Another timely guest post on Libya… This one is courtesy of Spencer Ackerman and is a variation on an assisted regime change plan I outlined in 2009:
The world’s worried about mercenaries in Libya helping Moammar Gadhafi snuff out the Libyan revolution. But what if — what if — the rebels tapped the expanding world of private security to turn them from a ragtag, Red Dawn-esque group of irregulars into a proper military?
No, we haven’t had any sightings of Blackwater founder Erik Prince in Benghazi. But at least some Libyan opposition members don’t think it’s so crazy to hire their own auxiliaries. NBC’s Richard Engel reported on the Rachel Maddow Show on Wednesday that he’d interviewed rebels who’d be grateful for the Blackwaters of the world to offer their services. Erik, call your travel agent!
So, far-fetched as it might be, what would a mercenary campaign on behalf of the Libyan rebels look like? It’d be a training effort, most likely. And it might very well be illegal — so the company willing to take on the deal can probably drive a hard bargain, reaping millions. No risk, no reward, right?
As of now, we’ve been unable to turn up examples of actual merc firms offering their wares to the rebels. Maybe that’s because the United Nations placed an arms-n’-mercenaries embargo on Libya, currently enforced by NATO ships. But some veterans of the private security industry don’t mind sketching out their suggestions for what a hypothetical merc mission to Benghazi might look like.
Here’s the plan from one industry vet who requested anonymity. A team of between 50 and 100 security contractors would make contact with the rebels in Benghazi. They’d present a business proposal centered around two primary tracks. One would be military: they’d teach the rebels basic infantry tactics, like how to shoot and maneuver, and offer guidance on logistics and command.
But they wouldn’t be doing any actual fighting. The only armed mission they might perform is internal security — keeping the streets of Benghazi policed. Maybe.
The other mission would be communication, requiring a two-person team. “Rebels always need better public relations,” the vet says. This wouldn’t just be training in how to shoot video or tweet effectively. They’d bring in satellite phones, mobile connectivity tools, “means to get it done [since] the power of witness is huge.”
And the team would offer the rebels a goal: 90 days, no sleep till Tripoli. That’s predicated on the maintenance of allied air attacks on Gadhafi loyalists. “Given what the coalition has done to his forces, they could get to Tripoli, which would gain momentum from more people, a la Egypt,” the industry vet assesses. Revolution, Inc.
Would it be rude to discuss money? Figure it’ll cost between $500 and $600 per person day for a team that maxes out at 102 personnel. That tops out at a revolution costing $5.5 million from jump. Each crew member can expect to return home with $54,000 in — presumably — cash.
That seems low to Doug Brooks, the president and founder of the International Peace Operations Association, which sticks up for the interests of private security firms. For a training mission in a place as dangerous as Libya, Brooks calculates that a company could probably charge a minimum of $250,000 per contractor.
Still, a $5.5 million revolutionary effort to change the picture on the ground would cost roughly as much as five Tomahawk missiles, which run you between $1 million and a million-five each. On just the first day of Operation Odyssey Dawn, 112 of them were fired from coalition ships and subs. For all their power against Gadhafi’s air defenses, they didn’t change the dynamic between the loyalists and the opposition.
Not that Brooks or the Association recommends putting security contractors into Benghazi. “Unless there’s some sort of legal structure, it becomes dicey, and possibly criminal,” Brooks warns. “Unless you get one of those three-letter agencies backing you, it could come back to bite you.” Now that’s a business plan.
I received the following response to this post:
“Isn’t the whole point of hiring mercenaries to work for the side with the most money? Gadhafi is the one with the multi-billion dollar war chest. He can outbid a band of desperate rebels.”
And here is my response to that response:
I agree on the desirability of working for the side with the most money. However, there are a couple of ways to look at this. It would seem that whichever side ultimately wins Libya will be the one which ends up with the real prize. Yes, Gadhafi’s billions are nothing to sneer at, but the Libyan oil is worth much, much more.
If you consider the manner in which Executive Outcomes was rewarded for some of their work in Africa through mineral concessions, a team of mercenaries could theoretically work out a similar compensation scheme with the Libyan rebels that involved a substantial stake in the oil fields. So, sure, in the short term one could probably make some money off of Gadhafi, but in the long term it could ultimately prove far more profitable to support the rebels.
