The shadowy Russian mercenary group has already been involved in Syria, the Central African Republic, and several other global hotspots. Now, add Libya to that list.
In Syria, according to one observer, the Wagner Group was a “shockforce” and “an unofficial arm of the Defense Ministry.” In the CAR and Sudan, Wagner mercenaries train militias and bolster would-be strongmen in exchange for Russian access to resources. The same pattern is emerging in Libya. The Wagner Group has been in eastern Libya since 2017, supporting Khalifa Haftar. Wagner forces often fight alongside the Libyan Army. The support also includes printing money to help Haftar control the central bank.
However, according to Russian political analyst Leonid Bershidsky, the situation may be short lived. “If Haftar fails to win control of Tripoli… and his hold on much of Libya’s natural wealth weakens as a consequence, the Kremlin will be actively seeking others to empower so it can get back into the country’s oil and gas sector and seek opportunities for a naval presence.”
The Situation in Libya
For many years, “the shores of Tripoli” have been a strategic location in North Africa. Libya’s long Mediterranean coastline and many ports make it a coveted area. When oil was discovered in Libya’s interior, its value in the international chess game increased significantly.
Recently, Libya has been quite unstable. In the wake of the Arab Spring, a brief 2011 civil war deposed longtime strongman Muammar Qaddaffi. But violence continued, and much of that violence involved American military contractors. In 2012, a group of contractors protected the American consulate in Benghazi during a militant siege. These events were the basis of Michael Bay’s 2016 film 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi.
Also in 2012, Libya went through three prime ministers in less than a year as two political groups, the General National Congress and Council of Deputies, grappled for power. ISIS and other tribal and jihadist groups have taken advantage of the power vacuum and become increasingly militant. Adding to the chaos, since 2013, over a half-million refugees have made the perilous journey from Libya to Italy.
A new player, the UN-recognized Government of National Accord, has emerged recently. The GNA is currently engaged in a battle with Khalifa Hafftar, who has the Wagner Group’s backing. Hafftar’s Libyan National Army recently suffered a major setback at Gharyan. GNA forces killed several dozen LNA fighters and took about a dozen others prisoner.
Ostensibly, Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to halt the “infiltration of militants into Libya…because from Libya they can go anywhere.” But his real plan may be to bolster Haffatar’s political prestige and rig the election for him if he runs for president.
What is the Difference Between Contractors and Mercenaries?
On the surface, mercenaries and contractors have much in common. Both are private military fighters who are loosely affiliated with a nation-state. But the similarities basically end there.
Sometimes, mercenaries are private fighters who are closely associated with a sponsoring government. Other times, mercenaries are completely independent from the conflict and fight only for money. Either way, they participate in both offensive and defensive operations.
By law, American contractors cannot participate in offensive actions. That is the main reason the United States has not signed international accords which limit mercenary activity. There is no reason to accept international oversight to correct a problem which does not exist and can never exist.
Furthermore, American contractors may fight primarily for money. They do not fight exclusively for money. For example, contractors in Afghanistan would not switch sides and fight for the Taliban if they were offered a better 401(k) match.
Finally, American military contractors are not policy tools who only serve in strategically valuable locations. They supplement the work of American servicemembers in places like:
- Diego Garcia: This dot in the Indian Ocean is one of the most isolated places on earth, and it is also an important American military installation. Since almost everything comes and leaves by ship, there is a great need for longshoremen on Diego Garcia.
- Guam: A few years ago, this American territory’s claim to fame was its proximity to the International Date Line. Now, it is a key forward base that helps check Chinese aggression. As a result, many contractors that serve on Guam deal with advanced weapons and surveillance systems.
- Haiti: Much closer to home, this historically unstable country is still reeling from a 2010 earthquake. Contractors in Haiti provide important security services and also help rebuild the country’s crumbling infrastructure.
As outlined below, injured contractors in these locations are eligible for compensation under the Defense Base Act.
Injury Compensation Available
The 1941 Defense Base Act applies to contractors who are injured overseas. Yes, Guam is technically an American possession, and has been since the Spanish-American War ended in 1898. The DBA protects the contractors who serve there.
Part of these benefits include compensation for lost wages. Generally, this compensation is in one of four categories:
- Temporary Total Disability: Most injured contractors have TTD injuries. These individuals will recover, but they cannot work while they receive medical treatment and physical therapy. So, the Defense Base Act usually pays two-thirds of the victim’s average weekly wage for the duration of the temporary disability.
- Temporary Partial Disability: Some victims begin in the TTD category. Then, as physical therapy progresses, they move into the TPD category. These individuals can work, but they must accept light duty assignments. So, the Defense Base Act pays two-thirds of the difference between the old and new incomes.
- Permanent Total Disability: “Disability” is not synonymous with “bedridden.” Victims who permanently lose body members or functions can usually still live life, but their lives are never the same.
- Permanent Partial Disability: These benefits also vary, depending on the nature of the disability and some other factors. Bear in mind that “disability” is not just a medical term. Some injuries are disabling in some situations that may not be in other situations. College professors can work in wheelchairs, but police officers probably do not have that option.
These categories are not always black and white. If temporary disability victims do not show regular progress during physical therapy, many insurance companies try to pull the financial plug. So, an attorney advocates for victims in these situations, so they can get better and return to work.
Contact Barnett, Lerner, Karsen, Frankel & Castro, P.A. for more information about DBA medical benefits.