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Mercenaries and the privatization of war

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Submitted by George Callaghan…

Mercenaries are nothing new. They have been around as long as warfare itself. Until the 19th century mercenaries were commonplace. However, in the late 1800s countries started to outlaw mercenaries and to forbid their citizens from going to join mercenary units abroad. Despite legislation against mercenaries they still thrive. The plague of mercenary activity is felt across Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and in various African countries.

In the 1960s most African countries became independent. However, Africa was wracked by civil wars and coups d’etat. These were mostly due to mercenary activity. The 5 Commando, Sandline International and Executive Outcomes were some of the mercenary outfits that were responsible for these wars.

The mercenaries who wreaked havoc in Africa came from France, Belgium, Ireland, the United Kingdom, West Germany, South Africa, the United States and Israel. The mercenaries were whites in most cases. Even the African mercenaries were usually African whites from Zimbabwe or the Republic of South Africa.

In 1960 the Congo became independent from Belgium. King Baodouin I was there at the handover ceremony in Leopoldville. The King of the Belgians delivered an oration which would nauseate any fair-minded person. His Majesty said that the Congo owed so much to King Leopold II who has established the Congo Free State. Leopold II was notorious even among colonial rulers for rapacity, savagery and sadism. The most conservative estimate of the number of people killed by King Leopold’s men is one million. The idea that this king should be thanked for what he did to the Congolese people is beyond comprehension.

Patrice Lumumba was the newly appointed Prime Minister of the Congo. Mr Lumumba stood up to reply to the speech of the King of the Belgians.  The prime minister’s speech was an oratorical earthquake. He told it how it was. The independence of the Congo was won by struggle. He said that the Congolese had experienced mockery morning, noon and night. Lumumba lamented the starvation wages paid to labourers. He also recalled how many Congolese had been shot dead. The Belgian delegation was so incensed that they considered walking out. Some Congolese politicians had read a draft of the PM’s speech and counselled him against reading aloud such an inflammatory statement. In the end Lumumba paid with his life for this speech.

Ten days after Congolese independence the army (la Force Publique) had mutinied against its white Belgian officers. The country, artificially patched together by the Belgians, rapidly fell apart. Chaos and civil war ensued. This was not due to the ineptitude of Lumumba. It was through the machinations of the Belgians and the United States. It is true that Lumumba made some missteps. He was 35 years old and had no political experience whatsoever. It was an enormously complex, fast moving and difficult situation that would have taxed the skills of even the most seasoned politician. The resource rich Katanga Province seceded from the Congo. Lumumba refused to recognize this. The Katanga breakaway was sponsored by the Belgians and Langley Farm.

Patrice Lumumba was eventually abducted by rebels. The last image of him alive shows a man of extraordinary dignity with his hands bound behind his back. Valiant and truculent to the end – he was lead off to a lonely death in the woods. This man later had a university named in his honour in Moscow.

Over the next tumultuous few years in the Congo troops from the United Nations were sent to the country. Irish soldiers arrived to try to provide peace and security. The Irish soldiers were attacked and killed by US backed rebels. So much for America’s friendship for Ireland.

Mercenaries poured into the Congo.  French and Belgian mercenaries arrived in the country. Jean Schramme was one of the Belgian mercenary commanders. They were battling for Katangan sovereignty. Les affreux – as his rabble army was know – were noted for their slatternly and unkempt appearance. In those days France, Belgium and most western countries had compulsory military service. These mercenaries were all ex-soldiers. Some of them had fought in the French Army or the French Foreign Legion in Algeria. Smarting from their defeat at the hands of the FLN they wanted to defeat another group of African nationalists.

The Congo became a Cold War battlefield. The Soviets backed socialist and nationalist elements. The United States and Belgium supported Congolese anti-communists who were willing to accept white mastery. Che Guevara fought there on the side of the communists. It was a defeat for him.

Among the mercenaries in the Congo in the 1960s was the 5 Commando. This was mainly made up of British, South African, Italian and German men. How did these men come to be mercenaries? They had left the army and were jobless in some cases. In others they had jobs but being a mercenary was better paid. A few were so messed up by war that they could do nothing else but fight.  Some of these men were jailbirds and criminals on the run. More than a few genuinely delighted in killing. This was like an army but without any rules of engagement. Mike Hoare led his ragtag unit of cut throats and desperados into a country of largely defenceless people.

5 Brigade was led by Mike Hoare. I blush to mention that he was Irish. Hoare was born in Calcutta, India the son of a river pilot. He was schooled in England and was training to be an accountant when the Second World War broke out. Michael Hoare abandoned his accountancy articles and volunteered for the colours. He served in the London Irish Regiment. After 1945 he emigrated to South Africa. Lawful discrimination against the black majority bothered him not one whit. He is 5’7’’ and slight. Perhaps his ultra violence is a case of small man syndrome.

