“Close Combat Privatization”
LTC David M. Barnes
“outsourcing” or contracting) is not a new concept to our military. We have outsourced many of our requirements,
especially in the logistics area. In the
last few decades, however, the Army has grown increasingly reliant on
privatization. From deployments to
But, what if there
was an incident at the post gate one morning, an incident where one of these
civilian guards would have to use deadly force?
Would it be legal? I would imagine
that the government has thought through this type of scenario and has found or
established the appropriate legal grounds.
Now consider the same incident in some foreign land—
In this paper, I will attempt to highlight some of the grey areas concerning armed contractors that a commander needs to understand. (However, I’ll leave the discussion of privatization and the military at large for others to debate.) After a brief discussion of who these armed privatized security entities are, I will focus on issues at the tactical level that the ground-owning commander needs to consider. Finally, I will discuss some of the legal and moral aspects that could affect operations or have strategic implications. These privatized military firms (PMFs) are working side-by side with our soldiers and are also often moving from one AO to another without reporting to these commanders. Yet, as we continue the long struggle against terrorism, these same PMFs will continue to provide an integral part of our efforts.
Who are these Armed Men?
In Iraq, “[more] than 60 firms currently employ more
than 20,000 private personnel there to carry out military functions (these
figures do not include the thousands more that provide nonmilitary
reconstruction and oil services)—roughly the same number as are provided by all
of the United States' coalition partners combined.” This startling number raises a fundamental
question: Why are they there? The 2003
Government Accounting Office (GAO) report on military contracting lists three
responses: “to gain specialized
technical skills, bypass limits on military personnel that can be deployed to
certain regions, and ensure that scarce resources are available for other
assignments.”  For the commander there in
“Wait,” one may be saying, “what is the difference between these armed civilians and mercenaries?” Both are armed; both work for money. P.W. Singer, Olin Fellow at the Brookings Institute, provides a good discussion of the differences in his book, Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry. Certainly, the modern security firms have some similarities and can even trace their lineage back through history as mercenary operations. Even some common business terms used today such as “company” and “freelance” could be traced to military ventures for hire. Nevertheless, Singer says, they are distinct. He states that PMFs unlike mercenaries (1) are organized in corporate form, (2) are “driven by business profit rather than individual profit,” and (3) are operating and competing on the “open global market.”
Furthermore, PMFs can be further divided into three categories: Military Support Firms, Military Consultant Firms, and Military Provider Firms. The lines between these categories are often blurred as companies and their contracts cross categories, but I will focus on the third category—Military Provider Firms—ones who provide armed contractors in the field.
“Welcome to the Green Zone!”
Off the top of my head, I can recall at least eight distinct armed PMFs working in and around the Green Zone, and this number does not include those peshmerga and other security forces hired by Iraqi and other entities. These PMFs performed a number of tasks, from guarding the entrances to different compounds and escorting convoys to conducting personal security detachments (PSDs). What is interesting is that none of them reported to my boss, the ground-owning commander, nor his boss, nor his boss’ boss. These PMFs worked for whomever they were contracted. Some were in fact employed by our government. For example, they provided PSD to key Department of State or Defense Department personnel; others, however, were hired by private corporations for protection. Singer writes,
An estimated 6,000 non-Iraqi private
contractors currently carry out armed tactical functions in the country. These
individuals are sometimes described as "security guards," but they
are a far cry from the rent-a-cops who troll the food courts of
This phenomenon of armed PMFs is
not Iraq-exclusive. Armed PMFs are working around the globe, including in
However, not even the CPA exercised full control over these PMFs. Twice a month CPA staffers held a PMF coordination meeting to discuss policy, deconflict issues and discuss mutually important issues such as quick reaction forces. These meetings and building informal relationships between the PMFs and the military became essential to deconflict battlespace and missions. For example, one requirement was to coordinate efforts of the civilian PSD, military escorts, and military quick reaction forces from a different unit.
