For the first time, Russian President Vladimir Putin recently acknowledged that private military contractors were in-county supporting strongman Bashar al-Assad. However, Putin insisted that these fighters served no official purpose and were only there to support private “oil exploration” efforts.
These mercenaries belong to the shadowy Wagner Group, an organization with links to alleged 2016 election meddler Yevgeny Prigozhin. Moreover, Putin added that Russia did not want Superpower status, which rivals the now-defunct Soviet Union. After a call-in show, Putin told reporters “we don’t want to be like the Soviet Union that enforced its way of life and political system on its neighbors, including countries of Eastern Europe.” At the same time, he also criticized the United States for its “imperial-style policies” which cause it to “keep repeating the same mistakes.”
On a related note, Putin sought to quell persistent rumors that Russia was behind the downing of a Malaysia Airline jet over Ukraine in 2014. Although he said there was “no proof whatsoever,” Putin said he was open to dialogue on the issue.
How We Got Here
The immediate cause of the current Syrian Civil War was probably the 2010 Arab Spring. Protestors in several Arab countries, such as Egypt, successfully drove longtime dictators from power, such as Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak. In other places, however, the outcome was different. In Syria, Assad was able to cling to power. But the movement against him continues, almost a decade later.
The roots of conflict in Syria may go back much further, to the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement between Great Britain and France. World War I was still raging in Europe, and given Russia’s impending collapse and continued American neutrality, victory was far from certain for Britain, France, and their allies. Yet these two empires had already largely carved up Africa between themselves. So, with the Sykes-Picot pact, they determined to do the same thing in the Middle East, world war or not.
During secret talks, French and British negotiators drew an invisible line across much of the Middle East. France received a sphere of influence on everything to the north, and British influence dominated to the south. Syria and Lebanon, another Middle East country with a turbulent recent past, basically straddled this line.
As a result, there never was a clear authority figure in Syria. As soon as the remnants of the Ottoman Empire dissolved in 1918, the scramble for power began. This conflict has continued, with some respites here and there, for the last 100 years. Due to Russian and American involvement, it looks like this conflict may not be permanently settled anytime soon.
Currently, Russian mercenaries fight to prop up long time Moscow ally Assad. U.S. forces, and military contractors, back rebel groups which began as Arab Spring protestors. In the mid 2010s, it looked like this conflict might spark a global conflict. But tensions have gone down somewhat, so things just continue to simmer.
Contractors in Syria
As America learned in Vietnam, winning the peace is at least as important as winning the war. Contractors serve vital roles in both these phases.
While regular servicemembers have their boots on the ground, private military contractors are usually behind the scenes. In fact, until a landmark 1977 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, it was illegal for such groups to serve in any combat capacity. So, while bullets are flying, most contractors serve in armed support roles. They escort supply convoys, man checkpoints, and accompany VIPs on inspection tours.
That is basically the contractor’s role in Syria right now. The DoD refuses, as a matter of policy, to state how many contractors are stationed in a given place. But by most accounts, there are at least several hundred contractors in Syria.
As the official American military presence fades, contractors assume a more prominent role. Generally, these roles involve bolstering existing armed formations and training new recruits. Both these efforts support long-term U.S. policy goals without increasing the American military profile in an area. This situation works well for everyone. For the DoD, contractors are flexible, short-term solutions. Stateside politicians insist that the American military presence is shrinking, and local politicians tell nervous locals the same thing.
Assuming the rebel groups eventually topple Assad, they will need lots of contractor help in this area. After having obtained a hard-won victory, U.S. policymakers feel that if experienced contractors are in-country, the sacrifice will not be for nothing.
Looking even further down the road, war-torn countries like Syria must be rebuilt almost from the ground up. This effort includes massive projects like dams, freeways, hospitals, schools, and other public buildings. Contractors play an even more prominent role in situations like these. Generally, U.S. contractors design and manage these projects, and local workers do most of the actual building.
There is a lot of work to do in Syria. Many predict that the rebuilding effort may cost more money than the war. Additionally, scattered Assad loyalists will do whatever it takes to disrupt these projects. So, armed contractors must protect the workers.
Injury Compensation Available
Contractors risk serious injury in all of these areas. Many times, contractors are a family’s sole source of income. So, losing that income stream places a significant strain on these households, to say the least. Therefore, the Defense Base Act pays for lost wages in the following categories:
- Permanent Total Disability: A “permanent disability” is not the same thing as being bedridden. These victims simply are unable to work because of the lingering effects of their injuries. Disability has as much to do with the victim’s educational and employment background as it has to do with the injury. Typically, PTD victims receive lump sum payments.
- Permanent Partial Disability: In much the same way, PPD victims usually receive a cash payout depending on the nature of the disability and the extent of loss.
- Temporary Partial Disability: Many victims are able to work as they recover from their injuries. However, they must accept a light duty assignment or work reduced hours. So, DBA benefits include TPD payments. These benefits are usually two-thirds of the difference between the victim’s pre- and post-injury incomes.
- Temporary Total Disability: Most contractor injuries are TTD injuries. These victims cannot work at all until they complete the injury recovery process. So, the DBA generally pays two-thirds of the victim’s average weekly wage for the duration of the disability.
The Average Weekly Wage is sometimes difficult to calculate. This amount includes both regular cash compensation and irregular non-cash compensation, like bonuses and expense reimbursement. Furthermore, there is a big difference in salary between a truck driver in South Carolina and a truck driver in Syria. The AWW calculation must reflect that difference.
Contact Barnett, Lerner, Karsen, Franke & Castro, P.A. for more information about DBA medical payments.