an international process initiated, in 2006, by Switzerland and the international Red Cross Committee. This came as an answer to increasing concerns related to the lack of private security’s sector regulation. It aims at improving PSMC’s conventionality of humanitarian international right and human’s rights.

55 states and three international organizations (EU, OSCE and NATO) have signed, until now, this document. Meanwhile the US is one of document’s first signatories, Russia, which does not officially recognize the use of such companies, whose penal code punishes these activities developed in armed conflicts only for financial purposes, did not sign the documents yet. Romania is not a signatory state either.

PSMC includes all economic agents who are providing military and/or security services, regardless of their type. Such companies can ensure military services, including (but without being limited to): material and technical support for the armed forces, strategic planning, investigations or inquiry services, military training activities, satellite surveillance and other associated activities. Security activities can include (but without being limited to): people an objectives’ protection and security, people, objectives and any training activities (armed or unarmed) protection and security.

Private security and military companies belonging to document’s signatory states are forced to follow the law on humanitarian international right or human’s fundamental rights imposed by the national applicable legislation, as well as other applicable national laws, like the penal right, fiscal law, immigration right, labor law and PSMC’s regulations.

On the initiative of the private field, assisted by Switzerland’s government and Great Britain and US’s governments’ consultancies, together with experts in the fields, it was created and signed, initially by 58 states and thereafter by other 700 private security and military companies, in 2010, the International ode for private security service providers. It is a set of standards for PSMC on following the legislation on humanitarian international rights or human’s fundamental rights.

Furthermore, in 2016, it was created and published by the Center of Armed Forces Democratic Control-Genève, a legislative guide in private military and security companies’ regulation.

Indeed, even if such initiatives are gladly received, along with others, initiated by the civil society on creating monitoring and independent governing mechanism for rubric international code’s implementation, these cannot replace state’s control and national policies on PSMC.

One of PSMC’s current activities is military assistance. As I was writing in a 2008 article, such companies are usually hiring retired SOF experts, military reservists or former force structures’ members, like police, gendarmerie etc. to have important operational experience. Some of the recent military operations that PSMC took part in, however, not publicly, were the armed conflicts from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. Both companies mentioned earlier are just some of the examples.

I was also writing in that article about the lobby Erick Prince, the former charismatic and controversial US Navy Seal, founder of the former PSMC Blackwater Company, is making within the US presidential administration, trying to promote Afghanistan war’s “privatization” idea. His argument is that the war lasted more than 18 years and it cannot end thorough traditional military campaigns’ methods. He also calls on replacing NATO’s Resolute Support mission from Afghanistan, whereat are participating around 60.000 coalition participants, only with 6.000 contractors (60% former US SOF and 40% former NATO SOF) and 2.000 US SOF members. This new “mission” would be conducted by US’s SOF, and PSMC would work, according to Prince’s plan, for a US warfare specialist, who would, then, report directly to US’s president.

This lobby did not end and, according to Prince’s statements, made within an April 2019 podcast recorder by Force for Hire a Stars and Stripes Podcast, PSMC will soon play a major role for countries which want to successfully manage their contingency plans in the global war against terrorism. He is convinced that if any of the famous generals (most likely American) would embrace his concept, then the politicians and the public would follow him and accept the “war privatization” idea.

Although Prince apologizes, in his preamble, for the British companies’ financial purposes when founding America (companies like Massachusetts Bay, Virginia- Jamestown or Plymouth, which were enlisted at the Londoner bourse and hired private military contractors to help the new created English colonies on North America’s East coast), he states that, in fact, the world misunderstood him when saying that he would have talked about Afghanistan’s effort “privatization”.

He claims that he only referred to effort’s rationalization, to allow an unconventional support and back up capability, have a reduced logistic impression comparing to coalition’s one, to help the afghan security and defence forces operationalize, work and ensure Afghanistan’s security and defence on their own and, if needed, to fight with them. I would call it “externalization of security’s services”.

Specialist in Afghanistan’s situation, Prince thinks that the biggest issue with the international contribution to support the Afghan security forces and institutions’ support to develop their defence capacities and protect citizens is coalition’s forces personnel lack of continuity in operations theatre. They only stay in the operation theatre 8 months and, then, are replaced with a new one which, often, were not dislocated before in that area and do not have too much acknowledgement (including, or especially, cultural) on how to successfully deploy training, counselling and assistance missions.

To end that, he would send contract-based veterans in the field (to have SOF, police, gendarmerie etc. experience) as mentors and would dislocate them in each Afghan battalion, not in separated military bases, where they would live, train and even fight shoulder to shoulder with their Afghan partners. This way, it would ensure a support and help framework on leadership, intelligence, communication, health support, logistic support, making sure that that unity is paid, nourished and provisioned on time and that the rest of support key elements are available when needed. Logistic experts would also have to reduce corruption if existent, especially when talking about Afghan defence and security forces’ procurement contracts on fuels, food, medicines and other materials ensured by the coalition annually, worth of around $5 million.

