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Just one Guy's personal blog of thoughts & sense--common, non, and otherwise--of the world in which we live.

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Location: Nipomo, Central Coast, California, United States

I also blog over at Nipomo News, Messenger and Advocate and Bloggernacle Times

Sunday, August 14, 2005

America's Mercenary War in Iraq

Today's New York Times Magazine has a riviting article on the the mercenary war being waged over in Iraq, in my name, and in yours. I've been anti Iraqi war from its inception. This article only reaffirms my sentiments.

It chronicles the rise of a real life soldier of fortune company called Triple Canopy, Inc., which provides private security services to none other than the Coalition Provisional Authority, the international body that governed Iraq from April, 2003 to June 30, 2004.

Triple Canopy, started from almost nothing, and now has over 1,000 men in Iraq, and hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. government security contracts for protection of high ranking U.S. and Iraqi personnel. You really need to check out their website, in particular their career's page:

At Triple Canopy we expect top performance and reward top performers. We provide a comprehensive compensation and benefits package so you can focus on achieving your goals and not sweat the small stuff. Full-time employee compensation and benefits include:

  • Competitive Salaries
  • Medical, Dental and Vision Insurance
  • Life and Accidental Death and Disability Insurance
  • Short-Term and Long-Term Disability Insurance
  • 401(k) Retirement Plan
  • Flexible Spending Accounts
    • Health care
    • Dependent Care
  • Employee Assistance Plan (EAP)
  • 15 Days Paid-Time-Off
  • 11 Holidays with 1 Floating Holiday

Triple Canopy is an equal opportunity employer. Applicants receive consideration without regard to race, age, ethnicity, religion, gender, national origin, or other characteristics.

Call me crazy, but you know mercenaries have come along way when they hold themselves out as equal opportunity employers, offer 401k plans, and 15 paid holidays, with one floating!

The article notes that when the U.S. government hired Triple Canopy:

[I]t scarcely existed. Mann and one of his partners, Tom Katis, an old friend from Special Forces, talked after 9/11 about starting a business that might somehow address the threat of terrorism. They thought they might use their military backgrounds to train government agencies in anti-terrorism techniques. On a Special Forces exercise in Central America (both men were, at that point, in the National Guard, Mann having moved on from the regular Army to work as a civil engineer and Katis having graduated from Yale and begun a career in banking), they dreamed of their unborn enterprise under the jungle foliage -- the layered jungle canopy from which they took their name.

They didn't have much else. They were a name, a notion, when they heard about the C.P.A. security work and started bidding for the contracts. With money borrowed from family and friends, they began hiring former Army colleagues on the chance that the company might somehow succeed. They had little but résumés to give them hope. The résumés, though, were impressive. Mann spent six years with the Army's Delta Force, its most selective, most keenly trained and most secretive unit, and he recruited retired Delta operators. He is an irrepressible man with full, close-cropped gray hair, blue eyes and a radiant smile, and as he told me about Triple Canopy's early days, he recalled his disbelief at the men who were drawn to the company. ''He wants to work for me?'' he said he thought, over and over. But his modesty went only so far. ''Rock stars like to work with rock stars,'' he said. The ex-Delta soldiers, heavily decorated and with all kinds of combat and clandestine experience, kept signing on.

''We were the squirrel trying to get a nut,'' Al Buford, an early employee and Delta veteran, remembered about the company's initial prospects for work. And when they were hired to protect well over half of the C.P.A.'s sites in Iraq, and to escort C.P.A. officials along the country's lethal roads, ''we had a whole truckload of nuts dumped down on us.''

So the call went out to Mann's brother-in-law, Ken Rooke. ''I'm a gearhead,'' Rooke told me. ''But we were shooting from the hip on this thing. I never felt competent in what I was doing.''

''With the war going,'' he continued, there were no new armored vehicles to be had. He searched the Internet, made countless calls and bought a set of armored Mercedes sedans that once belonged to the sultan of Brunei before they were rented out to rappers. He replaced the stylish spoke wheels, and he put on run-flat tires, so the vehicles could be driven out of ambushes even after the tires had been blasted by gunfire. He learned how to ship his makeshift fleet to Iraq.