An example where miscommunication and a lack of trust could have had tragic consequences was with the employment of snipers. My unit had employed snipers atop a prominent building to overwatch approaches into a vitally important Entry Control Point (ECP). Coincidently, a VIP convoy planned to move through the area, and its PMF PSD has emplaced a sniper on the same building. The soldiers and the contracted sniper had the wherewithal to coordinate their efforts, but if my soldier’s engagement criteria were different (and they were) from the PMF sniper, there obviously could be issues. He did not know my control measures and was not operating on our frequencies. Fortunately, in this example, the convoy passed without incident, and we were able to emplace some coordination and communication measures between the unit and the PMF for future operations.
“Perceived Relative Deprivation”
Apart from command
and control coordination, commanders need to become more aware of another
issue, especially when retention of good soldiers has become even more
important. Deborah Avant notes in her
article that “News reports on the war in
Consider the British SAS. The SAS is having to revert to some unusual recruiting techniques to keep its ranks full because so many of its soldiers are finding employment elsewhere in PMFs. Some sources even allege that there are more former SAS in Iraq working in these security firms than in the active SAS in British Army, and reports of soldiers asking for leaves of absences to work in Iraq is increasing.
Having this talent in a PMF does increase its competency and credibility among military and government planners, which in turn helps their bottom line. One might argue that this is another reason to maintain the tax-free bonuses while deployed. Regardless, the lure of money is something else our retention NCOs and commanders need to take into account.
“Why did you shoot my car?”
In early 2004, if
coalition forces damaged an Iraqi’s property, the Iraqi could file a claim with
the district council. However, in the
quoted incident above, it was not coalition forces that fired on this man’s
car. It was a PMF convoy that appeared
to have fired on the car to keep the Iraqi away from the convoy. I raise this example not to point out that
particular PMF’s behavior, as we were operating under a similar SOP for a while
(which was eventually phased out by Multi-national Corps-Iraq (MNC-I)). Rather, it raises another, more important issue:
the legal status of these armed PMFs.
According to the Laws of Land Warfare, combatants are allotted certain
privileges that correspond to their responsibilities during war. In turn, non-combatants are immune from
deliberate targeting but must refrain from bearing arms. There have long been debates over the
relativeness of non-combatant immunity for factory workers who make the bombs
or planes or ball bearings. Even civilians residing in
It seems unreasonable, though, to conclude that these PMF employees are non-combatants; they openly carry and use arms. (Of course, one may argue that the other, unarmed PMFs are non-combatants; this argument is not conclusive, however, and is beyond the scope of this paper.) Yet, it also seems an untenable argument to call these armed PMFs “combatants” as we would the soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen.
The problem becomes even murkier if these armed individuals are captured. As a combatant, we in the military are to be treated according to the Geneva Conventions as POWs. A POW has certain rights; an illegal combatant has none. At best, an illegal combatant would be classified as a criminal then be subject to the criminal system. There are no agreed upon, international conventions to cover these new, armed PMFs; the laws governing mercenaries do not apply. Therefore, their legal status remains uncertain. Recall the opening discussion about the Blackwater employees killed in Fallujah. If captured and somehow brought to an international court, what would be the outcome?
This unclear distinction is further exacerbated because enemies (and civilians alike) do not distinguish between the military in uniform and the armed PMFs in civilian clothes. Often military personnel wear civilian clothes to blend with the population; similarly, many contractors wear uniforms in the performance of their jobs. The Iraqi gentleman did not care whether a soldier or a contractor shot his car; he wanted recompense.
“You can’t court martial a private military contractor.”
Beyond the legal
ambiguity concerning combatant status, there seems little agreement as to whom
these armed PMF employees are responsible.
Certainly, there is a contractual arrangement that is monetarily- and
employment-binding; however, if and when some of them are involved in crimes or
misconduct, there doesn’t seem to be an overarching legal authority to
prosecute or punish. In
…security company activity falls
outside the purview of the 1989 U.N. Convention on Mercenaries, which governs
only such egregious soldier-of-fortune activities as overthrowing a government.
