“A bunch of lawless and godless rambos”

Private military and security companies have become a profitable industry in the u.S

Many of the images from iraq will remain in the public’s memory. In addition to the shocking photos from the military prison abu ghureib (sadistic concentration camp games), this certainly includes the silenced corpses of fallujah (triumph of cruelty) or the footage sent by iraqi rebels of the execution of american citizens such as the engineer paul johnson. In both cases, the victims were employees of u.S. Defense contractors, so-called "private military companies" (pmcs), which operate as contractors for the pentagon or the u.S. Department of defense in crisis areas around the globe. Johnson worked as an engineer for lockheed martin, the dead of fallujah accompanied a food convoy of the us army on behalf of blackwater security consulting (the global economy of soldier troops).

When a small reconnaissance plane was shot down in the jungles of the southern colombian province of caqueta by the marxist guerrillas farc (fuerzas armadoas revolucionarias de colombia) in february 2003, there were no television pictures, magazine articles or press conferences. Two of the inmates were killed in an ensuing firefight, and three survivors were captured and abducted. Until today marc gonsalves, keith stansell and thomas howe are still in the hands of the rebels. They, too, are u.S. Burgers, and they, too, worked for one of the u.S.’s roughest security companies, northrop grumman. In an unsuccessful rescue operation, three more americans were killed a short time later when their plane hit a tree under heavy fire. According to a report by the u.S. Department of defense, another has now been added to the qualification requirements of contractors for colombia: jungle survival training.

Private military and security companies have become a profitable industry in the u.S. A side effect of the boom, which is not necessarily desired, at least on the part of those responsible, is increased public attention. The scientist peter singer recently caused quite a stir in the usa when he wrote in his book "corporate warriors"1 pointed in particular to the uncontrollability of this sector, which continues to expand rapidly.

Also "the mirror" recently published a comprehensive dossier entitled "private warfare at state expense" on the same topic.2 the focus of attention is mostly on iraq, the "new klondike" (spiegel) for soldiers from all over the world. Colombia, on the other hand, is rarely reported. But while it is unclear how the experience of the iraq war will influence further cooperation between the military and pmcs, the andean country was at least able to provide indications for the time after a possible (partial) withdrawal of u.S. Troops from iraq, despite the different starting points.

Rent-a cop

About two dozen pmcs are active in colombia, some of them for more than 10 years. According to official data, three such companies had contracts with the u.S. Department of defense last year, and 17 others with the u.S. Department of defense. As in iraq or afghanistan, the companies provide advisors, trainers, surveillance experts, pilots, guards or technicians. But also private companies or business groups are getting involved "contractors" to protect facilities, oil fields and pipelines, which are popular targets for guerrilla attacks.

Dyncorp, part of the technology conglomerate computer sciences corporation (csc), which makes 98% of its revenue from business with u.S. Government institutions and u.A. The women’s group, which has also provided personal security for afghan president hamid karzai, is the main contractor in colombia. Lucrative contracts were also signed by well-known large companies such as lockheed martin, bechtel, the helicopter manufacturer sikorsky, and the german military bell or several offshoots of the texas oil company halliburton, whose former director is u.S. Vice president dick cheney.

The difference with iraq lies primarily in the mabstab. Officially, at least, colombia is not in a state of war. There are currently 135 troops in iraq.000 american soldiers, supplemented by about 20.000 -25.000 soldiers from all over the world. In colombia, the possible maximum number is – "troop cap" – the number of american military personnel is limited by law to 400. Their task is to support local police and army units in the region "war on drugs", to support the fight against drug cultivation and smuggling. However, american soldiers are strictly forbidden from intervening in the country’s civil war, which has been smoldering for more than 40 years.

