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Was just part of a junket which culminated in a meeting with the president of Blackwater (yes, that Blackwater...). I'm still digesting a lot of it, and will have more comments. But one thing he said really hit me - that with 300 of his troops (the news story says 250, but his comment was for 300) and 600 elite troops they would pick and mentor from the AU forces, they could shut down the genocide in Darfur.

I didn't ask what he charges for his forces, but imagine that it's $50,000/month/pair of boots. That's $15 million a month - $180 million for the year. Why aren't we having a telethon with Hollywood celebrities raising money for this?


It sounds like a Jerry Pournelle novel, but this is the future of international security for much of the world.

1. It's cheaper than UN Peacekeepers, which are not cheap.

2. It's fast. Peacekeepers and state forces arrive with glacial speed. Their commitments are constant hostage to politics.

3. Insurgent forces are poorly trained as a rule and can be countered by numerically inferior forces that are willing engage them on a sustained basis.

4. Rwanda. It's a mind-blowing object lesson to anyone who seriously faces the same thing. Peacekeepers were there, failed, and ran. Regional forces could not intervene in time to stop the massacre because political obstacles to mobilization were too great.

No, I don't think so.

Blackwater is a fine organization, don't get me wrong -- I have met a few of their number here and there, and I've got some respect for them. But they can't do it alone.

The fact is that BW is not immune to the need for an overall COIN strategy. It may be they can disrupt a situation like Darfur, but that just means your opponents drop back into the insurgent stance.

COIN doesn't work with just kinetic troops -- "elite" or otherwise. You need fairly massive civil affairs investment, and that's something BW doesn't have and will never have. That's not to say that corporations can't do it -- KBR does it well -- but the BW costs are simply a fraction of what the total cost would be. Yes, you can do COIN privately. But they still need a local government to support, even if it's one they help stand up; and they need a huge amount of medical, economic, and technical help to pull off the stability operations that are what really end an insurgency.

BW can do great things, to be sure. But they can't fix something like Darfur, not by themselves.

all the people i know at blackwater make around 1000-1500 a day, depending on the gig.

Fully-burdened cost would probably be substantially higher than whatever they get paid.

A regular non-combat contracting company I'm familiar with in the USA has made deals with a major corporation based in Redmond, WA for only about 23 to 25% over the wage paid to the contractors. I'd expect Blackwater to ask for substantially more in most circumstances; but the linked article did say "at cost".

Don't know that the logistical tail would allow for any lower margin than 25%; that actually seems to be on the lean side for an operation overseas in hostile country -- but this is not my line of work.

Do Blackwater people get free lunches and Odwalla the way Google employees do? ( :) ) And who pays for lodging and consumables?

Also, OT, am I the only one who thinks "Blackwater Junket" sounds like some delicacy a denizen of Walt Kelly's (Pogo) Okefenokee Swamp might whomp up for dessert?

there is a history channel special on pcms (private military corporations) that was talking about civil war in i believe sierra leone (maybe thats just blood diamond, i saw the special a while ago) and talked about how a south african company with a couple hundred contractors stopped civil war. until, of course, the un and all kinds of liberal minded people decided mercenaries were all evil and white south africans were somehow exploiting that small african nation. the reality was that an overwhelming percentage of the contractors were themselves black africans, but they were also brutal by modern standards. they did not abide violence, and reacted 'kinetically.' the civil war ended quickly, and stability reigned. international outcry soon pressured the government and the pcm to abandon the agreement. the un put some large multiple of the number of forces the pcm had in (some kind of factor, 10, 100, something ridiculous) and of course the violence immediately resumed because the un forces had no mandate to react to anything. they were un troops. enough said.

bottom line, africa is a brutal continent. pcms, whatever their shortcomings according to the accepted rules of warfare between western states, are prepared to handle the realities on the ground in ways no western state ever could. spare the rod, spoil the child.

The International Criminal Court would demolish this. What is not politically possible is not possible.

The real problem is that the situation wouldn't remain static. The same Sudanese government that's supporting the paramilitaries could easily step in and pit "real" military force against a bunch of "foreign mercenaries" on their own territory.

I have no doubts that Blackwater would give as well as it got in that kind of situation, but it's a small company, not a state, and there's a bottom to its resources. Not to put it too bluntly, that kind of intervention would be profitable if, and only if, the opposition remained poorly-armed janjaweed with rifles and pickup trucks.