Hoare’s men were brutally effective. The East Germans assisted the socialists in the Congo. East German radio dubbed Hoare ‘the mad jackal.’ Soon the soubriquet ‘Mad Mike’ stuck. There is no question about his sanity. However, in some regards this man was a psychopath. He was totally unmoved by death. The deaths of people around him whether his men or his enemies did not move him at all. Hoare had no compunction about slaying unarmed people.

If you want to know more about Mad Mike he published an autobiography called Congo Mercenary. See ‘Addio Africa’. This documentary shows Mad Mike and his men. It also shows gruesome scenes of them killing unarmed black people. Some of 5 Commando collected human skulls. They also had a a homo sapiens’ cranium attached to the bonnet on their jeep. If black people did this they would be called barbarians. But whites from highly developed country engaged in such macabre conduct and the world does not round on them for their uncivilized conduct.

Hoare and his crew merrily plundered the Congo. On arriving back in South Africa he told journalists that he disliked African nationalists and communists – he dubbed them animals. He boasted how many thousands he had killed and only wished he had accounted for more.

In fairness Hoare’s enemies were not always good. They too sometimes killed civilians.

In 1980 Hoare and his men attempted to overthrow the Government of the Seychelles. They wanted to install a government that would be a puppet of Pretoria. The effort went awry. Hoare and his gang hijacked a plane to escape. He only served a short sentence for their terrorism. Why was he not deported?

The Biafran Conflict 1967-70 was also exacerbated by mercenaries. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed in that conflict. Had it not been for mercenaries the bloodletting would have come to an end sooner.

Bob Denard was one of the most notorious francophone mercenaries. His condittieri wreaked mayhem across Africa. For a time Denard and his chums fought in Zimbabwe (Rhodesia). They were fighting to deprive the black majority of equality. Denard overthrew the government of the Comoros Islands on a few occasions. He used the Frederick Forsyth novel The Dogs of War as a manual. Despite his numerous crimes he spent very little time in prison.

In 1994 South Africa became democratic. It is surprising that Hoare was not extradited to the Congo to stand trial. At the age of 100 he is still alive. There is no justice.

South Africa operated a system of legally mandated racial segregation until 1994. This overtly racist dispensation was called ‘apartheid’ meaning ‘apartness’ in the Afrikaans language. The white minority virtually monopolized political control and the economic resources of the country. Apartheid met with the enthusiastic approbation of white supremacists in the United States, the UK, France and elsewhere.

A mercenary is sometimes known euphemistically as a ‘soldier of fortune’. A magazine in the United States has a title as bold as brass Soldier of Fortune. Soldier of Fortune used to advertise jobs for mercenaries. In spite of such a brazen breach of international law the US Government did nothing to stop it. Why was it and is it that these illegal organisations and their criminal activities can be found under the nose of the US Government? It is because the mercenaries have a more than sympathetic relationship with the US Government. Mercenaries are helpful to the CIA, FBI, NSA, Homeland Security and the US military.

Mercenaries who fought in Africa and elsewhere were not always fighting on the unrighteous side. However, they were motivated by lucre. Even if they fought for the lawful government they were doing so for money and not out of conviction. They could easily have been bought. If offered enough cash these men would have turned their coats.

In the 1970s Angola was in the throes of a horrific civil war.  The Government of Angola was run by a party called the MPLA. It was communist and Soviet aligned. The US refused to recognize it. The US and South Africa backed UNITA rebels. Some British mercenaries fought for UNITA. Some were taken prisoner and a few were executed.

In the 1990s the United States recognized the Government of Angola. UNITA carried on battling. Some of the South Africans who had fought for UNITA changed sides and fought for the Angolan Government.

Simon Mann is Britain’s most notorious mercenary of recent times.  Mann is as well-connected as they come. His father and grandfather captained the Eton cricket team. He was schooled at Eton before being commissioned into the Scots Guards. Despite being in the SAS Mann decided he was better off as a gun for hire. He was in Angola fighting for the government. He was commissioned as an officer in the Angloan Army. In that sense he was not a mercenary in that conflict since he fought for a lawful government.

In 2004 Mann and others plotted to oust the President of Equatorial Guinea. The golpo de estado was planned because these dogs of war wanted to seize the country’ enormous oil reserves. Sir Mark Thatcher – son of Margaret Thatcher – was the brains behind the operation. Many of Mann’s confreres were apartheied era South African ex-soldiers. Mann recounts this in his autobiography Cry Havoc! He wrote that the United States, Spain and other countries gave him the green late to carry out his illegal mission. The Central Intelligence Organization (CIO) in Zimbabwe caught wind of all this. Mann and his gang touched down in Harare en route to Equatorial Guinea. In Harare the conspirators were all arrested. The caper had been financed by a Briton named Eli Calil.

