Contractors May Spirit Stranded British Orphans Out of Syria

Contractors May Spirit Stranded British Orphans Out of Syria

Since the government is hesitant to send regular servicemembers to the war-torn county, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab may tap contractors to rescue British children.

The current crisis involves several children of a deceased ISIS fighter. According to the BBC and other reports, the three children, all of whom are age 10 or younger, arrived in Syria around 2014. Both their parents were killed during the fighting. To bring the children out, some government ministers supported the use of British Special Forces. But other cabinet ministers strongly objected. So, while the Foreign Office remains committed to providing “safe passage” for the children, the Office admits that “this process is far from straightforward.” Deploying contractors seems to be the preferred solution.

Tory David Davis said that “If we do nothing we will be abandoning our moral obligations,” and there is a good chance the children will become terrorists.

What is Going on in Syria?

The modern conflict in Syria predates the modern state of Syria by several generations. In 1916, World War I was not going well for the Allies. Russia suffered a crushing defeat in the opening weeks of the war. Since then, things on the Eastern Front had rather steadily gone from bad to worse for the decaying Russian Empire. In the West, an extended battle at the French fortress city of Verdun and a disastrous British offensive on the Somme threatened to drain the morale and means of these two powers. The Americans were still neutral and slightly pro-German. They would remain so until April 1917.

Yet in the midst of all this uncertainty, the Great Powers did what they did best. They divided lands they did not control without any consideration for the people who lived there. In 1916, the British and French concluded the secret Sykes-Picot agreement. These two global empires agreed to split the remains of the Ottoman Empire if and when that country collapsed. According to British Minister Scott Sykes’ directive, this pact drew a line “from the E of Acre to the last K of Kirkuk.” British influence would be to the south and French to the north.

What would become Syria essentially straddled that line. So, in a way, the country was involved in civil war before its government even took office.

Many years later, the remains of al Qaeda in Iraq reorganized to form the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. ISIS activity in Syria turned an unstable, local situation into a regional war. As a result, the Syrian Civil War, which seemed to be winding down, heated up again. This time, two of the Great Powers of this age, the United States and Russia, both send military assets to the area.

“Wartime” Contractor Duties

When conflicts erupt in places like Syria, private military contractors often answer the bell. Contractors offer flexibility and deniability. Contractors can quickly respond to changing situations. When their deployment ends, the unit is disbanded and the DoD has no further obligation. At the same time, contractors allow civilian brass to downplay the presence of American troops in a war-torn region. Contractors, and more importantly contractor casualties, do not count in the official tallies.

By law, American contractors perform purely defensive roles in these situations. They guard bases, verify IDs at checkpoints, and escort supply convoys.

Additionally, modern warfare involves a number of high-tech devices and weapons. Contractors know how to use and maintain this equipment. In many cases, Syrian and other contractors work for the companies which designed and built this equipment. Regular servicemembers may require many weeks to get up to speed on a new weapon or drone. But qualified contractors can be in the field in a few days.

Contractors provide some of these same services for friendly regional governments. Additionally, contractors often train soldiers and mechanics. Many contractors are locals themselves. So, they not only overcome the language barrier. They also overcome the culture barrier.

“Peacetime” Duties

After bullets stop flying, contractors will fill some of these same shoes. In fact, training and other missions become more important when there is a lull in the fighting.

Some contractors never carry guns at all. Instead, they carry saws. Quite often, there are more reconstruction contractors than combat contractors. Unless roads, schools, and other infrastructure is repaired, refugees may not return. So, there is a good chance that hostilities will flare up again.

Frequently, contractors provide onsite management and other such services. Local laborers handle most of the work. This arrangement gives the community an investment in the project’s completion.

That investment reduces, but does not eliminate, the need for armed security. Contractors often perform these functions. Once the shooting stops, there is is stateside pressure to “bring the boys home” and local pressure to get rid of foreign fighters, no matter how well-intentioned they are.

Compensation Available

Whether they are wartime or peacetime contractors, the risk of injury is high. That injury could be a militant ambush or a construction site fall. So, the Defense Base Act applies in both these situations.

This 1941 law is essentially what the Veterans Administration is to regular servicemembers. Injured contractors have access to benefits for:

  • Lost Wages: Generally, contractors with temporary disabilities receive two-thirds of their average weekly wage until they return to work. In permanent disability claims, such as the loss of a limb, alternative compensation is usually available.
  • Medical Bills: Typically, the DBA insurance company directly pays all reasonably necessary medical expenses. Such expenses include emergency treatment, follow-up care, physical rehabilitation, medical devices, and physical alterations to dwellings.

The DBA applies if the victim establishes a nexus between the deployment and the injury. Generally, a “nexus” is any direct or indirect relationship. For example, if a suicide bomber injures Juan in a market, the DBA still applies, even though he was not technically on duty at the time.

For more information about DBA procedure, contact Barnett, Lerner, Karsen, Frankel & Castro, P.A.