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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 8/18/10

The Rise of America's "Shadow Army"

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Hamid Karsai, America's quisling president in Afghanistan was in the news yesterday, declaring he wants all private security contractors out of the country in four months. These personnel (among their many functions, official or otherwise) provide security for foreign embassy personnel and dignitaries et al have also been implicated in the killing of innocent Afghan civilians, which was the focus of Karsai's announcement.

It is the latter that prompted his ire. Technically, these private security contractors are subject to Afghan law but when incidents (killings) involving their personnel occur these companies remove the perpetrators thus avoiding all justice and accountability. In land locked Afghanistan, these contractors also provide security for supply convoys (munitions, fuel and other war related materials and supplies used by American and NATO forces). To insure safe passage through insurgent dominated areas, payments are made by the contractors to warlords, even local Taliban leaders who control these areas. Thus we have the paradox of US tax dollars going to the enemy our forces are fighting against.

What was missing in the Karsai announcement was his not mentioning the reality of private contractors operating as mercenaries in the country. This is not a new phenomenon in Afghanistan, but one that has increased as the war in Iraq has wound down just as the Afghan war has been escalated.

Some background is in order. In Iraq, the use of private contractor mercenaries came to be used as a complement and to what the military (and the CIA) were doing in conducting that war. The Pentagon hired these private contractors and they were given pretty much carte blanche immunity from prosecution. They don't fall under the military code of justice as they are not official military personnel. When incidents occurred that they had perpetrated and innocent Iraqi civilians died at their hands, they were whisked out of the country by the company that employed them (as is now done in Afghanistan).

At the height of the Iraq war in 2005 and 2006, the number of private contractor mercenaries out numbered the official military personnel.

This rise of the use of private contractors to fight our wars (along with the military which receives the overwhelming bulk of attention i.e. number of troops, the comments from Generals in the war theatre, the ex military consultants portrayed as experts on the T.V. news) is mostly a background story (if mentioned at all).

It is likely most of the American people are unaware of the use and growth of these Pentagon sponsored contractors we use as proxies to fight our wars. Since they are not official "military" or even CIA personnel, Congressional oversight of them is nil. They fall through the crack as it were. But this "shadow army" is increasingly used in commando operations, drone strikes in Pakistan as well as Afghanistan and reportedly in Yemen, Somalia, Sudan even Iran.

What began insignificantly in the Gulf war in 1991 to remove Saddam from Kuwait, has seen these "shadow" warriors grow exponentially in both the Iraq war and in Afghanistan.

As to the private security contractor dilemma Karsai faces in Afghanistan, it is highly unlikely their use will diminish.

These contractors have become the Pentagons de facto army. Not enough enlistees volunteering to join the armed forces? No problem. Hire private contractors. They get killed? Who cares? They get wounded? They're not covered under military care. Plus the Congress has no official oversight and the Pentagon gets funded the funds they ask for.

Sadly, the use of private contractor mercenaries fighting as proxies in our wars is here to stay.

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