April 7, 2004
With the tragic deaths of four American civilians in Iraq, Americans have been introduced to fairly new concept: private sector military support. Today, there are some 10,000 private soldiers in Iraq -- more than the number from Britain, and one-tenth the number of U.S. government soldiers.
The business of providing military training and support services rose to prominence under President H.W. Bush when Brown and Root (a Halliburton subsidiary) received a $9 million contract to study supplementing military efforts after the Persian Gulf War. Over the last decade, the private military industry has grown dramatically, grossing about $100 billion in revenue worldwide.
Today, private firms train soldiers in counterterrorism and urban warfare, as well as technical skills such as repairing helicopters. These companies also provide the U.S. government with soldiers for hire: former Green Berets, Army Rangers and Navy Seals. Indeed, private military support has certain advantages:
- The U.S. military has shrunk from 2.1 million soldiers in 1989 to 1.4 million today and is in need of additional manpower.
- Private contractors are cheaper.
- Substituting contractors for soldiers offers government a way to avoid unpopular military forays, particularly when the risks of casualties are high.
In recent years, soldiers-for-profit have served in Liberia, Pakistan, Rwanda and Bosnia. They have also guarded Afghanistan's president, built detention facilities for Al Qaeda suspects, and have performed operations in Latin America for America's war on drugs.
Source: Barry Yeoman, "Need an Army? Just Pick Up the Phone," New York Times, April 2, 2004.
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