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From all over the world confirmations of a rosy future come for the Private Military & Security Companies. The most striking cases concern the United States, China, Russia, but also the jihadist galaxy and the neutral Switzerland. On the one hand, Erik Prince’s men bombing Libya with United Arab Emirates airplanes join their active role in the attempted reconciliation between Moscow and Washington and the project of a Chinese private military company.
On the other hand, a conspicuous contract to support US special forces in Africa obtained from a former company. Let’s add rumors about the presence of Russian PMCs in Libya and the umpteenth step towards their institutionalization. Finally, the creation of the first private company that trains the jihadists and the boom of Swiss Private Security Companies that worries the Swiss authorities. In short, everything suggests that contractors are still destined to talk a lot about themselves in the coming months and years.
THE UNITED STATES MARKET
Three US companies have recently been awarded US Department of Defense contracts, worth a total of € 500 million, to provide air services in the USAFRICOM area: AAR / Airlift Group Inc. (€ 199 million), Berry Aviation Inc (€ 199 million) and Erickson Helicopter (€ 95 million).
From 01/02/2017 to 31/01/2018 they will support special forces in the chase of Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army. The Lord Resistance Army (LRA) is a rebel group of Christian origin responsible for murder, kidnapping, mutilation and sexual enslavement of women and children in northern Uganda, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic. In 2010, President Obama sent a hundred Green Berets to assist local troops in opposing the LRA; for the refinancing of the Observant Compass transaction for 2017, € 22 million were requested from Congress. According to government specifications, the contracted aircraft will be: at least two aircraft in Entebbe (Uganda), two in Nzara (South Sudan) and five helicopters in Obo (Central African Republic).
At the end of January, in the Central African Republic, a Sikorsky S-61 helicopter was sighted with American raiders on board. From the registration number it is possible to go back to the EP Aviation LLC, a McLean company, Virginia that in the past belonged to Erik Prince (hence “EP”). In 2010, it was sold together with other activities to AAR, also known as the Airlift Group; about 60 fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft that have become symbolic of Blackwater in Iraq continue to operate there. However, unlike the Little Birds of the golden age, the currently contracted means will not be armed or allowed to respond to fire .
Meanwhile, Erik Prince is working with the Chinese government to create a reality similar to his former company to protect private and government interests around the world, without having to resort to the People’s Liberation Army.
In December, the Frontier Services Group – of which Prince is president – declared that it is about to open an FOB (advanced operational base) in the Chinese province of Yunnan and another in Xinjiang, the land of the turbulent minority of Uighurs. These facilities “will provide training and protection, communication, assessment, risk management and reduction, information gathering, Medevac and joint security, logistics and transport coordination center”. The leadership adds that the base in Yunnan “will allow it to better serve society in Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia” , while Xinjiang borders with Afghanistan.
Founded as a transport and logistics company, Frontier has always kept away from the defense and security business to which Prince wanted to direct it. However, after a fierce internal battle that ended with the resignation of the American component of the Board opposing it, the company drift towards the security sector occurred in the middle of last year. Backed by the support of the Chinese corporate majority, the former of Blackwater would have transformed Frontier into a real PMC, relocating Beijing’s redundant soldiers “as uniformly contracted soldiers” .
The latest news in chronological order that sees him protagonist is a secret meeting organized by the United Arab Emirates in the Seychelles, in January. The aim of the meeting was to establish a line of indirect communication to re-establish relations between Washington, represented unofficially by Erik Prince and Moscow, through a character close to Vladimir Putin; all the while considering the possibility of removing Russia from Iran, in exchange for a reduction in economic sanctions. The meeting would be monitored closely by the FBI in the Russiagate, as a follow-up to several private meetings held previously in New York among Trump’s men (including General Flynn, son-in-law Jared Kushner and former adviser Steve Bannon) , Moscow and Abu Dhabi (also Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan himself). All interested parties refused to comment or denied the news; the Trump administration spoke of the usual “fake news” or “witch hunts”. Even the Seychelles authorities have admitted not to be aware of it, but have added that the luxurious resorts of their islands are well suited to clandestine meetings.