Along these contract-based counsellor, the logistic field will also have private aviation support, which will normally use simple air platforms (Prince had 56 air platforms which operated in Afghanistan’s entire area), two seats for the fight aircrafts to allow a specialist pilot (contract-based veteran) to accompany an Afghan pilot who will, eventually, fire against targets. The contractor will not, in no circumstance, pull the trigger, but only a member of the Afghan security and defence forces. Such experienced mentor will increase Afghan’s pilot self-esteem when flying during night, using the night vision devices, while ensuring close air support, so essential for troops in the field. It is not clear how ground troops, the aircraft and target’s notation will coordinate, given that the Afghan Army does not have Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTAC) members. Prince says that there are simpler methods than using JTAC.

Prince states that having such a reduced impression and unconventional approach, they would get better results and the Afghan Army could become self-tenable. This goes against the model the American Army often tries to implement, which is retorting itself, creating untenable financial armed forces that have no great logistic impression. PSMC Blackwater was, for years, says Prince, responsible with operationalizing the Afghan border Police, by training thousands of its members. This is the proposal of private American security and military company’s founder, however, on a larger scale and on longer time, wherein Blackwater’s employees to work for the Afghan Defence Minister.

He also thinks that the security services provision contract should be signed between the Afghan Government (not clear who would have to invest in it, Afghanistan or the US), as beneficiary and PSMC as services provider, if they want to “Afghanize “the Afghanistan war (the Afghan security and defence forces would take all the security and defence guarantee responsibilities).

PSMC’s actions’ responsibilities and monitoring, the greatest issue that concerns the international community, will be made similarly with the United States Code of Military Justice- UCMJ, along with investigators cells, attorneys and militaries dislocated in Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital. They will manage all the possible allegations on humanitarian international right or human’s fundamental rights breach by any of the contractors. Prince was counselled, for this issue, by a former CIA general adviser.

The supposed American troop’s gradual withdrawal from Afghanistan (and, implicitly, international financial contribution’s decrease) would be a great opportunity for PSMC, which wants to make money by offering cheaper security services. This is the reason why business men like Price are trying to convince the international community that such solutions are the only feasible options that will help countries like Afghanistan to protect its citizens in a tenable manner.

And they think they need the support of private security and military companies to ensure critical infrastructure and citizens’ security protection, by creating a stable security environment and make people get their jobs back and investors make investments with rewarding profits. Prince has also listed some failed military interventions and solutions in countries like Somalia, Libya or Afghanistan.

Economically speaking, such solutions seem more flexible and effective, however, considering the complexity of such issues, like context and entities’ number and actors involved in ensuring state’s security, they must consider some necessary actions in diplomacy, information, military and economic fields, so that they can get the expected effects in political, military, economic, social, infrastructure and intelligence fields, that would contribute to security situation’s stabilization.

The Afghan Government, as main beneficiary of a possible military and security services provision contract, would have to find the solution because, eventually, it would be the one to pay for it. This is also the role of international donors or main strategic “investors”, like the International states coalition, NATO or US which, indeed, have certain expectations. Only the US has spent, in the Afghanistan war, for the last 18 years, more than $1,5 trillion.

In order to operate in Afghanistan, PSMC must have a legal basis. For the US or NATO presence, the Afghan Government has signed a Bilateral Security Agreement, respectively a SOFA Agreement (Status of Forces Agreements). As I was writing in a previous article, according to the effective NATO SOFA, “Afghanistan has the right to use its jurisdiction over NATO contractors and their employees”.

Even if the former Secretary of Defence, James Mattis, who was firmly opposing Prince’s idea, left his position, and Blackwater’s founder’s chances to advance his ideas in front of the White House have increased, he will still find it impossible to go through Afghan Government’s strong opposition. In 2018’s autumn, after President Ghani rejected, many times, war “privatization” idea, the Afghan National Security Council was stating that it will consider all the legal options to oppose those aiming at privatizing the war in Afghanistan. “The Afghan people and Government will not allow, under no circumstance, for the fight against terrorism to become a private profit business.”

Such a project, as Prince calls it, to “rationalize Afghanistan’s war end effort”, or any other war, eases the change, an change brings uncertainty and risks, both involving the inclusion of new foreign, uncontrollable, unregulated, unmonitored actors, PSMC contractors, in this complex security equation. This will not but increase international community’s concerns on issuing private military and security companies licenses to participate in actions wherein military operation are developed.

As businesses related to security services provision, on an international market, seem to be profitable, entrepreneurs’ pressure over political decision makers will increase and, we cannot but think of witnessing some favorable decisions, after the regulation, through international or bilateral treaties for PSMC’s contractors’ activities, on using such actors, by states which will transfer them the security and defence competences, responsibilities and tasks. The condition will be for the policymakers to conclude that the future benefits will be bigger than the implicit costs and risks.

For now, when talking about Afghanistan, there are no major changes in US Administration or NATO’s policy in terms of the partnership and support given to Afghan security and defence forces. In the meantime, peace discussion between the main actors are continuing, although the Taliban group has just announced the start of a new spring offensive campaign.

Given these circumstances, we cannot predict on whether the actions made to externalize the training, counseling and assistance missions of the Afghan defence and security forces to private contractors will actually have short-term results or not.

Translated by Andreea Soare