Are Military Contractors Fighting for Russia in Syria?

Are Military Contractors Fighting for Russia in Syria?

Although Vladimir Putin does not want people to know it, mercenaries fight for money in Syria, while contractors fight for America in Afghanistan.

When Russian military forces arrived in the country in 2015 to prop up the pro-Russian strongman in a longstanding civil war, mercenaries arrived, as well. Officially, 28 Russian mercenaries have died in Syria during 2017 alone, but the actual figure may be much higher, according to various consular officials. Many of these contractors get paid about $6,500 a month, which is more than 10 times a Russian soldier’s compensation and more than 30 times a domestic police officer’s salary. Many of these mercenaries, such as the ones who work for a shadowy company called Wagner, are veterans of a Ukrainian civil war, where they fought in support of anti-government rebels.

In December 2017, Russian President Putin declared that his country’s military mission in Syria was over, but there is no word as to the fate of the estimated 3,000 Wagner mercenaries.

The Difference Between “Mercenaries” and “Contractors”

Russia and some other countries use mercenaries in places like Syria; the United States uses contractors. Sometimes, the media uses these terms interchangeably, and there are some similarities between the two groups. But the differences greatly outweigh the similarities.

Both mercenaries and contractors are politically advantageous. Their numbers usually do not count in the official tally and their casualties never count as KIA, MIA, or anything else. So, both Moscow and Washington, D.C. can paint a picture of limited involvement and few casualties, and these are things that keep war opponents quieter.

Now for the differences. By definition, mercenaries are only interested in money. Russian mercenaries in Syria are a good example. Strongman Bashar Assad, and his father Hafez Assad, have been close Moscow allies since the Soviet Union days. But Syria is a mostly landlocked, mostly desert country that has little to offer Russia or anyone else in terms of a strategic or commercial partnership. So, the Wagner and other Russian fighters in Syria are not there for Mother Russia. They only care about the money, and if the Syrian rebels paid more, they would probably switch sides.

In contrast, private military contractors only mostly care about the money. Most contractors go to places like Afghanistan and Iraq because of the high pay, but for the most part, they would not switch sides and fight for ISIS or the Taliban, even if those groups paid significantly more money. These fighters are in-country to support U.S. policy, an element of loyalty that mercenaries do not have.

Furthermore, mercenaries engage in both offensive and defensive operations; private military contractors only engage in the latter. In the American Revolution, the British Empire used Hessian mercenaries in both roles. And, like the Russian mercenaries in Syria, the German Hessians only cared about London’s money. They cared nothing about the conflict between the crown and the colonies, and probably could not even speak English.

What Contractors do After the Fighting Ends

There is one final difference worth mentioning. When the bullets stop flying, mercenaries take their money and go home, since they are purely combat troops. Contractors stay and assist in rebuilding efforts because many contractors carry hammers and screwdrivers instead of rifles and grenades. Both are needed as reconstruction begins in areas where the embers of war still smolder.

Reconstruction must begin as soon as an area is mostly pacified, as opposed to entirely pacified. For the most part, civilian refugees will not return to their homes until the infrastructure is completely restored, including things like utilities, schools, roads, and hospitals. Since most of these things must literally be built from the ground up, reconstruction is sometimes more expensive, and longer lasting, than the war itself. The latest estimates are that Syria will need a trillion dollars and 30 years to recover from its long-term civil war. Both these numbers keep climbing.

In terms of construction crews, most contractors use American technical specialists to direct and supervise the work, and local laborers to do the basic work. Such a plan gives the locals some money, and more importantly, gives the locals a sense of ownership in the project.

This ownership is important, because in an anti-insurgency campaign, the insurgents may attack at any moment, especially if the believe they are repelling a foreign invader. So, armed contractors must stay behind to protect the unarmed ones. It is not unusual for a government to use an entire battalion of troops to protect a large project, such as a big dam.

Compensation for Injured Contractors

Whether they are injured while guarding a convoy or building a road, and whether that injury occurs as a result of a deliberate militant attack or an unintentional workplace accident, victims are entitled to compensation under the Defense Base Act.

When the American overseas presence began expanding in the years just before the country’s entry into World War II, Congress foresaw the need for an injury compensation system that provided payment for lost wages and medical bills in a way that was relatively easy to access. This system paid significant benefits beginning decades later, when the government greatly expanded the use of overseas contractors.

Most victims sustain temporary disabilities, meaning that after surgery and physical rehabilitation, they can return to their pre-injury jobs. Most of these victims are entitled to two-thirds of their average weekly wage until they are able to return to work.

DBA benefits also include medical expenses. Any medically necessary costs are covered, including such things as:

  • Emergency care,
  • Followup treatment,
  • Medical devices,
  • Ancillary costs, like transportation expenses, and
  • Physical or occupational rehabilitation.

Most DBA claimants can choose their own physicians and also change doctors during the course of treatment simply by giving written notice.

To learn more about the procedure involved, contact Barnett, Lerner, Karsen & Frankel, P.A.