How dangerous are private military entrepreneurs

Company warPrivate military service providers can hardly be regulated

It's ten o'clock in the morning. The "Black 10" regiment of the French Foreign Legion is patrolling the Mali desert. The armored vehicles move in the dangerous border area to the neighboring state of Niger - a retreat for Islamist fighters. Suddenly shots are fired, two men are the shooters. They jump off the motorcycle they were driving in the desert and seek cover.

In the entire West African Sahel zone, Islamist terror groups have massively increased the number of their attacks. In Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso alone, at least 4,800 civilians died last year as a result of terrorist attacks and ethnic violence - ten times as many as in 2014. This is despite the fact that Western states and the United Nations have more than 20,000 fighters in action - including, according to UN figures, an increasing number of private military companies and mercenaries. The French broadcaster France 24 told the Foreign Legionnaire Giacomo what it was about him and his company in the Sahel.

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The entrepreneur Eric Prince wants the US to replace its soldiers with mercenaries in Afghanistan. That, said Prince, would allow the US to leave the region for good.

"We want to be used in combat, not sit in the barracks. Here in Mali, the aim is to fight terrorism so that it does not spread here in France, or in Europe at all. That is the goal."

The Foreign Legion is being phased out

As part of the "Opération Barkhane", the French army has been fighting transnational Islamist terrorism in five West African Sahel countries since August 2014. 5,100 soldiers and mercenaries are deployed for France.

The Foreign Legionaries aim at the two attackers, who succumb to their injuries a little later. The fact that France does not only use its own soldiers in the Sahel is rarely an issue.

Foreign legionaries at the morning roll call in a barracks in France, broadcast by the French broadcaster France 24. The legion's 10,000 fighters today come from around 150 nations. What they have in common is that they like to go to war, that is, they are not afraid of killing, and that they earn money with it. Unlike soldiers, they are paid by a state that is not their home.

Political scientist: return of mercenaries in a new form

The Legion with its classic mercenaries is now a thing of the past. Since the late 1990s, however, a new branch of military and security companies has been booming. Their offer ranges from radar surveillance and espionage flights to front-line operations. Other companies provide more logistical support to the armed forces of numerous countries: with medical care for the troops, in the kitchens and laundries, with supplies of food and ammunition. The political scientist Herfried Münkler sees a return of mercenaries in a new form.

"Firstly, as a capitalist company with a tendency towards shares, which actually meets all business requirements, i.e. private military service providers, for whom it can be said that the USA above all ensures its ability to intervene militarily, from Afghanistan to, above all, Iraq, by drawing on military manpower from everyone Men bought countries. "

Blackwater - controversial security service provider

Martial music lies beneath a video from the US military company "Blackwater": scenes from a fast drive through the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, are cut at high speed. An armored Blackwater vehicle runs over a woman, repeatedly collides with civilian cars, and shoots its way through the heavy traffic. The video was not intended for the public, it leaked and was posted on the Internet by the US magazine "Harper". During the Iraq war, the name Blackwater became synonymous with violence, corruption and lawlessness.

Erik Prince, a former member of a special unit of the US Army, was the company's founder and long-term managing director in 1996. In 2018, Al Jazeera journalist Mehdi Hassan accused him of some of the acts of violence committed by Blackwater fighters in Iraq:

"In 2005, Blackwater workers fired 70 shots at an Iraqi civilian's car. The US State Department was under investigation. In 2006, Blackwater workers savagely fired at a crowd of Iraqi civilians, killing an ambulance driver, among other things. That leaked Defense Department documents emerge In September 2007, Blackwater officials shot and killed at least 14 civilians in what became known as the "Nisour Square Massacre," also known as the "Bloody Sunday of Baghdad." That is it What many people remember when they hear the name "Blackwater" ".