For guns, too, Triple Canopy had to make do. Transporting firearms from the United States required legal documents that the company couldn't wait for; instead, in Iraq, it got Department of Defense permission to visit the dumping grounds of captured enemy munitions. The company took mounds of AK-47's and culled all that were operable.

There are several such private security companies operating in Iraq, and apparently no one, not even the U.S. government really knows how many (is this really any way to run a war?):

The firms employ, in Iraq, a great number of armed men. No one knows the number exactly. In Baghdad in June, in a privately guarded coalition compound in the Green Zone, I talked with Lawrence Peter, a paid advocate for the industry and -- in what he called a ''private-public partnership'' -- a consultant to the Department of Defense on outsourced security. He put the number of armed men around 25,000. (This figure is in addition to some 50,000 to 70,000 unarmed civilians working for American interests in Iraq, the largest percentage by way of Halliburton and its subsidiaries, doing everything from servicing warplanes to driving food trucks to washing dishes.) But the estimates, from industry representatives and the tiny sector of academics who study the issues of privatized war, are so vague that they serve only to confirm the chaos of Iraq and the fact that -- despite an attempt at licensing the firms by the fledgling Iraqi Interior Ministry -- no one is really keeping track of all the businesses that provide squads of soldiers equipped with assault rifles and belt-fed light machine guns. Peter's best guess was that there are 60 companies in all. ''Maybe 80,'' he added quickly, mentioning that there were any number of miniature start-ups. He continued: ''Is it a hundred? Possibly.''

Amazingly, no one seems to know who authorized this type of security outsourcing, or to whom they are responsible. The only thing that is clear, is that fact the United States armed forces could probably not succeed as much as they do without their presence:

Throughout his time as head of the C.P.A., L. Paul Bremer III, whom the insurgency may well have viewed as its highest-value target, was protected by a Triple Canopy competitor, Blackwater USA. Private gunmen, according to Lawrence Peter, are now guarding four U.S. generals. Triple Canopy protects a large military base. And throughout Iraq, the defense of essential military sites like depots of captured munitions has been informally shared by private soldiers and U.S. troops. If the 25,000 figure is accurate, the businesses add about 16 percent to the coalition's total forces.

Yet it is hard to discern who authorized this particular outsourcing as military policy. No open policy debate took place; no executive order was publicly issued. And who is in charge of overseeing these armed men? One thing is sure: they are crucial to the war effort.

The article reviews the history of mercenary warfare, and points out that the practice is certainly not new with the Iraqi war. Yet, the fact that these private security companies have become so prevelant in Iraq support the clearly discernable, but deniable (by the Bush administration) fact that there are simply not enough American forces in Iraq to do the job required to effectively fight this war:

The numbers, at the start of the occupation, were not large. Then, in the second half of 2003, as the C.P.A. expanded its presence across the country in its attempt to rule and rebuild, and as the insurgency mounted, the C.P.A. turned away from the coalition forces, which had been providing a measure of protection, and looked to the companies for safety. Andrew Bearpark, the C.P.A.'s director of operations during that period, explained to me that he was closely and strongly advised by the U.S. military in Iraq -- and financed by the Department of Defense -- to make this move.

Major contracts were put out for bidding. Triple Canopy was awarded its work in January 2004. Other companies received, or already had, their portions. (Meanwhile, the corporations actually doing the rebuilding, the hearts-and-minds element of the American occupation's campaign, were spending up to 25 percent of their U.S. government money on hired protection.) The deployment of private gunmen grew and grew into a profusion that may be explained partly by the subtle shift in perception that had removed some of the old mercenary stigma, and partly by the emphasis on outsourcing that had been gathering momentum in the U.S. military since the early 1990's (but that had been focused on logistical, unarmed support). Most immediately, though, the explosive growth may be explained by the strength of the insurgency in Iraq and by the apparent fact that there weren't enough troops on the ground to fight it.