Human rights law generally binds only states, reducing the formal legal
responsibilities of contractors. For example, when personnel from the
Three years have
past since the Iraqi invasion, and there are beginning to be signs of similar
issues. Until July 2004, contractors in
In addition, there was another armed contractor incident in Fallujah. U.S. Marines detained sixteen Zapata Engineering contractors who had supposedly fired upon unarmed Iraqis and the Marines themselves. After their detention, stories began to appear of potential detainee abuse; these stories further complicated the differing perceptions of the events leading up to the incident. The Naval Criminal Investigative Service conducted an investigation, and each of the Zapata detainees was given a memo barring them from working in the Al Anbar province.
Although it is clear that these incidents are isolated, and the fact that some soldiers have been found guilty of similar allegations, it does not eliminate the potential conflict and disturbance these types of incidences could have in a unit’s AO. Marine Col. John Toolan sums this tension well in an interview with PBS’s “Frontline:” ‘We have a tendency to want to be a little bit more sure about operating in an environment,’ he said. ‘Whereas I think some of the contractors are motivated by the financial remuneration and the fact that they probably want to get someplace from point A to point B quickly, their tendency [is] to have a little more risk. So yes, we’re at odds. But we can work it out.’” 
“Governments no longer control the primary means of warfare.”
COL. Toolan raises an important point. Even if the armed PMFs in a commander’s AO share the same endstate and even patriotic motivation, they may have differing immediate interests and may have a different approach to the problem at hand. PMFs by their very nature are profit driven. Being focused on the bottom line may not be such a negative raison d’etre. It is the desire to make money and the fear in the long run of losing precious contracts that provides some control over PMF conduct. One can imagine the result if a contractor with the U.S. Government reneges or worse violates their contract to such a degree that the government bans further business dealings with them; the results would be disastrous for the PMF. Nevertheless, there have been broken contracts and conflict of interest in the past.
Stories from the many struggles in Africa highlight these issues. Companies hire one organization, while the government hires another. Rebels seeking to overthrow the government and take over the mines hire their own. Singer highlights that in Eritrea there were former Russian and Ukrainian pilots allegedly flying for both sides. Although they dutifully bombed their respective targets according to their contracts, they evidently refused to engage in aerial combat. Furthermore, Columbian drug cartels were allegedly hiring PMFs.
In a more innocuous example, Canadian military equipment was stuck aboard a privately owned ship returning to port because of a business dispute. Fortunately, the Canadian military was returning home and not deploying for an immediate contingency, and the business conflict was resolved.
These examples may seem farfetched, especially when discussing armed PMFs that are run by former U.S. and coalition military personnel, still loyal to their governments. But, what about third country nationals? Many of the PMFs in Iraq hire local and third country nationals. These same PMFs would need to guarantee the loyalty of these employees, certainly keeping them from ‘sensitive’ environments. They do for the most part, but this is another area for commanders to watch.
Finally, a last issue remains. All of us who have worked for more than one employer have in effect left that former job for one reason or another. What happens when the armed PMF personnel you counted on for an upcoming event also leave for ‘greener pastures?’ Singer highlights this phenomenon: “[PMF]
employees, unlike soldiers, can always choose to walk off the job. Such freedom can leave the military in the lurch, as has occurred several times already in Iraq: during periods of intense violence, numerous private firms delayed, suspended, or ended their operations, placing great stress on U.S. troops. 
A little over one month ago, three U.S. contractors passed their third complete year as hostages in Peru. In February 2003, Keith Stansell, Marc Gonsalves and Thomas Howes were taken captive in Peru by the FARC.  They were employees of Microwave California Inc. of Northrop Grumman. Whether they were involved in counter-drug or counterinsurgency is not the argument here; rather, these PMF employee’s legal status defines their confinement. It is not clear whether they are captured combatants or kidnapped businessmen. What is clear is that the question of their legal status and the arena of international politics have not help resolve their plight and result in their release. Avant highlights this issue and notes, “when the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla group took three U.S. military contractors hostage in 2003 and granted them POW status, the U.S. government still officially designated the contractors as kidnapees.”  So, why should a commander care?
