Should Private Military Contractors Replace Service-members in Syria?

Should Private Military Contractors Replace Service-members in Syria?

If American forces withdraw from the war-torn country as planned, many observers believe that private military contractors should remain behind to uphold American interests and protect the civilian population.

On December 14, 2018, a combined U.S./Syrian Democratic Forces army cleared one of the last ISIS strongholds in the country. That victory prompted U.S. President Donald Trump to announce that their mission had effectively ended. Nevertheless, much remains to be done. Unless they have security, Iranian, Russian, and Turkish forces may harass Kurds in Syria. Additionally, oil-rich eastern Syria would probably not be re-developed.

Using private contractors could accomplish all these goals with a minimal U.S. investment, according to many pundits.

How Private Military Contractors Went Overseas

American private military contractors are older than the Republic itself. During the Revolutionary War days, private military contractors were called “camp followers.” These individuals cooked meals, shoed horses, repaired equipment, provided medical care, washed laundry, entertained troops, and did pretty much everything else that the U.S. government now does for armies in the field. Because the United Colonies lacked infrastructure, these duties fell on contractors.

Many times, these individuals had a sword in one hand and a trowel in the other one, as the old saying goes. Their primary responsibilities involved logistical and support operations. But, if need be, they could also supplement troops in the field.

As the nation grew, so did its military support infrastructure. But the camp follower/military contractor model remained largely in place. The nation’s military adventures matured faster than its support structure. By the time the Civil War came around, Union armies still used these support groups extensively. After all, it is one thing to defend Lexington and Concord and not fire until you see the whites of their eyes. It is something else entirely to invade and subjugate the Confederate States of America, which was roughly the size of European Russia.

Things changed around the Industrial Revolution. In those days, when workers went on strike, a violent worker-management conflict almost always ensued. So, many government units began using private military contractors to keep the peace. To halt what they considered a disturbing trend, lawmakers passed the Anti-Pinkerton Act in 1893. This brief law stated that “An individual employed by the Pinkerton Detective Agency, or similar organization, may not be employed by the Government of the United States or the government of the District of Columbia.”

The Pinkerton Detective Agency was basically the 19th-century equivalent to KBR and other modern military contractor firms.

The camp follower/military contractor model went away for several decades. Then in an obscure footnote to an equally-obscure 1977 U.S. Appeals Court case, the judges questioned whether the Anti-Pinkerton Act remained viable, especially given the then-recent war in Vietnam.

The General Accounting Office picked up the military contractor ball and ran with it. The next year, the GAO declared that “We do not believe [the Anti-Pinkerton Act] covers companies which provide guard or protective services. So, the General Accounting Office will follow the court’s interpretation in the future. Prior decisions inconsistent with the Equifax interpretation will no longer be followed.”

That decision paved the way from modern overseas military contractors. Today, contractors in Syria typify the sword/trowel contractors that first appeared over two hundred years ago.

Syria’s Dual Purpose Contractors

This country is a very dangerous place. There are no front lines and rear areas. Any installation is subject to some sort of attack at any moment. Furthermore, enemy soldiers have no colors or banners. A grandfather is just as likely to be an ISIS fighter as a MAM (military-age male).

So, private military contractors in Syria primarily perform defensive roles. Contractors, unlike mercenaries, only participate in defensive actions. They protect convoys, escort VIPs on inspection tours, and verify individuals at checkpoints.

Other Syrian contractors serve in support roles. They service equipment, translate in the field, and train allied soldiers. Still other private military contractors serve in vital administrative roles.

There was no use for rebuilding contractors in the Revolutionary War. The violence inevitably damaged some civilian infrastructure, but such damage was light and sporadic. Things changed quickly. In the subsequent War of 1812, both Americans and British burned civilian houses and government buildings. Actions against civilians arguably hit their height with the terror bombing of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War. Today, commanders rarely authorize such attacks, but they also rarely make accommodations for civilians. If they are caught in the crossfire, that is too bad.

So, when the fighting in Syria ends, contractors will stay behind to help rebuild the country. The task will be a Herculean one. Cost estimates range as high as $1 trillion. But the cost must be paid. Otherwise, refugees will not return home and the nation can not move forward.

Generally, military contractors handle the planning and supervision on projects like roads, schools, bridges, and dams. Local men and women handle the physical labor. This arrangement optimizes contractor ressources and gives the community a stake in the outcome.

Injury Compensation Available

Both trowles and swords hurt people. So, whatever tools overseas contractors use, the Defense Base Act provides compensation. Generally, this compensation includes money for both:

  • Lost Wages: Most injury victims receive two-thirds of their average weekly wage for the duration of their disabilities. If the victim was permanently disabled, and that phrase has various meanings, alternate compensation is available.
  • Medical Bills: In any overseas injury, medical bills are incredibly high. Most victims are eventually transported to far-away hospitals in Germany or the United States. The DBA pays for all reasonably necessary medical expenses. Instead of worrying about paying bills, victims can concentrate on getting better.

These benefits are usually retroactive to the date of injury.

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