Commentary

Africa: The Mother of All PMC

By David Isenberg
This article appeared in the Huffington Post on March 22, 2010.

With all the attention being paid to private military and security contractors working in Iraq and Afghanistan it is easy to forget they operate in other parts of the world. But it would be wrong to do so. While PMCs are to the best of my knowledge not, at least not yet, operating in the Arctic, they are just about everywhere else.

And one region where they are increasingly prominent is Africa, the region most closely identified with the modern private security contractor. This is the region that produced the now disbanded Executive Outcomes, the most famous PMC in modern history. Just as Africa is the birthplace of humanity it is also the birthplace of the modern PMC.

While EO no longer exists the use of PMC by the U.S. and commercial firms has steadily increased.

One impetus for the growth of PMC there was the Pentagon’s October 2007 establishment of AFRICOM (United States African Command), the U.S. military’s most recent unified command. To its credit, unlike other unified commands, AFRICOM, responsible for military relations with 53 African nations, focuses on war-prevention, rather than war-fighting. But because the U.S. military deliberately chooses to keep a small military presence in Africa it must rely to a greater degree on private contractors.

As Aviation Week reported on March 17:

The prospect of a mass deployment of U.S. contractors is worrisome to more than a few observers outside of Africom. Contractors have generally performed creditably in Iraq and Afghanistan, but their presence raises issues pertaining to control of their activities, which authority — U.S. or local — has legal responsibility for them and, of course, their cost. Many observers argue that the money spent on contractors is excessive and would be better invested in local economies.

But where Africom might not have the capacity to perform these missions across the continent (it has a staff of about 1,200 spread over 53 countries), the State Dept. is spending almost $100 million a year to pay military contractors to train local forces through its African Contingency Operations Training and Assistance program. In the Fiscal 2010 State-Foreign Operations Appropriations bill, the Obama administration is asking for $96.8 million in funding for the program, which, since 2005, has trained more than 77,000 from about two dozen African nations. But the program is not without critics. A June 2008 Government Accountability Office report found that the State Dept. has had trouble “assessing the proficiency of trained peacekeepers against standard skills taught in training and accounting for the activities of trained instructors.”

It is not hard to find examples of PMC doing work for AFRICOM. In January the State Department awarded DynCorp International a task order for operations and maintenance support in Liberia, under the AFRICAP contract.

AFRICAP is a State Dept. program that uses contractors to provide military training, perform advisory missions and provide logistical support and construction services for State’s programs across Africa. In September 2009, the department awarded a 5-year, multiple-award, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract to three companies: PAE Government Services; DynCorp International and Protection Strategies Inc., with the ceiling for each coming in at $375 million.

The task order, with a value of $5.2 million for the initial 6 month base period, has a potential total value of $20 million over two years if all options are exercised. Under the task order, DynCorp will provide operations and maintenance support for facilities of the Armed Forces of Liberia at Edward B. Kesselly Barracks and Camp Ware in Liberia. Services provided will include electrical power generation, water supply, waste disposal, and vehicle maintenance.

In 2008 I noted that DynCorp has previously provided logistical support and training for peacekeepers in Liberia and Somalia.

In Liberia DynCorp and PAE worked together in the Security Sector Reform program, funded by the State Department. DynCorp was contracted to provide basic facilities and basic training for the Armed Forces of Liberia, while PAE won the contract for building some bases, forming and structuring the AFL and its component units, and for providing specialized and advanced training, including mentoring the AFL’s fledgling officer and non-commissioned officer corps. DynCorp’s job was essentially to “recruit and make soldiers,” while PAE is employed to “mentor and develop” them into a fully operational force.

MPRI has also provided training for the militaries of Benin, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Malawi, Nigeria, Rwanda and Senegal under the State Department’s African Contingency Operations and Assistance Program, (formerly the African Crisis Response Initiative), and separately provided training and analysis to the South African military.

Northrop Grumman also operated under a $75 million contract to support the ACOAP program, which aimed to train 40,000 African peacekeepers over five years.

KBR provided services to at least three bases in Djibouti, Kenya and Ethiopia used by the U.S. Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa.

Just last week NATO reported that in response to the African Union request for strategic airlift support to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), the United States used DynCorp to conduct airlift missions under the NATO banner in support of the Ugandan troop rotations. The airlift, which commenced on 5 Mar 2010 and was completed on 16 Mar 2010, transported 1700 Ugandan troops from Uganda into Mogadishu and re-deploying 850 Ugandan troops out of Mogadishu.

Back in January Gen William Ward, the head of AFRICOM, in an interview with Radio France said, that AFRICOM does not use PMC. But the AFRICOM public affairs office later clarified his statement to indicate that he referred only to security contractors. More importantly, State Department AFRICAP and ACOTA contracts do use security companies.

While, to date, Western PMCs, are thought to have conducted themselves reasonably well and fulfilled their contracts competently they are still viewed by many as being on probation. Last year Eeben Barlow, who founded Executive Outcomes, wrote on his blog:

A number of PMCs/PSCs are sponsored by Western governments who have motives that are not always obvious. These PMCs become their favoured companies to use — and they act on behalf of the sponsoring government’s foreign policy and also act as intelligence fronts. They are not there to help clients but rather to advance their government’s agendas — usually to the detriment of the client-government.

David Isenberg is an analyst in national and international security affairs and a US Navy veteran. He is also a member of the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy, an adjunct scholar with the Cato Institute, and the author of a new book, Shadow Force: Private Security Contractors in Iraq.