Ex-Blackwater boss argued in terms of self-defense

Erik Prince rejected these allegations again in an interview: The employees of his company at the time had fired in self-defense, shortly before a car bomb had detonated. The massacre became one of the few incidents for which Blackwater employees could later be convicted: in 2015 a US court sentenced four shooters to long prison terms for murder or negligent homicide: life and 30 years in prison. Blackwater was also convicted of several million dollar payments for a number of crimes, including illegal arms sales. Prince defends the military company he founded to this day.

"The company did exactly what the US government asked us to do: protect diplomats and reconstruction workers, members of the United Nations and other delegations. We have carried out more than 100,000 missions and not one of our wards was killed or injured. People keep trying to portray Blackwater as being overly aggressive, but only half a percent of all missions have even fired a shot. "

In response to the scandals in Iraq, the company changed its name several times, most recently in 2011 to "Academi". Prince sold the company in 2010 and founded a new company: The "Frontier Services Group", a security and logistics company based in Hong Kong with a focus on Africa.

Private companies are not required to provide information

Other notorious military companies from the 1990s have long since been named differently, and tens of thousands of new ones are believed to have sprung up around the world. In Afghanistan alone, 30,000 contractors are active, claimed Erik Prince in an interview with Al-Jazeera. In 2004, Sanho Tree from the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington DC said that there was no way of knowing what these companies were actually doing around the world:

"One of the most frustrating things about researching these private military companies like Dyncorps is that they run a government role, they get US taxpayers money. They fly US government-owned aircraft, they use US air bases. They do everything what they're doing on behalf of the people of America. But if you want information from them, they say, oh no, we're a private company, we don't have to talk to them if we don't feel like it. They still appeal not even on national security. It is impossible to get answers. Impossible even for congressmen. "

This is one of the reasons for the continuing boom in these companies, says political scientist Herbert Wulff. He specializes in peace and conflict research.

"The situation is that a lot of governments still want to use these private companies because they can steal a bit out of responsibility. The private companies are used primarily when, for example in the USA or Even in Great Britain, due to the fallen soldiers in wars and conflicts, it is not very popular to deploy these soldiers, or as in the case of Russia, if you want to achieve goals - as in Ukraine, for example - but do not take responsibility for them as a formally responsible government want."

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Russia wants to expand cooperation with Africa. According to observers, mercenaries are also used, for example in Libya, apparently in coordination with President Putin's immediate environment.

Russia is targeting mercenaries in Syria and Africa

A strategy that Russian President Vladimir Putin is also using in Syria and Africa: through the deployment of the private Russian military company "Wagner", among other things, in the oil-rich civil war country of Libya and in the Central African Republic, which is also rich in natural resources. Russia has significantly expanded its open and covert military presence in Africa in recent years. Benno Müchler heads the office of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo:

"In the past four years, Russia has concluded 19 military agreements with various African countries. On the one hand, Russia offers military expertise, i.e. advice on strategies, questions of armaments, questions of military action, but on the other hand also very specific military material. This can range from helicopters to From tanks to models of a Kalashnikov, this could also be the case. "

Russia and Russian military providers are facing strong competition from the West. Whereby their behavior is no more transparent than that of the Russians.

Secret US military operations are outsourced to service providers

In May 2018, recordings of a drone appeared in the US media, which a journalist commented on here. They show an incident from October 2017: US special forces and soldiers from the Nigerien army were ambushed by Islamist fighters in Niger, West Africa. Four US special forces and five Nigerien soldiers were killed. Congress and the Pentagon are investigating. That was the only reason why the strong presence of US forces in the Sahel came to light in the first place. Just like the close ties between the US Army and private military companies. Until then, not even congressmen had known about it. As the Pentagon now reported, the ten US soldiers in Niger were on duty with an "intelligence contractor", a private provider of intelligence information. The Pentagon did not provide any further information about his identity or nationality.