From the new events of the private sector to stars and stripes, we can see the umpteenth and by now consolidated interweaving – called “revolving doors” – between military operations and counter-terrorism, commercial relations, wealthy politicians and powerful military. A continuous shuttle between armed forces, corporate and public offices from which the Trump administration is not exempt. The Secretary of Defense, James “Crazy Dog” Mattis, for example, has moved from the Marine Corps to General Dynamics and from there to the Department of Defense. Betsy Devos, Secretary of Education instead, despite not having ties with the military world, is sister of Erik Prince.
The former Navy Seal, controversial past apart (founder of Blackwater, Colombian mercenary recruiter and pilots for the United Arab Emirates, organizer of ambiguous anti-piracy operations in Puntland and missed supplier of air forces and mercenary services to Mali, Nigeria and South Sudan), is the donor of Donald Trump (€ 235,000 donated for the election campaign) and, presumably, one of his national security advisers.
Despite his highly controversial figure that precluded any official position in the current US administration, thanks to his close ties with the presidential entourage and the Emirati sheikhs (a $ 529 million contract to create a Colombian majority anti-terrorist special force) , Prince was the ideal unofficial broker for the Seychelles meeting.
As stated by Steven Simon, head of the National Security Council’s Middle East and North Africa during the Obama presidency: “The idea of using commercial intermediaries or personalities close to political leaders as an instrument of diplomacy is as old as the world. These unofficial channels are desirable precisely because they are deniable; ideas can be proven without the risk of bankruptcy. “ Although the meeting was deemed highly profitable, the idea of further using Prince as a” private diplomat “was abandoned, given the riskiness of even unofficial contacts between Trump and Putin.
LE PMSC RUSSE
As for Russia , another step forward has been made in the process of institutionalization and internal legalization of private military companies.
At the end of the year, Vladimir Putin signed an amendment to Law 53 on military conscription, which then entered into force on 9 January 2017: anyone operating in order to “prevent terrorist actions outside the territory of the Russian Federation” – be it discharged or reservist – will fully enjoy the legal status of a member of the armed forces. Considering the compulsory military service in the country, the measure is addressed to almost all citizens, authorizing de facto the deployment of Russian mercenaries abroad. The whole thing has passed into the almost total neglect of national and foreign media that at the time of Blackwater and related scandals had reserved ample space and criticism of the United States.
And here on VKontakte – the main Russian social media – a certain Ilya Ivanov posted the following announcement: “You guys have the opportunity to work for your country” with a salary of “₽ 50,000 per month (€ 800) if stay in Russia; ₽ 80,000 (€ 1,280) for deployment abroad, in addition to bonuses. “ Concluding with the slogan: ” Fight for a just cause, mercenaries. “ Ivanov, like so many others, had already recruited men for Syria since 2014, when everything had to take place in secrecy, with the risk of a sentence of up to 8 years in prison.
A reporter from Zeit Online responded to the announcement by pretending to be a Volvograd electrician who served as a T-72 tank mechanic between 2010 and 2011. A strong demand for mechanics, doctors, radiologists, operators and deminers. The most sought after, however, are the helicopters who get immediate use, without facing further selection procedures.
For other vacancies, an aptitude test and a training course at Molkino is planned. Located 500 km south of Donetsk (UA) and 250 km north of Sochi, the base station of the Wagner unit and a GRU brigade has been redeveloped and expanded since 2015, receiving equipment and equipment for € 715,000.
