AFL, Armed Forces of Liberia, first graduation parade for troops trained by DynCorp. This article from Liberia’s Anaylst newspaper is quite enthusiastic about the training.

DynCorp, an American security contractor, was recently awarded US$ 40 million in contracts from the US State Department to train and transform the former rebel group, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), into a professional military force. The disclosure of the company’s latest operations in Sudan raises questions regarding the appropriate role of security contractors in conflict zones as well as the aims of the US government in mediating the situation in Sudan. (11/07)

One thing the creators of AFRICOM have not discussed publicly since its creation is the role of mercenaries, military contractors, in the military engagement with Africa. And no one should make any mistake, a military command is military engagement, no matter how much they talk about aid and diplomacy. This blog has discussed some of the potential uses and issues surrounding mercenaries and mercenary corporations, and how they might be used in Africa in the future, both by governments and corporations.

There is no doubt that the Bush administration intends extensive use of military contractors in Africa. They have said so. In November 2003 Theresa Whelan, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for African Affairs, and frequent spokesperson for AFRICOM, addressed a dinner of the Orwellianly named IPOA, International Peace Operations Association, the association of military contractors. (The contractors are also described more accurately as PMCs or PMFs, private military contractors or private military firms). Much of Whelan’s speech (full text here) was about use of PMCs in Africa, and about how their role is on the rise. “Contractors are here to stay in supporting US national security objectives overseas.”

In situations where government and social institutions have collapsed, as in civil wars, it is critical that there is accountability and oversight in the rebuilding process. PMCs simply do not have sufficient accountability and oversight built into their operations. In fact one of the reasons to employ them is precisely to avoid accountability and oversight. And Whelan points this out in her speech: “some times we may not want to be very visible.” She is quoted in an article in The Guardian that ties her to an attempted coup in Equatorial Guinea. If that is the case, it is another situation where the US has supported both sides of a conflict.

And she seems to want to move the PMCs away from accountability, from her speech:

Also, the current International Criminal Court situation leaves the civilians out in the open with regard to potential criminal sanctions. Again, this is an area that needs to be explored more. The military are automatically covered by SOFAs, but the contractors are hanging out there. It gets back to my earlier comments that we have to try to work the contractors into the SOFAs in order to provide protection. (SOFA: Status of forces agreement – An agreement that defines the legal position of a visiting military force deployed in the territory of a friendly state. The Bush administration is known for bullying countries into signing SOFAs that exempt US soldiers from much accountability.)

Whelan says using the PMCs is cheaper than using the US military. However, corporations are in business to make a profit. Adding profit to the cost means a higher cost, cost+profit = bigger cost. Alternatively, or even additionally, PMCs, or their employees, can increase profits by trading in contraband and human traffiking, and have been repeatedly implicated in these activities in Africa, raising profits for the PMCs, employees and employers, and raising costs, often paid in blood, by the people in whose lands they operate.

PMCs at work in Africa:

The Analyst’s article on training the Liberian army seems quite pleased with the training that DynCorp is providing. Although it does ask some questions about the process for how the officer candidates are chosen, which seems to be minus any transparency. The author expresses some confidence because “the Americans are also monitoring the process against any abuse.” Given the record of abuse and corruption racked up by the Bush administration and its contractors in Iraq and in the US, I would not count on US oversight being very helpful at present.

Contractors have conducted training in Ghana, from Whelan’s speech:

For example, today, Ghana’s ACOTA (African Contingencies Operations Training and Assistance Program) training program, both field and classroom, has been conducted entirely by civilian contractors. Now actually some of these contractors were reservists but nonetheless it was all contractor training, we did not have any active duty military participating in the training.

Regarding the picture from Sudan above, if the US government hopes to be seen as acting in good faith by the government of Sudan, it should not be using PMCs to arm and train rebel groups. That is a fairly explicit indication the US is working against the Sudanese government for another “regime change”. It is unlikely to help the people in Darfur or southern Sudan, and it limits what the US is able to do in any diplomatic direction. And, it means more people will be hurt and die.

When the eastern Congo is mentioned at all in the US media, the terrible violence there, and in the Great Lakes region, is presented as some inexplicable African dysfunction. Both Europe and the United States have actively contributed to successive waves of weapons, warfare and invasion, brutalizing and terrorizing the local people, and leaving millions dead. Even here the problems go back to post World War II and the Cold War, including the role the US played in the origins of state sponsored terrorism in Africa.(link corrected) PMCs have been leading participants throughout all of this. Keith Harmon Snow and David Barouski provide a lot of background, and write in their carefully documented article:

Private Military Contractors (PMCs) are also big business in Africa. Brown & Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton, helped build a military base near Cyangugu, Rwanda just next to the Congo-Rwandan border. ”Officially,” Brown and Root was there to clear land mines, but instead housed mercenaries from Military Professional Resources Inc. (MPRI) who trained the RPF and Laurent Kabila’s ADFL for invasion of the Congo in 1996, and the Rwandan army’s re-invasion in 1998, after Laurent Kabila threw out the Rwandans, Ugandans, Bechtel and the IMF. The French intelligence service reported that U.S. Special Forces and mercenaries from MPRI participated in the murder of Rwandan Hutu refugees on the Oso River near Goma in 1996 and even claims to have turned over the bodies of two American soldiers killed in combat near Goma. The circumstances surrounding the unofficial recovery of these two U.S. soldiers remain very mysterious.

MPRI is based in Arlington, Virginia and is staffed and run by 36 retired U.S. generals. It is contracted by the Pentagon to fulfill the African Crisis Responsive Initiative (ACRI). This program includes the Ugandan military, and it supplied military training in guerrilla warfare to Ugandan officers at Fort Bragg, North Carolina in July 1996. During the invasion of the Congo in 1998, Ugandan soldiers were found with ACRI equipment while Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have implicated Ugandan battalions trained by ACRI in rapes, murders, extortion, and beatings of Ugandan civilians.

And another article by Jules-Cesar Malula, writing from Kinshasa, comments on the company Executive Outcomes’ activities in the Great Lakes region:

Another mercenary firm, Executive Outcomes, has established other private military companies that operate around Africa. Cofounder Tony Buckingham’s Heritage Oil and Gas company works closely with PMC Sandline International to manipulate the petroleum options around Lake Albert.

It is believed to have signed concession deals with warring armies and governments on both sides of the Uganda-DRC border.

The expansion of conflicts, who profits and how, and who pays the cost and how, and the expansion of mercenary armies, is a looming danger of AFRICOM. It is something the African Union, the regional organizations, and citizens of African countries, need to watch.

2/2008 – You can read my article on mercenaries in Africa over at the African Loft: The Rising Mercenary Industry and AFRICOM.