As the drone footage showed, the wounded soldiers were rescued by a Bell 214 civilian helicopter. It belonged to the Erickson security company. Apparently a second transport company called Berry Aviation had also been alerted. It advertises on its website openly with its close ties to the US Army. For Africom alone, the US command for Africa based in Stuttgart, 21 American military service providers work in North Africa and the Sahel. A number of other security and military entrepreneurs also earn their money there. They come from France, Great Britain, Russia and Ukraine, but also from Iraq, Nigeria and Ghana.

More and more often, their clients are not states, but private companies that secure their land, their oil plants or mines for mining, for example. The market is therefore more confusing than ever, despite many years of international efforts to control the use of such security companies and military providers. The goal: to prevent war crimes through possible sanctions, to protect the lives of civilians.

International lawyer: Military service providers would inevitably get involved in fighting

In theory, the situation is not that complicated, says international lawyer Marco Sassòli: "At least the Americans have that as an official policy and standard that these companies should not take part directly in the hostilities. The problem is the interpretation of the term: what is a direct one Participation in the hostilities? Everyone agrees that these companies should not carry out artillery attacks or ground operations. On the other hand, they claim - and this is the business model of these companies, so to speak - that they say: we are not waging war, we are just exercising the right to individual self-defense or self-defense help: if you are attacked, I can defend you too. "

A line that Blackwater already referred to in Iraq to justify the use of military force. Occasionally, however, the objects or persons ordered to protect are legitimate military targets, for example the commander of an army who is protected by a private company. There have actually been such cases. The military service provider is almost inevitably involved in fights. Sassòli has a contradicting attitude towards the private actors in the war.

Private emergency services can hardly be prosecuted legally

"There is a widespread opinion that there shouldn't be such a thing. Well, I'm not entirely convinced that those who do something as a profession do it worse than those who do it out of fanaticism or if they are forced to."

Soldiers killing civilians violate international humanitarian law. They can and should be prosecuted by the military justice of their states. However, this happens far too rarely. One example among many: the Sahel. According to information from human rights organizations and the UN mission MINUSMA, soldiers from the armies of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger are committing more and more crimes against civilians. As a rule, there are no sanctions. In the event that a state remains inactive, there is a second, the international level, says political scientist Herbert Wulff.

"And here many countries are shirking themselves, the more powerful they are, the more they shirked from recognizing the international criminal court. And in the USA this has clearly been the case. Precisely so that the armed forces cannot be brought to account by an international one Court. That is the weakness of international law as we know it to this day, that it is very difficult to enforce on an international level. "

Mercenaries and private military contractors are not subject to military justice, but rather to the civil jurisdiction of their home country. As a result, US courts were able to convict Blackwater workers for crimes in Iraq. But even such proceedings are extremely rare because there is rarely a plaintiff. And because it is difficult for civil judges to unequivocally reconstruct what happened in a conflict abroad.

Private security providers should be certified

There are currently two approaches at international level to regulate the behavior of private providers of violence: A working group of the United Nations has been trying for a long time to come up with a convention that would generally prohibit the use of military service providers. International lawyer Marco Sassòli is skeptical:

"It's the same as with war. War is also forbidden. But I don't believe that a convention and rules of international humanitarian law can eliminate it. And so the question is rather that a regulatory one can be established Must create a framework. "

We are also working on that. An international code of conduct, the so-called Montreux Document, was launched ten years ago on the initiative of Switzerland. Private security providers should certify themselves, commit to certain rules and, if necessary, submit to a complaint procedure. The code involves representatives from the security sector, non-governmental organizations and governments. So far, just under a hundred companies have signed up to the code. This is not the only reason why Sassòli is skeptical:

"A big problem is of course that all these things are very western. The Chinese" Private Military Companies ", which are of great importance in Africa in particular, and the Russian ones in Libya, for example, are of course not included."

International lawyer: A good repute in the interests of security providers

But at least, says Sassòli, something is done at all. And he believes that companies may well have an interest in obeying rules to protect their reputations. In the hope that they will continue to get orders with a good repute, while the armies of several states are committing crimes against their own people with no restraint.