The aptitude test includes physical tests (traction, run, sit-ups, 100 meters flat and Cooper’s test for resistance) and various tests of shooting and handling of weapons. Those who pass it must continue with a two-month training, after which there is an obligation to serve for another six, at least. A short contract is signed whose fundamental part is the bond of secrecy on places and nature of the missions. A relatively simple condition to follow since the subscribers are much more interested in the remuneration than in the place of employment; if not for the fact that, as Ivanov reports, the salary goes from about € 800 euros a month at home to € 1,150-1,700 – depending on the danger – abroad. There are also bonuses for those who “destroy a tank”, for example.
There are no confirmations on the possible operating theaters. Speaking of Syria, Ivanov says that it is now “old stuff” and provides clues as “our army fought us in the 80s” and “there is a lot of sand and mountains”, from which we can easily guess that it is Afghanistan .
While NATO is still struggling to retreat painfully and permanently, the level of instability on the ground in Afghanistan is such that it can ignite neighboring countries, strongly affecting Moscow. In fact, since 2016 there is an official collaboration between the two countries with helicopters, military and technical assistance. Greater involvement, especially of PMC (or other entities) is therefore only a matter of time; probably also in Tajikistan, Nagorno Karabakh or Abkhazia.
Also the visit to the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov by the Libyan general Khalifa Haftar in January represented an omen for further scenarios. A detachment of Russian special departments, in fact, would have been deployed at the Egyptian base of Sidi Barrani, 100 kilometers from the Libyan border to support the efforts of Haftar. Tobruk government spokesman Agila Saleh said: “We asked the Russians to help us with the training of soldiers and the maintenance of military equipment because most of our officers studied in Russia, many speak Russian and can use the their equipment. “
Activities that now seem to have become the responsibility of contractors; so much so that Reuters has released the news of demining operations of the Russian private security company, RSB-group in a newly liberated industrial area near Benghazi. Oleg Krinitsyn, owner of the company, confirmed that he had sent his men to Libya at the end of the year and had them returned to February. The contractors – between deminers and security estimated at about a hundred men – did not take part in the fighting, but they were armed anyway and ready to respond in case of an attack .
Putin’s provision was preceded by a series of amendments that, approved by the Legislative Commission, should allow participation in anti-terrorist operations for periods of less than two to three years of voluntary stop. According to the Ministry of Defense, at least one in five soldiers would be much more interested in shorter stops (not more than a year) and anti-terrorist operations, rather than serving in regular units within the Russian borders for longer.
This legislative ferment has become increasingly intense since 2012 when both President Putin and Deputy Prime Minister Rogozin, recognizing the validity of the Western ones, have begun to concretely evaluate the possibility of establishing a Russian version of PMC .
Despite its ambiguous attitude, Russia has a long tradition of security and private defense, both domestic and foreign .
Unlike the American ones, developed according to a top-down model, the precursors of Russian PMCs are spontaneous solutions to market demands, catalyzed by the availability of a large nursery for veterans – forged from Afghanistan and Chechnya – and huge arsenals and low-level equipment cost.
For these reasons Russian private military companies have long been active and operating abroad, with registrations in foreign countries and offshore areas. The two most famous Russian private security companies are Moran Security Group and RSB-Group, which, while offering a wide range of defense and security services, have always denied direct and active involvement in the war context of Syria.
There, on the other hand, the mysterious and hybrid (mercenary group, PMC of state or both?) Wagner unit of Dmitri Utkin is strongly active. Name de Guerre “Wagner”, Utkin is a former intelligence officer who, after his leave, started working for the Slavonic Corps – connected to the Moran Security Group – protecting oil refineries and oil wells in Syria: a decidedly unfortunate and brancaleonic affair , studded with theft suffered, delayed payments and bitter defeats in the field.
Returning home, he established the Wagner unit that still operates in Syria and Donbass, with the full support of Moscow this time. Utkin’s presence at the Kremlin on the Day of Defenders of the Fatherland (09/12/2016) is representative of his role and of his men in Russian foreign policy; at least the last five years.
