Will Syria be the Next Afghanistan?

Will Syria be the Next Afghanistan?

Most people believe that postwar reconstruction in Syria will be a largely private effort. There are indications that combat operations might be privatized, as well, thus fulfilling Blackwater founder Erik Prince’s vision.

Russia has already largely privatized operations in Syria. Wagner Group mercenaries usually take on the toughest combat assignments. Despite international law restrictions, these mercenaries supposedly enter Syria by flying over Georgian airspace from southern Russia. The U.S. has already sanctioned one Syrian airliner, Cham Wings, for such illegal transportation. Once they arrive, Wagner Group mercenaries are more like a “hybrid” force, according to one observer. Wagner is “a private special force that performs military tasks on Kremlin orders and FSB oversight.”

Earlier, Erik Prince urged the Trump Administration to take the same approach in Afghanistan. Prince has some experience building paramilitary forces in the Arab world. He believes that a small and responsive PMC force would be more effective than a large contingent of regular service members.

Contractors in Combat Situations

Prince’s privatization prognostication sounds eerily similar to one from U.S. Army Captain William Fetterman. Shortly before the Battle of Fort Phil Kearny (the “Fetterman Massacre”) in 1866, he bragged that “With eighty men I can ride through the entire Sioux nation.” The disaster at Fort Phil Kearny was overshadowed by an even greater disaster at the Battle of the Little Bighorn (“Custer’s Last Stand”) about a decade later.

Of course, most American commanders do not suffer from the hubris that plagued Indian fighters like Fetterman and Custer. Moreover, private military contractors have acquitted themselves quite well in battle.

For the most part, the combat role of private military contractors has been rather limited. Typically, contractors do things like escort VIPs through war zones, verify IDs at checkpoints, or ride shotgun with supply convoys. In other words, their duties are purely defensive.

That limitation does not exist for Wagner Group mercenaries from Russia and other similar groups. These individuals engage in both offensive and defensive operations. Furthermore, mercenaries fight purely for the money. Contractors fight mostly for the money, but there are other motivations involved, as well.

Until the Korean War in the 1950s, the “rear area” was a relatively safe place, but that is no longer the case. Joint Base Balad in Iraq got the nickname “Mortaritaville” (a nod to Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville) because there were so many mortar attacks on the facility. In many ways, JBB was more dangerous than the so-called front line.

So, regardless of their duties, private military contractors face the same dangers as regular servicemembers. Militants and insurgents are just as likely to target a convoy carrying spare parts as an armored column on patrol.

Contractors in Reconstruction Efforts

Once the fighting ends, the real work begins. Until places like Syria get back on their feet, refugees do not come back. As a result, a power vacuum develops. So, instead of a new democracy, a new strongman usually moves in. The country might end up worse off than it was before the fighting started.

Rebuilding roads, hospitals, schools, power grids, and other infrastructure is the first priority. This element of reconstruction is usually the most expensive part, as well.

The DoD trains soldiers and not construction workers. So, this agency is entirely unsuited for reconstruction. Typically, contractors like KBR use American managers both stateside and on foreign construction sites. Local laborers often do much of the physical work. That arrangement pumps some money into the local economy. Perhaps more importantly, it gives the locals more of a sense of investment in the project.

That sense is important because sabotage, militant attacks, and other disruptions are common and quite costly. Sometimes, a firm might sped almost as much on security as it does on construction. Less local animosity usually means fewer attacks. Private military contractors usually handle these security details. Many regular service members sometimes see “guard duty” as a chore, and most private companies want as little interaction with the government as possible.

There is a high risk of workplace injuries at foreign construction sites. Many governments do not heavily police these sites and insist on worker safety. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration say that if construction sites eliminated the “Fatal Four,” workplace fatalities would decline to almost nothing. These four are:

  • Falls,
  • Electrocution,
  • Struck by an object, like a falling hammer, and
  • Caught between two objects, like a lift and a girder.

If the Fatal Four are a problem in Dallas, it is a safe bet that they are even more of a problem in Damascus.

In addition to trauma injuries, occupational diseases are usually an issue at construction sites. That includes things like a repetitive stress injury, hearing loss from persistent loud noises, and inhalation of toxic substances.

Compensation Available for Injured Contractors

Regardless of how they serve, when they serve, or what tools they carry, most overseas contractors are eligible for injury compensation, thanks to the Defense Base Act.

Your claim begins with a written statement of injury. If that involved a trauma injury, the 10-day deadline is usually not much of a problem. If the victim suffers from an occupational disease, however, the situation is much different. Most contractors do not take off work to go to the doctor the moment their knees begin to ache. So, they may “miss” this initial deadline.

An attorney helps here. Basically by using a variation of the discovery rule, a lawyer can make sure that injured victims get the treatment they need.

If issues cannot be resolved administratively or informally, there may be a settlement conference or the case could proceed to a Formal Hearing, i.e., a trial before an Administrative Law Judge.

Here, attorneys can make legal arguments, present evidence, and otherwise be full advocates for their clients.

It is important to remember that the parties can reach an agreed settlement at any time. Sometimes that happens early in the process. But, eleventh-hour settlements are quite common as well. The victim usually gives up all rights to pursue the claim as part of that settlement. So, it is important that the amount reflect both current and future medical bills, along with other actual and anticipated economic damages.

For more information on the benefits available under the DBA, contact Barnett, Lerner, Karsen & Frankel, P.A.