Under the current circumstances, the rebels simply do not seem to have the capacity to take over much more of Libya even with the substantial help provided by the NATO bombing runs. Without outside intervention in the form of boots on the ground, it seems likely that Libya will slip into a bloody stalemate between a pissed off, and therefore potentially dangerous (or at least troublesome), Gadhafi in the west and the disorganized rebels in the east. Would the rebels not be eager to tip the balance decisively in their favor? After all, it wouldn’t cost them anything up front and “payment” is only delivered if they are ultimately triumphant. And would not NATO welcome a resolution to the conflict in favor of the side they backed? Of course, the West/NATO might publicly criticize the use of mercenaries for the sake of appearances, but would they not secretly breathe a sigh of relief to have the problem sorted out and to avoid having to intervene more directly in the conflict themselves? I doubt, considering the circumstances, that the West would block the mineral concession compensation scheme I outlined above.
*** FURTHER UPDATE ***
And here is Robert Young Pelton’s more sober analysis of the scenario hypothesized by Spencer Ackerman:
Spence sadly doesn’t know his contractor rules.
First you would need State Dept approval and they still have their head up their ass on Libya, then you would have to win a bid. Urgent and Compelling only goes to around 10M and training troops is not a unique skill, secondly you would need to hire equip and support not just the trainers but the support elements (vehicles, food, water, security, base, comms etc)
Secondly you would need arabic speakers…good luck. They are few and far between. If it was a covert gig, everyone needs clearances and you need cleared terps (plenty of those). You would need a reliable supply of weapons, ammo, comms and transport.
Finally you would need to get PAID before you started training and then the training would take a minimum of 3 – 6 weeks.
I also suppose this would be jobbed out to a friendly nation and not employ US contractors. Right now I would imagine we have some A teams coordinating air strikes as well as shaping up the motley crew. But honestly the US is really not into Libya because it is yet another no win situation.
My guess is they will play this the old fashioned way, have the CIA dump money, weapons, ammo, SAD advisors and force multipliers and pretend nothing is going on. They might contract out the long term stuff.
The revolutionary leadership claims Serb mercenaries were among Gaddafi’s fighters at Ajdabiya and that they had been seeking to surrender in return for safe passage to Serbia. The revolutionaries acknowledge the shortcomings of their own military, mostly made up of young men with no experience, while continuing to insist they have the ability to defeat Gaddafi’s forces if only they were equipped with the necessary arms, particularly anti-tank weapons, rockets and radios.
Libyan forces will not do anything against rebels and also they cant fighth with rebels until NATO Forces in behind them so this is waste of the time to fight with rebels and against NATO forces. Within a few weeks the NATO forces & rebels will win the fight.
Update from Spencer Ackerman…
We were mostly speculating last week when we mused about a plan for mercenaries to help the Libyan rebels defeat Moammar Gadhafi. But now a professor at the Naval Academy thinks it’s not such a bad idea.
Deane-Peter Baker, a private-security expert and professor at Annapolis, fears the same “stalemate” that Adm. James Stavridis warned about in Senate testimony on Wednesday. And if NATO ground troops are off the table, it’s time to “outsource the problem,” he writes in a new Baltimore Sun op-ed.
The U.S. should “provide the necessary funding for the rebels to secure the services of one or more of the private companies that could supply the necessary expertise and logistical support to turn the rebel rabble into a genuine fighting force,” Baker argues.
Good luck finding them. The president of the International Peace Operations Association, which advocates for private security firms, says companies aren’t looking to do business with the rebels because it’s arguably illegal under the United Nations resolution authorizing the war.
But the U.S. is finding convenient workarounds inside those U.N. authorities. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the U.S. has the flexibility under it to arm the rebels. Maybe next the Obama administration will assert that, ahem, “trainers” can flow in to Benghazi too. After all, someone’s got to teach the rebels how to use the weapons they’d get from the West.
And if the U.S. doesn’t want to send in ground troops — whether for political reasons or because of military overstretch — that leaves the “ultimate volunteers,” as Baker calls the mercs. Let’s see if his call catches on at the Pentagon or at NATO.
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As the war in Libya reaches its conclusion around Moammar Gadhafi’s hometown of Sirte, rather embarrassing questions are starting to be asked about the role of mercenaries. Until now the focus has been on Gadhafi importing so-called “African” mercenaries from the Central African Republic and Chad, but now a Bosnian-Croat has come forward to say that he had been brought in by Gadhafi as an advisor and over the course of the six month conflict observed the gradual but inevitable collapse of the regime. “Mario” the Croat may not be the only one, as Croatian news sites are reporting that as many as 17 Croats or Bosnian-Croats might have been arrested in Tripoli. There had been rumors in February at the start of the rebellion that Gadhafi had hired Serbs to fight for him.
If any of these stories are true, it would hardly be surprising. The break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s left a legacy of a young and disaffected male population with basic military training and experience in the irregular warfare which has become the norm in today’s myriad conflicts. These Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs are now featuring more and more in mercenary markets such as Afghanistan and Iraq.