This rule has long been a thorn in the side of generals and political hardliners on both sides. For one thing, it is argued, drug and guerrilla warfare overlap, as the rebels have benefited financially from cultivation and sales. Zum anderen ist kolumbien heute nach israel und agypten der drittgrobte empfanger amerikanischer militarhilfe und unter den anwesenden us-soldaten befinden sich kaum genug spezialisten, um die kolumbianischen sicherheitskrafte im umgang mit den gelieferten geraten, z.B. Hubschraubern, waffensysteme oder nachrichtentechnik, zu schulen. Die hilfe von pmcs, deren angestellte grobtenteils ehemalige angehorige von eliteneinheiten oder geheimdiensten sind, ist da mehr als willkommen.

Auch hier wurde im "foreign aid law" mitte 2002 eine obergrenze von 400 festgelegt, die sich allerdings nur auf amerikanische staatsburger bezieht. Private sicherheitsunternehmen sind deshalb dazu ubergegangen, angehorige anderer nationalitaten anzustellen. Die us-regierung halt sich bedeckt, wenn es darum geht, wie viele solcher soldner tatsachlich in kolumbien aktiv sind. It is certain that their number far exceeds not only the established ceiling, but also the presence of regular u.S. Military personnel.

Criticism is voiced time and again, especially with regard to the barely controllable operational competencies, which threaten to become increasingly opaque, not least under the influence of the global war on terror.3 contractors’ employees not only train colombian units in anti-guerrilla warfare, but also accompany them on reconnaissance missions or combat missions.

Legally, the soldiers, who are referred to by the colombian weekly semana as the "rambos," are not subject to military jurisdiction "bunch of lawless and godless rambos" the soldiers, who have been designated as such, are not subject to military jurisdiction and do not have to answer to congressional committees. A prosecution for participating in actions that resulted in the deaths of civilians, such as.B. The 2001 flat-bombing of several villages controlled by guerrillas, is practically impossible. In the same year, another military contractor, aviation development corporation of alabama, came under the spotlight for. The company, in collaboration with the colombian military, ran the controversial "air bridge denial program" by which the pilots were authorized to force planes suspected of drug smuggling to land, if necessary. After the shooting down of the airplane of an american missionary and her daughter over peru, what has been called the "shootdown policy" the program, which has become known, has been temporarily suspended. The operations, originally directed by the cia, are now under the control of the state department.

Fighting drugs or "mission creep"?

Despite the alarming incidents, little information on the pmcs’ services and activities in colombia is coming to light. The usa’s foreign policy strategy is mainly focused on threats in iraq, afghanistan and north korea. The public is only mildly interested in colombia’s problems, and the andean country is not a high priority on the media agenda either.

Human rights organizations accuse the pmcs of fueling the conflicts unnecessarily and of dragging the u.S. Deeper and deeper into the colombian civil war, bypassing political and public control. Memories of the less glorious american involvement in el salvador, nicaragua and vietnam come to mind. Part of the aerial bombing campaign against coca plantations in the colombian jungles is being conducted by eagle aviation services and technology inc., a subsidiary of dyncorp, the same company that secretly supplied weapons to nicaraguan rebels in the iran-contra scandal of the 1980s.

The same applies to colombia as to iraq: modern warfare has long since ceased to be fought by the regular armed forces alone. The profitability of the "outsourcing"-u.S. Government strategy has been repeatedly questioned by recent investigations. Officials point out, however, that the military could not perform many of the tasks taken over from private companies. The fact that this includes delicate and dangerous operations, which are forbidden to regular troops, but for which the government does not have to take responsibility even in the case of failure, is all too readily forgotten.

The administration, like the pmcs, is interested in keeping it that way. The soldiers themselves are well aware of the risks they are taking, but in some cases they allow themselves to be rewarded for their discretion with three times the daily pay of a normal soldier. At least five employees of private security companies died in operations in colombia in 2003, and the number in iraq is estimated at around 50. These figures are hard to believe. The dead do not appear in the casualty statistics of the american army any more than the kidnapped marc gonsalves, keith stansell and thomas howe. They are all victims of conflicts in which they do not officially participate. The rebels – iraqi, afghan or colombian – don’t care. Their cause knows no differences.

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