The shadowy Wagner Group continues to pop up in places where the Russian Bear has national interests, but the Kremlin fears to tread. Meanwhile, American private military contractors continue to serve a more limited, and much more well-regulated, international role in places like Iraq.
Wagner mercenaries recently surfaced in Venezuela, where embattled strongman Nicolas Maduro is trying to remain in office. Numerous states, including the United States, Canada, and most members of the 15-nation United Nations Security Council, recognize Juan Guaido as the rightful president. But Russia and perhaps China support the socialist Maduro. According to international watchdogs, Maduro has a poor human rights record, which includes arresting, torturing, and killing political opponents.
At roughly the same time, Wagner mercenaries helped Sudan government troops break up a large demonstration in the capital city. One international political observer tweeted that “Russian-manufactured military-style truck photographed near an Aman Petroleum station and radio tower in Khartoum on Dec. 26. Observers reported that the armed forces, wearing green camouflage uniforms, spoke Russian.”
Mercenaries vs Contractors
Many people use these two terms interchangeably to describe paramilitary organizations that supplement military activities in foreign countries. There are some important differences between mercenaries like the Wagner Group and private military contractors, which various U.S. government agencies employ.
Mercenaries fight only for money. They have no loyalty to any state or nation or cause. For example, the Hessians were German mercenaries who fought for the British in the Revolutionary War. The Hessians cared nothing about the dispute between the Crown and its American colonies. Most Hessians could not speak English and probably could not find New Jersey on a map.
After George Washington crossed the Delaware River on Christmas Night in 1776 and routed the Hessians in Trenton the next day, the Germans might have looked at things in a different light.
Whereas mercenaries fight only for money, private contractors fight mostly for money. Most contractors earn three or four times what regular service members earn, and that is a powerful incentive to go to a place like Qatar or Syria. However, American contractors are also loyal to the United States. Contractors in Syria would not switch sides and fight for strongman Bashar al-Assad no matter how much money he offered them.
Additionally, mercenaries are a little like the Impossible Mission force in the 1960s spy drama Mission: Impossible. Wagner mercenaries represent their employer-of-the-moment in controversial places like terrorist hotbed Sudan and economic wreck Venezuela. Then, if things go sideways, the Kremlin will disavow any knowledge of their actions.
Private contractors execute policy decisions. They never make policy on their own.
On a similar note, mercenaries conduct offensive operations in foreign countries. The aforementioned Hessians did whatever their employers told them to do. That could be guarding a supply depot, watching the flanks of an advancing British column, or taking on a Patriot stronghold.
By law, American military contractors only serve in a defensive capacity. They staff checkpoints, verify identification, and so on. In fact, most private military contractors never fire their weapons during their entire contract terms.
Finally, mercenaries operate outside the law. There is no accountability, except perhaps at the highest level.
American private military contractors, however, answer to civilian authorities. This oversight prevents many of the abuses that infect the “have gun, will travel” mercenaries from other countries.
What Contractors do
Both mercenaries and contractors sometimes participate on battlefields in international hotspots. In terms of their overseas missions, that is pretty much where their similarities end.
The difference is fundamental. Mercenaries replace the regular army, and contractors supplement the regular army. Additionally, once the fighting ends, mercenaries go home, but contractors often remain in-country after the bullets stop flying.
Reconstruction projects are often more important than combat operations. Beginning in post-World War I Europe, there are many examples of victorious powers which won the war and lost the peace. Contractors help prevent that outcome.
Once combat operations end, there is significant pressure to “bring the boys home.” But many times, erstwhile hotspots are still smoldering. Any spark can ignite them again. If troops must remain for pacification purposes, many times, these troops are private contractors. After all, contractors are used for extended guard duty.
Today’s foreign enemies often use sabotage and other methods to disrupt government efforts. That includes things like attacking road crews or blowing up under-construction dams. Therefore, contractors often guard these projects, as well. Sometimes, there are almost as many armed contractors as there are workers, at least when the project is getting underway.
Often, unarmed contractors supervise these projects. Former KBR boss Halliburton is a good example. One of the largest military contractors in Iraq had nothing to do with combat operations.
Generally, American contractors oversee the work and locals do most of the lifting, loading, and building. This arrangement pumps some money into the local economy and gives residents a stake in the outcome. Therefore, the nation building continues. As this process escalates, more and more contractors can go home and serve elsewhere. Everyone benefits.
Injury Compensation Available
These two phases of contractor operations (combat and non-combat) also highlight the two types of injuries that often occur in overseas places.
- Trauma Injuries: Gunshot wounds and accidental falls are probably the most common types of overseas trauma injuries. These wounds require immediate hospitalization and intense initial care, which usually lessens over time.
- Occupational Diseases: Things like hearing loss and joint pain follow the opposite trajectory. These diseases, which may be related to deployment in a combat outfit or work at a construction project, often begin subtly. Over time, the medical need becomes greater and greater.
The Defense Base Act provides compensation in both these situations. In each case, victims must immediately report the injury to their supervisors.
Trauma injuries are easy to date back to the time of injury. However, a technicality like reporting the wound sometimes gets lost in the shuffle. There are so many other areas which are more pressing. If victims immediately contact DBA lawyers, the lawyers can take care of the details while the victim concentrates on getting better.
Occupational diseases are a bit different. Most people do not immediately run to the doctor when their knee hurts or they hear a ringing in their ears. If you have any reason to believe that the condition may be work-related, it is important to report the matter straightaway. You can always withdraw the claim later. A current or future employer cannot discriminate against you just because you filed a DBA claim.
Contact Barnett, Lerner, Karsen, Frankel & Castro, P.A. to learn more about the kinds of compensation available.