MERCENARY armies could become a terrifying new military force ready to invade countries and plunder the world’s resources.
A Sun Online investigation reveals that private contractors are a fighting force that makes them “one of the biggest security threats of the 21st century”.
East2west News Some of the Wagner group’s 2,500 troops that fought in Syria
The newest high profile player is Kremlin-linked Russian company, the so-called Wagner group, which has reportedly helping bolster security for Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro.
The company, whose members are mostly ex-service personnel, has fought clandestinely in support of Russian forces in Ukraine and most recently Syria.
Our investigation has revealed:
Private military contractors can now wage cyberwarfare
They have the ability to topple countries and steal their resources for the super-rich
Russian private army reportedly has thousands of highly trained soldiers
It has been claimed there are up to 10,000 of its employees spread across Africa
The total global spending on private security is £200 billion – five times the UK’s defence budget
The UK is a major player in the private military contractors industry
East2west News Russian private military contractors in Syria
Security expert Sean McFate, a former US Army paratrooper and himself a former private military contractor, has written a book called ‘The New Rules of War’ – one of which is that “mercenaries are here to stay”.
He told The Sun Online that Wagner is “a new category of private force the world is frankly in denial about”.
The company first appeared in around 2014 when they were sent to bolster Russian forces in eastern Ukraine, which the Kremlin believed to be wavering, explained McFate.
“They were basically sent in to kneecap them,” he said.
A key part of their role is to offer “plausible deniability” for Russia which is a “key weapon in the information age”.
East2west News A Russian mercenary beside an armoured vehicle
AP:Associated Press Wagner group boss Yevgeny Prigozhin and Vladmir Putin
VLAD’S PRIVATE KILLERS
According to recent figures, the global market for private security will reach £200 billion, or around five times the UK defence budget.
A report for the foreign policy think-tank Chatham House said: “Increasingly arms and power are held in private hands, instead of the state.”
“We’re seeing the growth of lethality among private companies who are not even in the shadows,” said McFate, now a professor of strategy at the National Defense University and Georgetown University in Washington D.C.
“They are one of the biggest security threats of the 21st century.
“They’re not going to take over western Europe or North America but they can go to sub-Saharan African and then Middle East and taking over and selling natural resources.
“Or they could go into a fragile country and become the power behind the throne. Of the 190 or so states in the world, the top 30 are not in danger but they others should be concerned.”
McFate imagines a future when wars will be fought by private armies battling on behalf of the super-rich.
“Say one oligarch would fight an oil company and they hire mercenaries and states would be by-standers in that war,” he said,
Wagner, reportedly linked to Yevgeny Prigozhin, a former hotdog salesman known as ‘chef’ for providing catering to the Kremlin, deployed 2,500 troops in Syria and according to the BBC, led the way in the battle for Palmyra.
They are one of the biggest security threats of the 21st centurySean McFate
The company deployed tanks and other armoured vehicles, and observers say it was an army in all but name.
It has also reportedly been operating in Africa, spearheading the Kremlin’s drive for influence on the continent.
It has joined the ranks of an industry whose growth was initially fuelled by the US war on terror after 9/11 and includes many British companies as well.
They are all made up of what’s been called a “revolving door” of highly trained and experienced ex-military personnel attracted by the rewards of up to £20,000 a month.
Their activities range from protecting oil workers in danger zones to being used by governments to carry out risky military missions.
Africa has proven to be rich pickings for the industry, and the Nigerian government hired a private military contractor, complete with Russian-built attack helicopters, in its fight against Boko Haram.CAN TOPPLE COUNTRIES
P.W Singer, the author of ‘Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry’ told The Sun Online: “You’ve definitively seen companies offer capabilities that many countries can only dream of.”
He said private companies have moved from providing hardware to a wide range of services.
“The direct engagement with the enemy – dudes with guns – to training advisory, command, control and back end logistics, transportation, you name it.”
For governments, the death of a private military contractor abroad doesn’t have the same impact as a member of the armed forces arriving home in a flag draped coffin.
Private military contractors also boast they can save governments the expense of long wars.
Last year, Erik Prince, the former US Navy SEAL who founded Blackwater, offered to take over the running of the war in Afghanistan.
The now dissolved company was probably the first private military contractor to hit the headlines when in 2007, four of its employees shot dead 17 Iraqi civilians.
For the knock-down price of $5 billion, Erik Prince’s force of 6000 mercenaries backed up with a private air force to carry them around and provide logistics, would help bolster the Afghan army.
The idea has been given the cold shoulder in Washington but the scale of his proposal would make it equivalent to the German deployment in Afghanistan.
Getty – Contributor Erik Prince has offered to send a private army to Afghanistan to fight the war for America
Singer said “digital Blackwaters” that now provide cyberwarfare capability have begun to spring up.
He said: “In some circumstances a private contractor could enhance the power of a state, in other situations it could undermine a state or be rival.
“It depends on what the market place allows and right now it’s a fairly unregulated market place.”
But he also points to the experience of Wagner in Syria when it came into contact with American forces as an example of the limitation of private armies when confronted with a military power such as the United States.
Around 300 of its personnel died after the US forces guarding an oil installation summoned air huge air support.
CHINESE GROWING FAST
Later to the game but no less enthusiastic are Chinese private military contractors.
Millions of the country’s citizens are working in areas where Chinese companies are operating that put them at risk.
These include Shandong Huawei Security Group, the first Chinese security firm to open an overseas office, and DeWe Security Service, a firm operating in 37 countries.
With the Chinese government unwilling to commit its own forces to protect its citizens, it has been left to these companies to fulfil that role.
According to a Financial Times report, there are 3,200 Chinese private security personnel abroad, compared to its 2,600 UN peacekeeping soldiers.
You’ve definitively seen companies offer capabilities that many countries can only dream ofP.W Singer
DeWe secured the rescue of 330 oil workers trapped in the South Sudanese capital Juba in 2017.
Prince himself has now entered the Chinese market with his Frontier Services Group controversially signing a deal to build a training base in China’s far western region of Xinjiang.
The area is part of China’s Belt and Road infrastructure network but has seen a security clampdown on members of the Muslim ethnic Uighur minority.
YouTube Private military contractors fighting pirates off Somalia
BRITAIN MAJOR PLAYER
According to a report from the charity War on Want the UK is “an important hub” for the private military contractor industry.
It says that at “the height of the occupation, around 60 British companies operated in Iraq”.
There are now “hundreds” of UK companies working around the world and at the end of last year the Taliban carried out an attack on the base of the British security firm G4S in Kabul.
It currently has around 1,200 employees working in Afghanistan.
Many other companies employ ex-Royal Marines to provide security to shipping against the threat of pirates in the Horn of Africa.
The work of UK companies is, however, more on the scale of providing security rather than large military operations.
For many the rise of these companies represents a worrying development – private companies with the lethal killing power of a state but operating outside the laws of war, such as the Geneva Convention.
A report by the University of Pennsylvania law school said the “existing law is vague, conflicting, and incomplete”.
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“With the increasing privatization of war, it is necessary to clarify what legal regimes apply and the important legal obligations under the law, specifically international law,” wrote author Natasha Arnpriester.
“Without proper regulation, private military contractors can “continue to operate with impunity and without accountability to the detriment of human rights and justice.”
Sean McFate says: “Basically we’re stuck with them. Even if you have laws prohibiting mercenaries, who’s going to enforce them?”
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