Soon after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a partial troop pull-out, the number of Russian visitors to the war-torn country reached an all-time high. These two items are probably related.
According to the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), 17,000 Russians went from Russia to Syria in the first half of 2018. That is far more than any other six-month period since the Russian intervention launched in 2015. In contrast, fewer than 2,000 Russians traveled to Syria during all of 2014. Naturally, not all of these visitors are mercenaries and the number may be inflated because some people made multiple trips, but is is enough of ain increase to raise eyebrows.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu stated that 63,000 Russian soldiers have fought in Syria since 2015.
Some Differences Between Mercenaries and Contractors
In the minds of many, Russian mercenaries and American contractors are basically the same. After all, they are both gun-toting paramilitary forces, right? Not exactly.
Perhaps most importantly, Russian mercenaries operate with no official oversight. Moscow has yet to confirm that the shadowy Wagner Group and other mercenary organizations are even in Syria. As always, if any of their agents are caught or killed, the secretary will disavow any knowledge of their actions.
In contrast, American contractors need a license from the State Department to operate in a foreign country. Granted, the State Department grants these licenses liberally. However, it also reviews them frequently and does occasionally suspend or revoke them.
The bottom line is that there are at least some guarantees that American contractors will exercise restraint when needed. There is absolutely no such guarantee with regards to mercenaries.
Additionally, mercenaries are free to conduct offensive operations. Indeed, that is usually the reason they are in-country in the first place. Russian mercenaries are not in Syria to protect Russian servicemembers, because most of them have left. Mercenaries are also not in-country to oversee supply convoys and escort VIPs. The Kremlin is not paying top dollar for security guards. They are only there to fight anti-Assad rebels.
In contrast, American contractors only participate in defensive operations. In fact, a large number of American contractors do not carry guns at all. They serve in combat support roles or in completely non-combat roles.
Finally, mercenaries fight primarily for money. If the money stopped, they would probably leave. Revolutionary War-era Hessians are a good example. These German mercenaries could not speak English, cared little about a British dispute with its colonies, and probably could not even find the future United States on a map. They only cared about British money.
American contractors fight partially for money. Their compensation may be two or three times higher than what their servicemember comrades earn. But contractors serve primarily to advance American interests. They would not switch sides to ISIS if they got better deals.
The Reconstruction Process
The fighting in Syria will end eventually, or at least it will fall dormant for a long period of time. When that happens, Russian mercenaries will leave. But American contractors will stay behind, because there will still be much work to do. In Vietnam, America learned that it is possible to win the battles and lose the war. U.S. planners do not want that to happen again.
Estimates vary widely, but some believe it may cost $1 trillion to rebuild Syria, and that is assuming that the civil war ends fairly quickly with little more destruction. This assumption is a very big “if.”
Fortunately, the war has not scarred some parts of the country, though many towns almost literally lie in ruins. Before refugees even think about returning home, there must be a home to return to. That means schools, hospitals, power plants, streets, houses, parks, and all the things that we normally associate with a peaceful city.
So, there is a lot of work to do. Generally, American construction contractors supervise the work on these projects and local laborers do most of the actual work. This arrangement pumps some money into the local economy, is an efficient use of American resources, and gives the community a stake in the outcome.
That last element is quite important. Builders in Dallas only have to worry about theft and accidents. Builders in Damascus must worry about these things, too. They must also deal with occasional sabotage and militant attacks. For that, they need armed protection. We are not talking about a lone security guard with a knight stick. In many cases, the number of soldiers protecting a project may be almost as large as the number of workers doing the building.
Injury Compensation Available
A contractor injury has devastating consequences for a family, and not just because of the injury itself. In many cases, the contractor was the family’s primary or sole income source. Without it, there is no way to pay bills. The family may get caught in a downward economic spiral that seems endless.
To reverse this trend, the Defense Base Act provides lost wages benefits. Typically, these benefits are two-thirds of the victim’s average weekly wage. Contrary to popular myth, recovering injury victims can work while they get better. Many must take light-duty assignments or other lower-paying jobs during this time. So, the DBA usually pays two-thirds of the difference between the old and new salaries.
Some injuries never entirely heal. For example, a contractor may break her collarbone and suffer permanent loss of motion in that shoulder. In these cases, alternative compensation is available. Some factors include the type of injury, extent of disability, and the contractor’s occupation.
For more information about the DBA process, contact Barnett, Lerner, Karsen & Frankel, P.A.