Child Soldiers Reloaded: The Privatisation of War
Al Jazeera (2017)
This documentary explores the hidden history of the private mercenaries (aka “contractors”) who have been fighting the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. When Bush invaded Afghanistan (in 2001) and Iraq (in 2003), unbeknownst to the American public, he deployed nearly as many private mercenaries as enlisted troops. Although they cost at least ten times as much as GIs, using private mercenaries was far more palatable to taxpayers. For several reasons.
When the media reports “boots on the ground” in any given conflict, they never include private mercenaries. Likewise, deaths and injuries of mercenaries are never reported in casualty figures.
Besides the enormous expense of using mercenaries to fight US wars, an even bigger drawback is their failure to engage in “hearts and minds” operations that are essential in winning civilian support for US military occupation. For the post part, US-funded mercenaries are despised in Iraq and Afghanistan because of their arrogance, recklessness and lack of accountability for civilian deaths. The filmmakers depict this cocksure flamboyant swaggering quite brilliantly.
Initially a second major drawback was a total absence of coordination between number private companies providing mercenaries in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Pentagon “solved” this problem by hiring yet another private company, the London-based firm Aegis, to coordinate all the other private companies.
When Bush finally withdrew US troops from Iraq in 2007-2008, the private mercenaries remained. However owing to the massive unpopularity of the war, the Defense Department significantly reduced their budget. Whereas mercenaries from the US and other developed countries are paid $1,000 a day, Peruvian and Columbia mercenaries are paid $1,000 a month (see America’s $33 Mercenaries).
Initially Aegis cut costs by switching to Ugandan mercenaries they paid $800 a month. Then they hit pay direct in Sierra Leon, with former child soldiers willing to fight in Iraq for $250 a month.
All the former child soldiers kidnapped to fight in Sierra Leone’s civil war (1991-2002) have been deeply traumatized. Despite hundreds of millions of dollars western countries have pumped into rehabilitating them, many remain too impulsive and aggressive to integrate into society. There are no jobs for them in Sierra Leone: thus their willingness to fight and die in Iraq for $8.30 a day.
The Pentagon keeps no official record of the number of mercenaries it deploys in Afghanistan and Iraq, nor the number killed there, nor the number who are former child soldiers.