Identifying the legal status of armed PMFs is not the purview of the commander, but it may affect operations. In this paper, I have attempted to identify these armed PMFs; who they are; where they come from; what are their operations. I have highlighted some of the command and control and coordination issues commanders may face and should account for. Even the salary difference has influence over the soldiers. Security concerns remain, and commanders could face soldier discipline issues that fall outside his or her jurisdiction. Furthermore, consequence management and Information Operations responsibilities lie with the commander; but these other armed entities may have other priorities.
As I noted in the Peru example and in others, the role of the armed PMFs is not adequately defined; therefore, the question of the legal status of armed PMFs remains today. So too, does the question of jurisdiction, command and control, as well as conduct responsibility. Some commanders may not have any of these issues with the armed PMFs. Some may encounter each of them. What is certain is that these armed PMFs will be operating in our battlespace, and clear guidance on how we operate together still needs defining.
“Appendix 2: Security Companies Doing Business in Iraq” (Lists 67 companies in Iraq) http://www.basicint.org/pubs/Research/2004PMCapp2.pdf
“Blackwater aids military with armed support.” CNN.com March 31 2004. http://www.sandline.com/hotlinks/CNN-Blackwater.html
“4 From U.S. Killed In Ambush In Iraq; Mob Drags Bodies.” NYTimes.com. 1 April 2004. http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F10C15FD3E5D0C728CDDAD0894DC404482.
“Four civilians killed in Iraq worked for N.C. security firm.” USA Today.com 31 March 2004. http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/iraq/2004-03-31-casualties_x.htm
“Four Triple Canopy Security Professionals Killed in Iraq.” PR Newswire Europe Limited. 7 September 2005. http://www.prnewswire.co.uk/cgi/news/release?id=153066
“The High-Risk Contracting Business.” PBS.org Frontline. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/warriors/
“Loss of Six Blackwater Security Consulting Employees.” 22 April 2005. Joe D. Morton, Acting Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security and Director for the Office of Foreign Missions. Statement to Employees of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security. http://www.state.gov/m/ds/rls/rm/45056.htm
“Minutes: Private Security Company Working Group.” PBS.org http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/warriors/contractors/minutes.html
“Security Companies Doing Business in Iraq.” (lists 28 in Iraq; Curiously several groups missing including Blackwater Security). http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1763.html
“U.S. Demands FARC Release Captured Americans.” PBS.org. 25 February 2003. http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/colombia_02-25-03.html.
“US trio mark 3 years as FARC hostages” 13 February 2006. http://www.tmcnet.com/usubmit/2006/02/13/1368584.htm.
Anscombe, Elizabeth. “War and Murder.” In War and Morality, edited by Richard A. Wasserstrom. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Pub. Co., 1970.
Arun, Neil. “Outsourcing the War.” 2 April 2004. http://www.sandline.com/hotlinks/BBC-Outsourcing.html
Avant, Deborah. “Think Again: Mercenaries.” Foreign Policy. http://www.foreignpolicy.com/story/cms.php?story_id=2577
Corpwatch.org. 9 June 2004. http://www.corpwatch.org/article.php?id=11355Ex-SAS Men Cash in on Iraq Bonanza.”
Porteus, Liza. “'How Do You Like Your Contractor Money?” Fox News.com. 30 June 2005. http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,161261,00.html
Porteus, Liza. “Iraq's New War Zone: American vs. American” Fox News.com. 29 June 2005. http://www.foxnews.com/printer_friendly_story/0,3566,161170,00.html
Scahill, Jeremy. “Blackwater Down” 21 September 2005. The Nation. http://www.thenation.com/doc/20051010/scahill
Singer, P. W. “Corporate Warriors: The Privatized Military and Iraq” 5 December 2005, Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs, transcript of remarks. NYC. http://www.carnegiecouncil.org/printerfriendlymedia.php/prmID/5287?PHPSESSID=89170a32797e6a4010dc0b570f6a561f
Singer, P. W. Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York, 2003.
Singer, P. W. “Outsourcing War” Foreign Affairs, March 1, 2005. http://www.brookings.edu/views/articles/fellows/singer20050301.htm
U. S. Department of the Army, Law of Land Warfare, Field Manual 27-10. 1956.
Walzer, Michael. Just and Unjust Wars. New York: Basic Books, 1977.
