Mercenaries have been called the second oldest profession in the world. Some claim that they are just a special sub-set of the oldest profession since they sell their bodies and their skills. But the idea that mercenaries are only those fighting under a foreign flag has never really made sense to me. Any volunteer army is essentially a mercenary army using my definition of a mercenary being any one who sells military services.
Mercenaries were in common use by the time of the Romans 2,000 years ago. They were used by Hannibal and even by Alexander. They were in use in the Egypt of 5,000 years ago. We know little of the times earlier than the first civilizations some 6,000 years ago. But it is likely that some form of paid military specialists derived from those individuals who had specialised as hunters. They were probably in use from the time that human societies created the first settlements and where individuals had started specialising. That probably takes us back to times before the first cities and perhaps even to the time of semi-permanent, seasonal settlements (earlier than 12,000 years ago). Hunters became guards and then in due course became specialised soldiers.
From the Auxiliaries of the Romans or the Seljuks a thousand years later, mercenaries have always been around. Gallowglasses and the Irish Wild Geese operated – for pay – all over Europe. The Viking traditions lived on with the Varangians who operated around the Black Sea. The business of soldiering was very lucrative – especially for the survivors. Criminal piracy was converted to the legal and profitable trade of privateering. Europe was filled with military entrepreneurs with mercenary regiments available to the highest bidder. Even the national armies and navies of various countries were available for hire. The Swedish Foreign Legion consisted mainly of Poles, The Turks employed Swedish elite troops and the Swiss Guard took care of the Popes. The Dutch had their Foreign Legion, the British had the Gurkhas and the French had their Foreign Legion in Africa. American pilots flew in the Lafayette Escadrille and American volunteers joined the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. Chennault’s Flying Tigers were American pilots flying in the Chinese Air Force. The Spanish had their Foreign Legion and the International Brigade fought in Spain.
In the last 50-60 years, the business of soldiering has become an industry in its own right. Mercenaries – of any nationality – are now known as “private contractors” or “defence contractors”. Governments are increasingly outsourcing the business of war. As with all outsourcing, the temporary hiring of military resources minimises the liability and cost that comes with the maintaining of permanent resources. Moreover it adds a layer of deniability when things go wrong and does not deprive the employer of any credit if things go well.
The US has been using private contractors in a big way for some 4 decades now. After all, private contractor presence does not count as “boots on the ground”. The war in Iraq is now being conducted for the US to a large extent by private contractors.
The U.S. government is preparing to boost the number of private contractors in Iraq as part of President Barack Obama’s growing effort to beat back Islamic State militants threatening the Baghdad government, a senior U.S. official said.
How many contractors will deploy to Iraq – beyond the roughly 1,800 now working there for the U.S. State Department – will depend in part, the official said, on how widely dispersed U.S. troops advising Iraqi security forces are, and how far they are from U.S. diplomatic facilities.
Still, the preparations to increase the number of contractors – who can be responsible for everything from security to vehicle repair and food service – underscores Obama’s growing commitment in Iraq. When U.S. troops and diplomats venture into war zones, contractors tend to follow, doing jobs once handled by the military itself.
“It is certain that there will have to be some number of contractors brought in for additional support,” said the senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
After Islamic State seized large swaths ofIraqi territory and the major city of Mosul in June, Obama ordered U.S. troops back to Iraq. Last month, he authorized roughly doubling the number of troops, who will be in non-combat roles, to 3,100, but is keen not to let the troop commitment grow too much.
There are now about 1,750 U.S. troops in Iraq, and U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel last week ordered deployment of an additional 1,300.
The U.S. military’s reliance on civilians was on display during Hagel’s trip to Baghdad this month, when he and his delegation were flown over the Iraqi capital in helicopters operated by State Department contractors.
……… the State Department boosted from 39 to 57 the number of personnel protecting the U.S. consulate in Erbil that came under threat from Islamic State forces during its June offensive.
That team is provided by Triple Canopy, part of the Constellis Group conglomerate, which is the State Department’s largest security contractor. Constellis did not respond to a phone call seeking comment.
The presence of contractors in Iraq, particularly private security firms, has been controversial since a series of violent incidents during the U.S. occupation, culminating in the September 2007 killing of 14 unarmed Iraqis by guards from Blackwater security firm.
Three former guards were convicted in October of voluntary manslaughter charges and a fourth of murder in the case, which prompted reforms in U.S. government oversight of contractors. ……..