Kelley Beaucar Vlahos, writing at The American Conservative, tells readers about the fast moving scene for mercenaries and contractors in the Middle East.
Not unlike the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq—where private military contractors fed, trained, equipped, and protected U.S. military forces “on the ground” in unprecedented numbers—an escalation of hired security forces in a hot spot like Syria would likely boost the presence of U.S. “boots” without causing the political heartburn of putting more actual soldiers and Marines in harm’s way.
“I don’t know if there are any contractors in Syria but I suspect there are a lot. We just can’t sustain military operations today without the private sector. We are strategically dependent on the private sector,” said author Sean McFate, also an Army special-forces veteran and assistant professor at the National Defense University.
If recent history is any indication, as the footprint grows, so will the private shadow army, said McFate. His book, The Modern Mercenary: Private Armies and What they Mean for World Order, argues that a global industry has been unleashed by the American reliance on the hired guns overseas since 9/11. It is unstoppable, partly because militaries like the U.S.’s have become so dependent on it. Private contractors also offer a cloak of deniability, and frankly, the ability to operate outside of institutional laws and boundaries.
“There is no oversight, no tracking mechanisms,” said McFate. “Obama pledged to hold this industry accountable, and did nothing about it—the lack of response is a story in itself.” Meanwhile, McFate likes to describe it as a largely unregulated, Wild West atmosphere in which soldiers of fortune for both Uncle Sam and private corporations protecting interests intermingle in hot zones like Iraq.
“We have contractors and mercenaries all over Northern Iraq, operating out of Erbil, some doing oil protection, others training with Peshmerga, some are basically adventurists trying to do their own thing out there,” McFate said. “Erbil is sort of like that bar in Star Wars, the Mos Eisley Cantina; it’s on the edge of civilization, it’s full of weird people, and a lot of them are armed.”