West, Bing. No True Glory: A Frontline Account of the Battle for Fallujah. Bantam Books New York, 2005.
White, Josh and Griff Witte. “Tension, Confusion Between Troops, Contractors in Iraq.” Washington Post. 10 July 2005. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/07/09/AR2005070901175.html
 This paper reflects my own views only and neither the Army’s nor any other official policy.
 “4 From
 P.W. Singer,
“Corporate Warriors: The Privatized Military and
Singer, “Outsourcing War” Foreign Affairs,
March 1, 2005,
http://www.brookings.edu/views/articles/fellows/singer20050301.htm. See also Appendix
2: Security Companies Doing Business in
 Deborah Avant, Foreign Policy, “Think Again: Mercenaries.” http://www.foreignpolicy.com/story/cms.php?story_id=2577. I am not going to discuss whether the PMFs are meeting the expectations outlined by the GAO; that discussion is beyond the scope of this paper.
Singer, Corporate Warriors: The Rise of
the Privatized Military Industry,
 Ibid., 24. Singer devotes an entire chapter to the historical rise of PMFs on pp. 19-39.
 Ibid., 45-46.
 Ibid., 63. Singer provides an explanation of these three groupings; see pp, 92-100. He uses the examples of three PMFs for illustration: Executive Outcomes, MPRI, and Brown and Root. See also “Outsourcing,” where Singer writes, “The industry is divided into three basic sectors: military provider firms (also known as "private security firms"), which offer tactical military assistance, including actual combat services, to clients; military consulting firms, which employ retired officers to provide strategic advice and military training; and military support firms, which provide logistics, intelligence, and maintenance services to armed forces, allowing the latter's soldiers to concentrate on combat and reducing their government's need to recruit more troops or call up more reserves.”
 Singer, “Outsourcing.”
 Singer, Corporate Warriors, 17.
 The author participated in many of these private security company working group meetings.
 Author’s conversation with PMF sniper’s supervisors, May 04.
 Avant. Some sources say the difference in salary is even greater, up to 2-10 times. See also Singer, Corporate Warriors, 74 and 270 and “Outsourcing.”
 Singer, Corporate Warriors, 77.
 Singer, “Corporate” remarks transcript. See also Pratap Chatterjee, “Ex-SAS Men Cash in on Iraq Bonanza,” Corpwatch.org, 9 June 2004, http://www.corpwatch.org/article.php?id=11355.
 Asked to author by Iraqi man whose car was shot by automatic fire from a PSD escort. June 2004.
There are too many references on this debate to list. Some excellent sources on this discussion
include Elizabeth Anscombe, “War and Murder.” In War and Morality, edited by Richard A. Wasserstrom.
 Singer, Corporate Warrior, 163.
 Singer, “Corporate” remarks transcript.
 Singer, Corporate Warrior, 218.
 Avant. See also Singer, Corporate Warriors, 222.
Avant. She writes, “Even
 For a good discussion of the impact of the ability to properly control the behavior of PMFs, see Singer “Outsourcing.” He notes, “According to reports, all of the translators and up to half of the interrogators involved were private contractors working for two firms, Titan and caci. The U.S. Army found that contractors were involved in 36 percent of the proven incidents and identified 6 employees as individually culpable. More than a year after the incidents, however, not one of these individuals has been indicted, prosecuted, or punished, even though the U.S. Army has found the time to try the enlisted soldiers involved. Nor has there been any attempt to assess corporate responsibility for the misdeeds.”
Porteus, “'How Do You Like Your Contractor Money?” Fox News.com, 30 June 2005,
http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,161261,00.html. Ms Porteus conducted a four-part series on
tensions between the military and contractors in
 Singer, Corporate Warriors, 55.
 Singer, Corporate Warriors, 158.
 Ibid, 14. See also Singer, “Corporate” remarks transcript.
 Ibid, 160.
 Singer, “Outsourcing.”
 “U.S. Demands FARC Release Captured Americans,” PBS.org, 25 February 2003, http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/colombia_02-25-03.html. See also Singer, Corporate Warriors, 15.