It's too bad, really, because if we wanted, we could easily use that as a case for war; have Blackwater contracted by a charitable relief organization instead of a government, then use the reprisal as an excuse to put US military on the ground. It'd be pretty transparent, sure, but who the hell would care? Those who would accuse us of war-mongering are doing that anyway, even in places where we haven't even thought about monging. If we're to be hung for sheep, we might as well be hung for wolves...

The issues raised above aside, the reason the Hollywood types will not do a telethon they have no understanding of the fact that underneath the diplomats white glove lies the mailed glove.
I think that is why you call yourself the "Armed Liberal."

It sounds great!!!

Has anyone bothered to ask Mr. Blackwater what the effect it would have on our Republic?

From AL

Why aren't we having a telethon with Hollywood celebrities raising money for this?

Or better yet, why isn't Blackwater underwriting it as a means of cleaning up their image?

#1 from Glen Wishard at 3:53 am on Aug 23, 2008

1. It's cheaper than UN Peacekeepers, which are not cheap.

Cheaper does not always mean better.

3. Insurgent forces are poorly trained as a rule and can be countered by numerically inferior forces that are willing engage them on a sustained basis.

Would they only be sent in to help against insurgent forces. Or do you see them being used against poorly trained government troops as well. If not, why not?

Being sent into areas not as security but as stateless mercenaries would they be subject to imprisionment as unlawful combatants.

Did Mr. Blackwater see any downside in his band of itinerant "Lone Rangers" cleaning up a succession of Dodges?

I think he has been reading too many of his own comic books


Cheaper does not always mean better.

More expensive does not mean better, either. This isn't about who's better, this is about forces that will fight where UN and foreign national forces will not.

Would they only be sent in to help against insurgent forces. Or do you see them being used against poorly trained government troops as well.

If you recall the realpolitik that you preach when it suits you, it would be used the same way any other kind of military force is used - against the just and the unjust alike.

Note that I do NOT think this is a good thing. Africa needs regional security, provided by responsible African states. It doesn't have that, and it absolutely does not have an international community that can be relied on to do anything except watch Africans die.

A new generation of mercenaries is a lousy solution, but it's better than being the next Rwanda or Darfur.

Being sent into areas not as security but as stateless mercenaries would they be subject to imprisionment as unlawful combatants.

They should be, but in the rush to stick it to the US we've thrown out as worthless the necessity of states having a monopoly on force, and decided that unlawful combatants should get all the privileges of being legitimate POWs, inherently granting legitimacy to the use of force by their controllers, who are most definitely not proper states.

While the first who benefit are the non-governmental political organizations, they are only the first. Consider this.

In 2005, before oil prices went up, the top 3 US oil companies (Exxon, Chevron, Conoco-Phillips) paid 44 billion collectively in taxes. If they suddenly uprooted, took over a small Pacific island, and spent that money instead on themselves, they'd suddenly be the worlds 5th largest military power (in economic terms) behind only the US, China, Russia, and France.

And they'd be a nuclear power inside 5 years.

Let's not go down this road, that way lies chaos, or more probably, a form of technocratic feudalism that's going to be hard to prevent from happening even without subsidizing it.

Other issues aside, I suspect your cost numbers are quite a ways off:

Not that I'm any sort of military professional, but from reading Jim Dunnigan's StrategyPage list, it seems like a major problem the AU forces have in stopping the bandits/rebels/gov't proxies in Darfur/Chad is lack of decent logistics, recon, and air support. Without that, the already undermanned and ill-trained troops haven't much hope to do more than mount a static defense of a fraction of those at risk.

Whoever's boots are on the ground, those issues won't go away. So if you want to take the fight to the bad guys, and wrap matters up rather than let it fester, cost in some C-130s, some UAVs - preferable armed, and some CAS capable aircraft, along with munitions, fuel and maintenance and logistical support. That doesn't come cheap, as anyone who watches the DOD budget can attest.

Look at what happened to Simon Mann. Look at why Sandline is no longer operating. The French have the Foreign Legion with lots of operational experience in Africa. Why not them?

Because we pretend that the fiction of international law is real.

Oh don't forget that Mann ended the conflict in Sierra Leone with approximately the same number of troops that Blackwater suggests for Sudan.