To suggest a growing involvement of mercenaries, PMC or Russian regular troops abroad, there is also the creation of an important anti-terrorism center in Chechnya. Starting in 2018, at the city of Gudermes, will open the International Training Center for Special Forces. It will also employ 200 instructors of various nationalities – except the Americans because of tensions with Moscow – to refine hostage release, urban guerrilla, anti-insurgency and so on.
Foreign personnel will take care of training Russian and foreign PSC men and PMCs and foreign regular troops on a commercial basis. The training of its armed forces, security and intelligence (including the PMC?) Will instead be exclusive to the Russians .
Russia seems now oriented to cover a new role of military, diplomatic and economic power. A role that, built by wisely exploiting a series of armed conflicts – Chechnya bis, Georgia, Ukraine and Syria – will have to be maintained credibly through a propaganda media campaign, a strong economy and a considerable availability of armaments and troops; whether they are in uniform or private. In the at least two conflicts in which it is involved, it must commit considerable resources, taking care to avoid dangerous escalations and swamps.
Although nationalism has returned to very high levels, Russia is struggling to find enough men: the current 300,000 ground troops are considerably few in relation to territory and commitments. The appeal to PMC and contractors is therefore an obvious and obligatory choice, also in light of the discontent for the fallen in Ukraine and the clumsy attempt to hide them. How would the news of soldiers perished in Afghanistan be taken, for example?
Probably not even the well-tested Russian propaganda machine could justify the presence of regular forces in what has been renamed “Russian Vietnam”. Otherwise, the march – and death – of silent mercenaries or contractors would allow convenient denials and blame.
From an economic point of view, considering that the cost of Wagner in Syria would be about € 141 million per month – € 5,000 of pay for each of the ~ 1000 – 2,500 operators (data varying according to sources), compared to € 1,300 of a regular soldier; then add equipment, logistics, supplies and compensation up to 5 million rubles (€ 83,000) for casualties (27-100 dead as of 28/08/2016) and injured – “the use of Private Military Companies can only be economically advantageous for specific tasks, they can not replace the Army, “says Vladimir Neyelov of the Center for Strategic Trend Studies.
However, once the contract is terminated the PMC no longer imposes any cost to the tax authority. Furthermore, the financing of Wagner’s mission is not only to be borne by the State, but also by a series of private individuals who have every interest in ensuring that these operations spread.
Currently, the Russian government still prefers a wait-and-see attitude to a clear policy on PMCs. The final decision could depend on numerous factors such as relations with the West in the Trump era, Brexit and victories of populist and anti-European parties in the EU.
Syria has enabled Moscow not only to test its renewed military hardware before the whole world, but also its doctrines and strategies. The most important was certainly to set up an extremely flexible and heterogeneous mix of conventional actors and not: regular and special forces, volunteers, allied militias (local, Iranian, Hezbollah) and PMC mercenaries able to collaborate masterfully. That of ChVK (Russian acronym for PMC) Wagner represents the most ambitious and effective experiment.
Speaking of mercenaries or contractors in this case is quite complicated; omitting for a moment the definition given by the Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions,
Ruslan Leviyev, an analyst at the Conflict Intelligence Team, admits that he is “not sure he can use the term” mercenaries “in the sense used by the Russian Penal Code, given the military acknowledgments that have been granted to them; from my point of view it is not possible to do it officially. They have obtained medals and the information has been confirmed by various sources and documents, but there are rules … and according to these rules it is not possible to award state medals to people who fight in such units on the territory of another country. “ so it would not be fair to talk about the Wagner group as a Private Military Company because its goal is not money or profit, but rather state objectives and interests.
THE PMSC OF AL-QAEDA
A very innovative and worrisome reality is that of Malhama Tactical, the first military and private consulting company that deals with training the jihadists in theaters in which, according to the leadership, the Sunnis are oppressed; first of all Syria.
