Peacekeeping: American Mercenaries in Sudan

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January22, 2007: Blackwater USA has made a deal to train security forces in southern Sudan. This region recently ended over twenty years of rebellion against the Arab dominated government of Sudan. Southern Sudan is primarily black, and non-Moslem. The peace deal gave the southerners a great deal of autonomy, and a cut of the revenue from Sudans recently opened oil fields. The oil is in the south, and threats to prevent production was a major incentive for the government to settle with the black rebels. Now that the southerners have money, they are spending some of it to improve their military capabilities. Since no country will send troops to train the southern militias, Blackwater was hired.

A year ago, Blackwater USA, one of the major providers of security personnel in Iraq, offered to provide a brigade of peacekeepers for any operation, anywhere in the world. In particular, Blackwater said that it could provide a brigade in a place like Darfur for much less money than it would cost NATO to provide the same number of troops. Blackwater proposed providing peacekeepers, not conventional combat troops. This proposal was based on Blackwaters two years of experience in Iraq, where it provided thousands of foreign and Iraqi security personnel. Blackwater hires former military personnel, especially those who have been in Special Operations units, for its security jobs. The company discussed the proposal with American and NATO officials. No one in an official position would make has made any public comments about this concept. It's not a new idea, but the shady historical reputation of mercenaries has worked against any government openly accepting the concept. This in spite of the success of mercenaries in Iraq, and elsewhere.

The Blackwater proposal also addresses a peacekeeper shortage the UN is having. There's also the problem of getting well trained and equipped peacekeeping troops. Pakistan, India and Bangladesh are major contributors of good troops, but there are not enough of them. The UN has been approached about using mercenaries in the past, and has refused to consider it. But with no country rushing to send first class troops to Darfur, and the African Union forces already there being overwhelmed by the scope of the problem, Blackwater's proposal got people thinking, at least in southern Sudan.

There are two other considerations to the Blackwater concept. First, mercenary peacekeepers are already a fact of life in many areas. NGOs, including UN agencies, commonly hire foreign, and local, muscle to provide security. All Blackwater is proposing is expanding this practice, and delivering a more efficient, unified, force. It is known that the NGO practice of hiring local gunmen often leads to further complications, not increased security. A second factor is that, down the road, some of the nations that have been renting lots of their troops, to the UN, on a regular basis, may see the Blackwater Brigade as unwanted competition. Because the UN pays more per peacekeeper than these troops earn back in South Asian or any African countries, these jobs are quite lucrative for the troops and the countries they come from. So, while the Blackwater Brigade may be a good idea, it will only come to pass if it can overcome the political and emotional baggage mercenary peacekeepers drag in with them.

But that has not stopped individual governments, or factions, from bringing in mercenaries. This has also caused a fuss at the UN, given the ease with which a small crew of mercs could remove the many weak governments that are members. Blackwater's biggest customer is the United States, so the firm is in southern Sudan with American permission. Blackwater probably won't go anywhere else without the approval of its patrons. However, no one seems willing to do anything, even with mercenaries, to stop the atrocities in Darfur (western Sudan.)

 


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