Wars are never pleasant. It goes without saying that they necessarily involve killing people. There can be such a thing as civilized warfare where soldiers strive to avoid harming civilians. Soldiers can even treat the enemy decently – according POWs their rights under international law. An army can also avoid killing more enemy troops than are necessary to achieve victory. It is doubtful that in any war that either army has observed these rules with perfect correctitude. However, some armies in particular conflict have been fairly good at abiding by these laws. Rommel said the war in the Western Desert was krieg ohne hasse – war without hate. War can never be agreeable to any decent person. But wars do not have to be undiscriminating and unduly savage. The killing can be limited and unnecessary suffering does not have to be inflicted on civilians.

The breakup of Yugoslavia saw the participation of numerous mercenaries. Many British ex-soldiers fought there. PMCs did not cause the conflict but they aggravated it. The more combatants the more killing. It stands to reason.

PMCs have been involved in Papua New Guinea, Rwanda and Sierra Leone. They have returned to Nigeria in recent years. Sometimes they have been hired by governments. That does not guarantee that all they do is legal or moral.

The Geneva Convention states that mercenaries are not soldiers. They are not to be accorded the same rights as prisoners of war. Mercenaries are criminals. Their killings are necessarily unlawful and premeditated. Therefore, it is murder.

America’s adventures in the Middle East have involved and increasing number of mercenaries. The mercenary organisations call themselves private military companies (PMCs). The name fools no one least of all the US Government that hires them.

In the past 30 years or so we have witnessed the increasing privatization of war. Private Military Companies (PMCs) have been founded. These PMCs have been hired by the US Government and other governments to fight in Iraq and elsewhere. BlackWater is one of these PMCs and it was deeply involved in Iraq. BlackWater was founded by Erik Prince. He said ‘PMCs are as American as Thanksgiving.’

They are to be found in Yemen, Syria and off the coast of Somalia. DynCorp is one of these PMCs. US military officers sometimes complained that PMCs would kill people willy nilly because they had few if any legal or ethnic scruples. The problems caused by the PMCs would be left to the US military to resolve.

PMCs say they ‘provide security’. They pretend to simply train troops. They do provide training but they also fight. PMC people do not always belong to the country that hires them. For example, the US hires more PMC personnel than any other country. The majority of PMC people hired by the US are not American.

The notion that PMCs simply offer security is nonsense. Any soldier will tell you that the best form of defence is attack. If PMCs know that someone is coming to kill them they would rather seize the initiative and pre-empt the enemy. They will attack the enemy. The distinction between defence and attack is largely non-existent.

PMCs are very handsomely remunerated. Why do governments pay so much to PMCs when soldiers are much cheaper? It is partly because PMCs are expendable. They do not show up on the return of the killed. They are deniable too. While the cost per day is high the government does not have to train them or pay pensions or for any medical care. Eric Prince had the impudence to suggest that the US Government should privatise the Afghan Conflict entirely.

Conventional armies find it ever more difficult to recruit. Armies have even more of a headache retaining seasoned soldiers. The talented and accomplished soldiers are minded to leave armies, navies, air forces and marine corps. This is because they can earn several times more in a PMC. This means that war is outsourced to PMCs. Conventional militaries lack the personnel to fight even if they wish to.

You might wonder why PMCs matter. What difference does it make if a soldier or a mercenary does the killing? A soldier is trained to be disciplined. He is accountable. There is a chain of command. PMC contractors are often untraceable. They are seldom if ever brought to book for crimes. A war zone is often a legal No Man’s Land at the best of times. The rise of the PMC has made that situation even more intractable than it was previously.

The use of contractors reduces governmental control. It leaves the public in the dark. Who is fighting whom on behalf of whom? The public has a right to know. War is getting murkier. Undeclared wars are being fought by those with undeclared agendas. Such wars then become impossible to halt. PMCs have a vested interest in perpetuating war. Because we do not know who the actors are or what their goals are peace becomes even more difficult to achieve than it used to be.

Military contractors are no longer mostly recruited from Western countries. They are recruited from Nicaragua, Honduras, the Philippines and numerous other countries.

The situation is getting worse. Decades ago there was 1 PM contractor for every 50 soldiers. Now it is 1 PMC for 10 soldiers. Who will have the guts to take a stand?

How is a PMC different from a terrorist organization? There is no easy answer. What is a PMC was hired by ISIS or Al Qa’eda?

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Daniel Christof

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