Since its foundation in May 2016, it has grown briskly training the militants of Ahrar al-Sahm, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (former al-Nusra front, al-Qaeda Syrian branch) and the Turkistan Islamic Party (Xinjiang Uighur extremists) engaged in the battle of Aleppo. Malhama Tactical’s men also worked as special forces in the field: In September they rejected Syrian troops in South Aleppo along with the Uigure militia. However, their main task remains that of training in combat, not taking part in it.
They also deal in arms trafficking and equipment production such as PKM machine gun accessories, handgrips and tactical jackets. Despite the recent setbacks suffered by fundamentalists – including the loss of Aleppo – the demands for engagement that reach Malhama Tactical are more numerous than ever. They provide a typology of articulated and expensive training (team, with multiple weapon systems) that differs from the banal marches and basic shooting exercises that the extremists usually undergo. For those who can afford it, this training is worth all its price making the difference on the battlefield. Multimedia courses are also available for those who can not move!
The company pays a lot of attention to presence and advertising on social media. In its profiles and pages Facebook , YouTube , Twitter , VKontakte (page blocked for incitement to violence) and Instagram postings, announcements, photojournalists and films that depict their activities, training methodologies, instructions for cleaning weapons, making IED and successes on the field against the forces of Bashar al-Assad. All with great visibility and prestige.
In November, through Facebook, instructors with combat experience were asked, willing to “constantly engage, improve and learn” as part of a “fun and friendly team” ; the “boys scouts” of Jabhat Fateh al-Sham to be clear!
The workforce consists of a dozen staff members from the Caucasus; mainly Uzbekistan (we hope there are no links with the Stockholm bomber!). The leader of the group, interviewed by Foreign Policy through the Telegram application, is Abu Rofiq, a 24-year-old Uzbek who, after moving to Russia and enrolling in the airborne VDV troops, went to fight in Syria, from a group at another, independently, to found Malhama in 2016.
Although for profit, he wants to clarify that his society should not be considered a mercenary reality because the motivations upstream transcend money: “our goal is different; we are fighting for an ideal. “
Future projects include the expansion to other “markets” such as China and Myanmar, or the return to basics, fighting the Russians in the Caucasus. The only obstacle to Rafiq’s ambitions is Moscow, which, on its blacklist, bombed his Idlib apartment on 7 February, killing his wife and son. The Malhama boss has instead miraculously survived because he is away from home.
Malhama Tactical, is not the only PMC to have operated for the terror network, much less for dictatorial regimes and criminal organizations. Speaking of global terrorism, by the end of 2001 the British Sakina Security offered “Ultimate Jihad Challenge” courses to the militants who wanted to prepare for the holy war in Kashmir, Chechnya and Yemen.
As for organized crime, instead, we have the case of Spearhead Ltd of Yair Klein, a former Israeli military who would train the Medellin cartelers of Pablo Escobar and right-wing paramilitaries, who later formed in the AUC (responsible for massacres, disappearances, torture). , sexual violence and a whole series of mafia-style crimes).
Malhama, however, had the primacy in working exclusively and articulated for the jihadist groups, clearing on the market a solution that could spread widely and globally. With a strong entrepreneurial spirit, it has carved out its own niche, both in the PMC market and in the jihadist galaxy, with significant and evident results. According to Sean McFate, associate professor of the National Defense University and author of The Modern Mercenary “in the future we will see many similar realities”, result of the prolonged duration of the Syrian conflict in which ideological extremism and privatization of the war merge into a single and worrying trend; a “milestone” in modern warfare “.
In considering this trend, given that we are still talking about economic realities, we can mention with concern the model of the five competitive forces of the economist Porter: “Threats deriving from the entry of new competitors (potential entrants)” . When in a sector there are profit potentials, the entry of new competitors is stimulated, which, in this case, unfortunately, would not only pose a threat to Malhama.
