Friday, March 25, 2011

PMFs: Everybody Hates You…

When one thinks of war, rarely does he or she think of it as being fought by private businessmen. However, as we read P.W. Singer’s Corporate Warriors, we see that private soldiers have been common throughout history. That reality is no different today.

Private defense contractors have been—and still are—important to the U.S. war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. They provide a variety of services in wartime. Often, they provide security services for bases or convoys, however even if they are performing seemingly menial tasks such as construction or food services, they are taking positions that could be filled by servicemen. The result is that fewer troops are deployed to the warzone while an adequate amount of force in the area is maintained.

States that use private military contractors must deal with the bad as well as the good. In both Iraq and Afghanistan, these forces have performed questionable actions. It is well known that private contractors are guilty of killing civilians. Other news articles mention their involvement in the death of civilians in Afghanistan as well. It seems that in a counterinsurgency environment such as Afghanistan and Iraq, forces outside the military chain of command—as are PMFs—can cause as much harm as good.

Leaders of the states in which PMFs have been employed by occupying forces have a right to be opposed to these forces. In Afghanistan, the government has responded to the undesirable activities of private soldiers. After months of threats and bans, the Afghan government has finally established a timeline for the withdrawal of private security firms from Afghanistan. The plan will allow international entities to use private forces for 12 months, after which Afghan forces will take over their security responsibilities. Although the reality of this happening is highly unlikely, it reveals that PMFs may be harmful to our efforts to rebuild Afghanistan because they do not have the support of the host government, however incompetent it may be.

National armies also feel the effects of private military firms. Not only do they fall outside the chain of command, as is obvious by the activities mentioned above, but they also pose as an attractive alternative for soldiers considering reenlisting in the army or searching for private employment. Often, members of PMFs can make more money performing the same services in the private sphere than in a national army. Even the U.S. has found this to be the case.

News made public concerning private security companies typically involves them participating in immoral activities. This has to overlook numerous instances of their contributions to the security situation in the war zones. They have been an integral part of U.S. efforts for years, and only certain instances of their misuse have emerged. However, their status as forces outside the chain of military command can pose problems for states or other organizations employing them. Although Mr. Karzai’s view that they must be avoided is unfeasible, regulation of their activities is necessary.

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