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.