In light of the global competition and the conflicting interests between the United States and China, even in that scenario the figure of Erik Prince is in a very delicate position: The largest shareholder of the Frontier Services Group is CITIC , an investment fund owned and controlled by Chinese Government. The American law forbids its citizens the export of equipment and military services to China and the expansion of Frontier, it would not be the result of such support to the new Chinese global development plan, called “One Belt One Road” .
According to the Charhar Institute, China has more than 40,000 companies and over 1 million workers operating outside their borders; an official of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that “every employee [of the dicastery] is to manage 200,000 citizens” . The fact that the majority of them are in unstable and at risk countries has made them increasingly targets of terrorism, like the Westerners: 11 Chinese killed in Afghanistan in the 2004 jungle, 3 in the attack on the Bamako hotel at the end 2015 and 330 blocked for four days by rebel and government clashes in Juba, in July 2016.
Therefore, starting from 2010 a security strategy parallel to the state one was introduced, establishing the Chinese PSC sector, strictly dependent on the government authority. In 2014 alone, Chinese companies spent € 7.6 billion in security abroad and 3,200 private security operators were deployed across the border last year. To avoid diplomatic incidents, but also further retaliation against their own citizens, Chinese security companies and operators are used to work unarmed, commanding groups or armed local personnel and borrowing weapons locally in case of extreme necessity.
The Chinese economic slowdown has led to the lowest growth of the military budget since 2010, resulting in a cut of 300,000 people in the ranks of the People’s Liberation Army in 2016.
These redundancies, combined with the extreme demand for protection, will allow the 6,000 PSCs authorized and their 4.3 million employees to grow further in number and turnover .
Moreover, the Government encourages their activities with benefits to those companies that, operating abroad, decide to use flag carriers. In addition to the political and linguistic factor, they are cheaper: a team of 12 operators costs between € 660 and € 950 per day; as much as a single British or American operator!
THE SWISS EXAMPLE
Remarkable dynamism was also noted on the Swiss private security scene.
According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Swiss security companies have completed more than 400 missions abroad over the last 18 months. Of these operations, one in five involved support for armed forces or police in crisis areas, maintenance of weapon systems and intelligence. Approximately 50% targeted personality or property protection, as well as private investigations. About thirty private companies are particularly active outside the cantonal borders, especially to protect diplomatic representations, at an annual cost of about € 6.5 million.
The ongoing terrorist wave has created a thriving market for Swiss private security companies. According to the SonntagsBlick newspaper, 689 new private security companies have emerged in the country in the last five years.
Companies that provide a plethora of services such as alarm and security systems, static security to buildings and public and private spaces, major events and events, etc. assuming more and more responsibilities up to now of the exclusive competence of the police forces.
Neighboring Neutral Switzerland, with its unexpected ferment in the field of PSC, as part of a process of evaluation and hypothetical creation of an Italian sector, as discussed in the recent conference promoted by the ICSA Foundation “Security of the country and national interest: a role for the private military security companies? “ is certainly the umpteenth model to be taken into consideration: not only for geographical and cultural proximity, but also for the cutting-edge regulation.
For example, since 2015 it has also been introduced the obligation of periodic detection and authorization by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to operate abroad, in order to avoid mercenary activities, violations of human rights or jeopardize foreign policy or Swiss neutrality. Although the Swiss authorities have complained of an alarming lack of precise qualitative and competitive standards, the Parliament has deemed their adoption at the federal level still “premature”. The example on our doorstep, like the rest of the world, is not perfect, it is up to those who have to observe and draw precious lessons from the experiences and – above all – mistakes of those who preceded us.
Photo: Archive Gaiani, AP, RT and Reuters
Pietro Orizio See all the articles
Born in Brescia in 1983, he graduated with honors in International Management at the Catholic University, completing an internship at the United Nations Representation in the field of terrorism, organized crime and drug trafficking. He attended the Analyst Course in International Relations at ASERI. He deals with historical-military issues following in particular the reality of the Private Military Companies.