Peace Time: November 4, 1999

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The 21st Century Mercenaries; The economic, social and political chaos in many parts of the world has produced one benefit, a new type of mercenary. For thousands of years, organized groups of soldiers have hired themselves out to whoever will pay the going rate. As nations became better organized, and armed, in the past century, the use of mercenaries declined. But in the last decade there has been a mercenary revival. The big difference today is that the mercenaries not only offer well armed, trained and led soldiers, but also all the combat support services that made national armies so powerful that mercenaries nearly disappeared. Mercenaries are now corporations like Sandline International, Executive Outcomes Ltd, Globe Risk and MPRI (Military Professional Resources Inc.) These organizations specialize in non-combat services like training, procurement, maintenance, public relations and political consulting. Africa, the region with the greatest amount of need, has some ninety mercenary organizations in action. Most are mainly beefed up security firms, providing protection to mining companies and other commercial operations. Some provide mercenaries and gun running for rebel movements or factions in a civil war..

MPRI is one of the more notable of these new mercenary outfits. Formed in 1987 and chartered, unofficially, by the U.S., MPRI deals largely with clients approved by the American government and provides services that might be politically embarrassing if done by the U.S. government itself. MPRI's staff are largely former members of the U.S. military. MPRI has worked in Croatia, Colombia, Bosnia, Sweden, Taiwan, Macedonia, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Africa. An example of how this works is the contract MPRI has had with Croatia in the second half of the 1990s. Although the civil war in Yugoslavia ended in 1995, Croatia still had problems with large numbers of Serbs who had lived in northern Croatia for centuries and were demonstrating separatist tendencies. MPRI provided training in logistics, communications and weapons use that enabled the Croats to run the Serbs out of northern Croatia in a very quick and efficient campaign. The Croats insist that they did it all by themselves, but they had a lot of good advice, and they paid MPRI for it.

In 1997, Sierra Leone's elected president, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah was overthrown by his army. But he hired Sandline International, a British mercenary firm, which organized an armed force that put him back into power. Some mercenary outfits specialize in air transport to difficult areas, whether it be crude airfields in the bush or places where they can expect to get fired on while delivering the goods. Other companies clear land mines, deal with kidnappers or arrange peaceful relations with guerilla movements or well organized bandits. In regions beset by armed groups, some mercenary organizations simply provide sufficient firepower to keep the unfriendly locals under control. 

Many of the current mercenaries are hired guns in the classic sense. Russian and East European veterans of disbanded communist armies have hired themselves out to anyone, for anything. These lads show up in Africa a lot, often with a large array of Russian designed weapons. These include helicopter gunships, jet aircraft and large transports. Called "white devils" by the locals, these largely Slavic mercenaries are backed by gun running operations back home. There are enormous quantities of Cold War era weapons available in Eastern Europe, and several organizations (most only vaguely legal) have appeared to ship this stuff anywhere, to anyone at any time, for a price.

But the future is in outfits like MPRI. Operating legally, and serving only legitimate (more or less) governments, the new 21st Century Mercenaries provide support that lasts. Instead of just bringing in troops to do the dirty work, the idea now is to show the client how to do it themselves. And there is much to do. Many nations today have, in theory, the resources (in men and money) to form their own armed forces. But military matters are now more complicated than just giving a lot of young men guns and paying them regularly. There are complicated logistics and maintenance issues for the more powerful, and more complex, weapons. You need experienced people to train your troops how to use, and fight with, the weapons. In a world driven by instant news, governments have to know how to play the press for maximum diplomatic and military advantage. Governments also need advice on how best to handle international organizations like the UN and IMF, not to mention the hundreds of NGOs that rush to disaster areas. 

The mercenaries now arrive in suits as well as battle dress.. 

 


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