Being sent into areas not as security but as stateless mercenaries would they be subject to imprisionment as unlawful combatants.

They would be subject to being SHOT if a tribunal finds that they are unlawful combatants. The GC demands that they get a trial first - and let's not even get started on that.

Tim -

Sponsor states can often provide aircraft, even if only for recon. It's their war, after all. The defunct Sandline company was apparently supplied with aircraft by Papua New Guinea as part of a contract; they supplied the pilots and aircrew.

#13: For CAS, Super Tucanos might work quite well, and they're nowhere near as expensive as A-10s.

The true total fiscal cost is indeed an open question, somewhat orthogonal to the overall feasibility and advisability, but not entirely so, for the reasons you imply.

You can never do only one thing.

That's exactly right. They are due a hearing on their status, which would need to establish (to show they were mercenaries as defined by the GCs) that:

1) They were paid substantially more than lawful soldiers deployed to the conflict, and,

2) That they were not citizens of High Contracting parties to the conflict. The GCs permit you to go to war for profit, so long as you do it only in wars in which your country is a partisan.

So, as long as their mission was authorized by a High Contracting Party -- and were citizens of that party -- they should be OK.

Not that it would matter, since their enemies would hang them from bridges, behead them, or burn them alive without trial. That's been the fate of Blackwater employees in the past, as well as formal US soldiers. So, you know, whatever: as always, the GCs are about us restraining ourselves. They have no other practical function.

Morrison [from CSIS] said that though Prince might have some good ideas about how to better equip the African Union forces, the Darfur situation is so complex with regards to both politics and security that Blackwater's involvement could prove to increase the violence in the region.
To paraphrase Jeff Cooper, I should hope so! Time for the janjaweed to take some serious casualties.

(Certainly the questions Tim O. and others have raised about logistics, recon, and CAS are very valid and pertinent. My response is because I'm just as tired of "violence never solved anything" at the international level as I am at the personal self-defense level.)

Why aren't we having a telethon with Hollywood celebrities raising money for this?

A) Because Erik Prince pretty much defines 'gun-and-bible clinging.'

B) Because Hollywood celebrities, by and large, are far more interested in being seen declaiming that Something Must Be Done than actually getting it done.

C) Because it would involve one of those terribly un-nuanced military solutions.

D) Because the bad guys are neither white nor Christian/Jewish.

It is quite simple really. If the contractors are working for the government of the country they are in and are working in uniform then they are part of the regular forces. If the enemy wins they have far more problems than the GC's.

I am surprised that some billionaire has not chosen to simply hire a blackwater army to cleanse NW Pakistan of unsavory elements.

America has 440 billionaire. Not even one has considered doing this?

"Why aren't we having a telethon with Hollywood celebrities raising money for this?"

The sentence from AL and the response in #20 shows how the left has moved away from AL, but AL has not accepted/digested it yet.

Why aren't we having a telethon with Hollywood celebrities raising money for this?

Because war never solved anything?


My apologies to Kirk. I posted before I read the comments.


Hey M., some things are worth repeating, so... no harm, no foul! :-)

Forget Hollywood and the Billionaires. Blackwater has an image problem. They should underwrite a month in Darfur from PR/Communications budget. Announce they are going to clean up the Janjaweed, underwrite it for a month and see if they can solicit more work. They can back it up with an ad on

After seeing their performance before Congress, it defies rationality that anyone would take this outfit seriously. It appears to be a cult as much as anything else and their guru, it appears top me needs some time on a couch.

1) Blackwater has their own logistical tail and air wing (Presidential Airlines).

2) There are a dozen other players beside them (Triple Canopy, Cochise, etc) all of whom have their own specialties that can supplement one another. You wouldn't hire just one company.

3) Letters of marque were still legal last time I checked. They can be issued to land based forces in addition to the traditional privateer. Presumably the same applies to air based groups.

4) Key concern is self-directed missions; don't want to get into the situation Italy had with the condettieri

Treefrog@12: "Technocratic Feudalism." Isn't that what the movie "Rollerball" was all about? Such concepts have been the stock and trade of a large segment of Sci-Fi writing since the 50's. And isn't that sort of what this consortium that hopes to establish an extra-territorial floating "nation" is, in the end, headed toward?

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