Sahel Democracies On the Defensive

Several West African nations in the Sahel (sub-Sahara) region are fighting losing battles against Islamic insurgents, according to a recent report.

A jihadist insurgency spread to Niger and Burkina Faso from neighboring Mali in 2015, notably in the “three borders” area. Twenty-nine soldiers were killed in western Niger in an attack by suspected jihadists on October 3, the deadliest of a dozen attacks that have killed 130 people since the military took power. Adding to the instability in Niger, soldiers in July 2023 overthrew President Mohamed Bazoum, pointing to the “degradation of the security situation” under his watch — a belief shared by many Nigeriens.

In nearby Mali, jihadist and separatist insurgencies broke out in the north in 2012, and anger at the government’s failure to stem the violence helped spark two coups in 2020 and 2021. It currently faces heightened activity by jihadist groups and a resumption of hostilities in the north by predominantly Tuareg armed groups.

Burkina Faso saw two military coups last year, also triggered by anger at failures to stem a jihadist insurgency. When he seized power, Captain Ibrahim Traore predicted victory over jihadists in “two to three months.” One year later, these attacks still plague the nation.

More than 6,000 people have died in attacks since the start of this year, of 17,000 dead since 2015, according to a count by the NGO monitor Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED).

Benin, Ghana, Ivory Coast, and Togo are increasingly facing threats of a jihadist spillover from Burkina Faso and Mali. Already, around 40 soldiers and 100 civilians have been killed in a jihadist “war” in northern Togo.

Private Military Contractors and Anti-Insurgency Efforts

Combat support, logistical support, moral support, and rebuilding support are four of the most important roles that contractors fill in anti-insurgency operations.

Under U.S. law, private military contractors cannot participate in offensive operations in Africa or anywhere else. But, they can guard supply convoys, escort troops to battle areas, hold down the fort while regular service members are away, and do pretty much anything else. So, contractors allow commanders to commit more assets to offensive operations. They also give commanders peace of mind that if things go south, their staging areas are not exposed to danger.

Logistical support is closely related to combat support. Fixed and roving checkpoints are a good example. Contractors are trained to spot possible suicide bombers and other threats. So, they’re very effective at roadblocks and on patrol.

On a related patrol note, contractors know how to develop relationships with people. These relationships make them less likely to join insurgents and more likely to provide valuable intelligence.

Moral support includes setting a good example for government security forces and keeping their morale high while they are off duty. Many contractors are morale officers who plan special events that help government security forces relax and recharge.

Contractor duties do not end when the fighting stops. In fact, in many ways, they are just beginning. Winning the peace is at least as important as winning the war. Contractors lead the way in rebuilding critical infrastructure. So, refugees come back and know their government cares about them.

Contractors vs. Mercenaries

Many foreign fighters in Africa and elsewhere are mercenaries. These two paramilitary organizations are significantly different, starting with their duties. Loyalty and oversight are much different as well.

Revolutionary War Hessians, who fought for the British, are the classic examples of mercenaries. These German soldiers cared nothing about the issues in the conflict. Most of them did not speak English and could not find New York, or another colony, on a map.

Today’s mercenaries, like yesterday’s Hessians, only fight for money. They care nothing about the people in the conflict or anything else.

Private military contractors, on the other hand, are basically an extension of the DoD. They are committed to America’s mission, not to the party that writes their paychecks.

This loyalty is more than skin deep. Contractors who fought in Afghanistan would not have switched sides to fight for the Taliban if they had better financial offers.

Oversight might be the biggest difference between mercenaries and contractors. Mercenaries operate in a gray area. They’re not under military or civilian control. Therefore, the headlines are full of incidents caused by mercenaries going off the chain. They know there are no repercussions in the field or at home.

Contractors, in contrast, are directly subject to U.S. law. That is the main reason the United States has not signed most international agreements regarding mercenaries. U.S. law already keeps these individuals in check. There is no need for more oversight.

Injury Compensation Available

Mercenaries and contractors have some things in common, most notably the potential for serious injuries. Injured mercenaries must normally pay their medical bills out of their own pockets. Defense Base Act medical benefits are available to injured contractors.

By law, the DBA insurance company must pay all reasonably necessary medical bills. This obligation begins with transportation expenses and ends with the last day of physical therapy.

Most DBA insurance company adjusters have no idea what it is like to serve overseas as a private military contractor. Therefore, the insurance company often has an unrealistic definition of “reasonable.”

The aforementioned transportation costs are a good example. If Rick is hurt during a training accident, the base hospital is usually just his first stop. Many base hospitals are basically first aid stations. They stabilize victims and prepare them for transportation to a much larger facility that is usually in another country. The ensuing medevac flight could cost tens of thousands of dollars.

These medical issues overlap. During transportation, Rick’s injuries probably do not get any worse, but they certainly do not get any better. So, when he arrives at a larger hospital, doctors must use more aggressive medical treatments. The additional intervention means a longer recovery time, more difficult physical therapy, and the cascading effect continues.

A Defense Base Act lawyer stands up for victims in these situations. So, they get the treatment they need, as opposed to the treatment a stingy adjuster is willing to pay for.

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