''Sure, they are performing a military role,'' Garner said of the companies. Then, while noting that he wasn't criticizing the Department of Defense, he added, ''The gut problem is the force'' -- that is, the U.S. fighting force -''is too small.'' And Bearpark, who has lately become a consultant to a large security firm, maintained that private protection might sometimes be better than what a regular army could offer. The private teams are more streamlined and flexible, he argued; they are often better trained for the job; and they may be willing to take more risks, allowing officials to move more freely. But about the fundamental reason for the C.P.A.'s hiring of the companies, he said: ''The military just hadn't provided enough numbers. It was stretched to the limit.''

This stands in stark contrast to the Bush administration's propaganda that there are sufficient ground forces in Iraq to prosecute the war. If that were the case, it is highly unlikely there would be a market for the private security companies mentioned in this article. And, of course the overriding motavating factor for these private security companies is, money:

"Some people will tell you they're here for Mom and apple pie,'' a private security man with another company told me. (He didn't want his or his company's name printed, he said, because neither his colleagues nor the industry in general think kindly of conversations with the media.) ''That's bull. It's the money.''

We sat between low concrete buildings at Triple Canopy's Baghdad base. The roofs are four feet thick and specially layered to absorb major blasts. The base sits within the Green Zone, behind high walls that divide the coalition's vast self-delineated borough from the severe danger of the rest of Baghdad. But the zone, as the people living and working there like to say, is these days less green than almost red: mortars rain in.

The man's company put him up at Triple Canopy's freshly built complex, with its pristine dining hall and ramshackle gym, its guard towers and long shipping container full of ammunition. The base is large enough that other outfits can rent rooms. Triple Canopy has come a long way from its haphazard beginnings. Its current contracts in Iraq, mostly with the U.S. Department of Defense and the State Department, are worth almost $250 million yearly. And having succeeded in Iraq -- Triple Canopy hasn't had a single worker or client killed -- it has just been named one of three companies that will divide up $1 billion annually in newly created protection work with the State Department in high-risk countries around the world.

But the private security man I sat with wasn't talking about windfalls on that level. He was talking about his own income. ''I'm richer than I've ever been,'' he said. ''I'm not in debt to nobody.''

He didn't specify his salary, but Americans and other Westerners in the business tend to make between $400 and $700 a day, sometimes a good deal more. (The non-Westerners earn far less. Triple Canopy's Fijians and Chileans make between $40 and $150 dollars each week and sleep in crowded barracks at the Baghdad base, while the Americans sleep in their own dorm rooms. The company explained the difference in salaries in terms of the Americans' far superior military backgrounds and their higher-risk assignments.) Americans with Triple Canopy stay in Iraq for three-month rotations, working straight through. Then they're sent on leave for a month, returning if they wish. Depending on how much time they spend in the States over the course of a year, most of their income can be tax-free.

One of the great concerns about these private security company is that there appears to be no control over what they do:

There is no effective regulation in Iraq of whom the firms hire or how the men are trained or how they conduct themselves. ''At best you've got professionals doing their best in a chaotic and aggressive environment,'' Lyle Hendrick said in an e-mail from Iraq in July, describing his colleagues in private security there. He had spent six months with one company in the country's north and is now with another down in Basra. ''At worst you've got cowboys running almost unchecked, shooting at will and just plain O.T.F. (Out There Flappin').''

Mark raised his strong forearms and performed a pantomime of washing his hands and flicking off the water. A manager with Triple Canopy in Baghdad, Mark was sitting behind his desk at T.C.'s base, demonstrating the Department of Defense's attitude about overseeing and policing the private security companies. ''D.O.D. doesn't want anything to do with it,'' he said. ''They don't have time. They don't have the numbers. And State can't investigate incidents. They don't have the investigators. So there's Iraqi law. Not that Iraqi law really exists. Am I going to give up my weapons to Iraqi police? I don't think so. That could get me killed.''

No one knows how many times gunfire from a private security team has wounded a bystander or killed an innocent driver who ventured too close to a convoy, not realizing that mere proximity would be taken for a threat. When they fire their weapons in defense or warning, the teams rarely concern themselves with checking for casualties -- it would be too dangerous; they are in the middle of a war. Besides, no one in power is watching too closely.

More and more evidence mounts discrediting this horrible war, and the catastrophic mistake George Bush made in taking this country to war, that fewer and fewer Americans support. We've seen the writing on the wall, and no one apparently likes what it ways. Support our troops: Bring them home now!


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