In an interview on the Daily Show Thursday night, BLACKWATER author Jeremy Scahill seemed to be implying that even after a troop withdrawal, the Iraq War could continue to be fought with a limited number of 40,000 regular troops and an unlimited number of contract soldiers or mercenaries as he prefers to call them. Given how little is generally known by the public about the private military industry and given that Scahill just wrote a book on the industry leader, I thought it was an idea worth exploring. So could private military corporations be used to continue the Iraq War After a US Troop Withdrawal?
I'm sure some of my regular readers in Herndon and Moyock are laughing hard right now. Really hard. To those who know the strengths, capacitates and limitations of the private military industry as it is today, the idea is absurd. The industry, as it has developed, is overwhelmingly defensive, not offensive. That means they're protecting diplomats, Iraqi government officials, guarding the perimeter of the Green Zone which keeps these diplomats and government officials safe from Iraq. They also guard Baghdad International Airport and various infrastructures, such as oil pipelines and they also provide route security to supply convoys. They're trained and equipped to work in small units to fend off small attacks, not to hunt down and eliminate the enemy. The functions that the Army and particularly the Marines are doing are offensive combat and not comparable to the work we see private military corporations performing. Just because regular and contract soldiers carry assault rifles and regularly use them does not make them interchangeable.
The small fleet of Blackwater Little Bird helicopters is impressive air power for a private corporation, but It's a kid with an air gun in comparison the USAF C-130 gunships that regularly circle Baghdad, not to mention the Apaches, Cobras, F-18s, etc. that the regular military operates in the theater. A guy in the back of an armored SUV with a heavy gun, a "trunk monkey" as it's known in the business, is a heck of a lot more fierce than a Wackenhut rent-a-cop in a golf cart, but he's hardly a substitute for the weapons of a Stryker.
If the big military disappeared overnight, poof, contractors could possibly make it to Kuwait or Jordan with only moderate casualties, but that would only be because they'd be smart enough to haul ass before the insurgents woke up to what was going on. And this would be a nightmare, but marginally better than reenacting the Battle of the Alamo behind the Green Zone's blast walls.
Obviously the big military isn't going to disappear from Iraq overnight, but a planned withdrawal that left contractors to fight the war would leave the enemy plenty of time to prepare their assaults and block the escape routes. There's a reason to remember the Alamo. You don't want to reenact it.
Now to move to a slightly less over-the-top scenario, Scahill stated that analysts had told him, "Bush could have 40,000 active troops and an unlimited number of mercenaries," implying this would allow the Administration to continue the war after troop withdrawals. Now let's try to make this one work.
If I'm the general and I only get 40,000 troops, there would no question that I want most of these guys to be Marines, as in bad-ass Marines who would readily live under conditions that would make your average airman faint. I'd keep every C-130 gunship I could and beg to be allowed more aggressive tactics and consolidate in large bases, countering the current trend. Black units never count in troop numbers, so I'd count on them as well as Agency guys to stick around. I'm going to need them.
The 48,000 contract soldiers, as they are now, are not trained or armed to deal with such a situation. I'd pluck every SEAL and Delta guy I could from the private military, and that's a very small number of the protective security guys in Iraq at the moment. Then I'd kick out the rest of the civilian, except the most essential, so I didn't have to worry about protecting them and having them trip all over my troops.
The party at Liberty Pool is canceled until further notice. Steroids are banned.
If there were enough lead time, as in many years, and if the Pentagon funded the industry at necessary levels to raise, train and equip the private forces, and it granted them the licenses for the serious hardware they would need, then, in theory, it could be done. But even then it would be a major logistical effort to get private equipment to the theater, further adding to the timeline.
Even though he's a comedian and not an expert on private military, Jon Stewart nailed it when he closed the show by asking in reference to Bush, "You know he's only got another year and a half, right?"
That's not nearly enough time to remake an industry.