UPDATE 9.15.23: Erik Prince recently joined The Aussie Wire podcast to discuss the war in Ukraine and how that might affect the future of China and Taiwan.
UPDATE 7.11.23: Erik Prince pioneered what has become the modern military contractor/mercenary system, and now there are a number of large companies that emulate what he created, including Academi, which is what remains of Blackwater after acquisitions. Outlook details the world’s top five largest mercenary armies:
Following the Wagner row in Russia, we look at a few of the world’s most infamous private military contractors and elite mercenaries.
1. Wagner Group
Termed “little green men”, the Wagner group came into prominence in 2014 when Russia invaded Crimea. Unidentified Russian-military-aligned men have become part of the privately-owned military troop that is said to owe its allegiance to the Kremlin. According to a report by Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Wagner is a vehicle the Kremlin uses to recruit, train, and deploy mercenaries, either to fight wars or to provide security and training to friendly regimes. Controlled by Prigozhin, the Wagner has been accused of carrying out human rights abuse in America and Africa, torturing, displacing, and killing civilians.
2. Olive Group
Coming to form in 2001, the Olive Group personalises in protecting oil firms from suicide bombers and attackers in Iraq since 2003. Drawing on the ethos of the UK’s Special Forces, the Olive Group predominantly recruits their staff from ex-SAS (Special Air Service) team and reportedly hire them for large wages. Started by Harry Legge-Burke, who is an ex-Welsh guard, is a member of the International Peace Operations Association, the British Association of Private Security Companies and the Private Security Company Association of Iraq.
Formerly known as the Blackwater, Academi was found in 1996 by ex-US Navy SEAL officer Erik Prince. A private US military group, it was renamed twice — Xe Services in 2009 and Academi in 2011. In 2014, Academi merged with Triple Canopy to form Constellis Holdings after it was acquired by a group of private investors. Blackwater is most known for its notoriety that involved the killing of 17 Iraqi citizens in the Nisour Square massacre in Baghdad. Besides, the group, which boasts an Army of 20,000 men and a base in North Carolina, has been also embroiled in several other controversies that involve violation of human rights.
4. G4S Security
The second-largest private employer of security behind Walmart and Foxconn, G4S is the biggest private military group in the world, that has around 6,20,000 employees. It boasts of operations in over 120 countries and is three-time the size of the British Army. It provides routine support to airport security, nighttime patrolling, and so on and does not involve heavy combat. According to a report in Business Insider, in 2008, G4S swallowed up Armorgroup, whose 9,000-strong army of guards protected about one-third of all non-military supply convoys in Iraq.
Einys is a private firm based out of the United Kingdom and has been in operation since the beginning of the Iraq War. One of the primary tasks of the firm is to guard the oil pipelines and energy assets in over 280 countries globally, mainly in post-war Iraq. In its fair share of controversy, Erinys was accused of killing of an American soldier and torturing prisoners in custody. The group also maintains a presence in Africa, where it has traditionally focused its operations.
UPDATE 7.5.23: With the recent rebellion against Russia by Wagner PMC, a military contractor in the same vein as Blackwater, there have been many comparisons between the two businesses. At The Siasat Daily, Abhijit Sen Gupta wonders if private military companies will emerge elsewhere, writing (abridged):
Nowadays the media is full of the news of the private army known as the Wagner Group which almost pulled off a coup in Russia. But in India we are no strangers to the concept of private armies. India was conquered and overrun by the largest and most successful private army ever assembled, namely the East India Company’s troops.
The East India Company seized control over vast tracts of the Indian subcontinent, parts of South East Asia and also Hong Kong. When it was at its peak, the company was the largest corporation in the world and had its own armed forces. Author William Dalrymple has written that the EIC had under its command, three Presidency Armies totalling about 260,000 soldiers, which was twice the size of the British army of the time.
In modern times, the USA has several such private army contractors. One of them is now called Academi. It was earlier known as Blackwater Company. It was started by a former US Navy SEAL officer named Erik Prince.
In 2007, Blackwater became notorious throughout the world when it shot dead 17 Iraqi civilians and injured 20 in Baghdad. The killers were convicted in the United States but later pardoned by President Donald Trump. Had they belonged to any other country, the USA would have been the first to brand them as terrorists.
Four years ago, an article published by the National Defence University, based in Washington DC stated: “Mercenaries are more powerful than experts realize. Private militaries such as the Wagner Group are more heavily armed than the US Marine Corps. Their employees are recruited from different countries, and profitability is everything.”
Since the ‘War on Terror’ began in 2001, billions of dollars have been made by men who organised private military and companies. Despite the size of this industry, the entire business is very secretive. Men trained in subterfuge and counter-intelligence dominate this field. This industry operates from the shadows. In Iraq, mercenary soldiers created havoc among the civilian population.
Britain leads the world in providing armed contractors to ‘hot spots’ around the world. Some of their biggest clients are governments. Since 2004, the British government has spent 50 million pounds every year on mercenaries. The soldiers at the lowest level earn up to 10,000 dollars per month.
In short, the ownership and organisation of private armies have become a very profitable business. So, we may see more operations similar to Wagner Group’s onslaught in the future, perhaps even in India.
UPDATE 3.22.22: Erik Prince has become known for his outside-the-box thinking on waging war, and had a plan to stop Russia’s invasion of Ukraine before it even began. Unfortunately, the Biden administration seemed more interested in the war going forward than in discouraging it. Here Prince explains his plan to Tucker Carlson.
Erik Prince, founder of Blackwater and author of Civilian Warriors, graduated from Hillsdale College, writes Nathan Prigmore. Prince suggested in his book that the Pentagon’s budget could be cut by 40%. After working with the U.S. government on over one hundred thousand missions, Prince and Blackwater were scapegoated for failures of the Iraq war. Prigmore writes (abridged):
Erik Prince graduated from Hillsdale College in 1992, and after college, he joined the Navy and the U.S. Navy SEALs.
After his service, he founded Blackwater, one of the most successful private security contractor organizations in history, and today he continues to pursue similar work across the globe.
Prince began his higher education with a brief tri-semester stint at the Naval Academy, but after his freshman year He decided to transfer to Hillsdale College, and he attributes much of his business and personal success to what he learned after transferring to Hillsdale.
“The economic and business education, even the politics side, gave me the ability to analyze economies, trends, and societies, to figure out what makes people upset, and what people will fight for,” Prince said.
The College’s celebration of free-market principles appealed to Prince, culminating in an Economics major and Political Science minor. He enjoyed reading about the Austrians and their passion for limited government intervention.
Prince took the Foundations of the American Government course, similar to the Constitution 101 course that the college currently offers. “He knew a lot about politics coming in,” politics professor Mickey Craig said, who had Prince as a student. “Erik had a good sense of humor, but a serious purpose in life.”
Former Hillsdale College professor Alexander Stromas inspired Prince after he learned that Stromas was a Lithuanian exile during the Cold War. Stromas appealed even more to Prince after he learned that he also went to law school with Mikhail Gorbachev.
Read more here.
Blackwater’s Erik Prince: Iraq, privatising wars, and Trump | Head to Head
Originally posted on July 15, 2019.
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