by Gerry Foley
A question that arises immediately in the wake of the political earthquakes shaking whole series of neocolonial regimes in the Middle East is how and how much the U.S. will escalate its military intervention in the area. The U.S. has already been heavily involved in major wars and occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the latter case, the U.S. war has the potential for expanding to a regional level, if it spreads to Pakistan.
In the Middle Eastern theater, in particular, the U.S. has developed instruments for waging covert war that far exceed anything in its already dark past. It has financed mercenary forces that are veritable private armies that recruit professional killers from the entire world and are directly accountable to no elected authority. The founder of the most notorious of these mercenary armies, Erik Prince, has recently moved to Abu Dhabi, where he is under the protection of corrupt sheikhs who rule as absolute monarchs, and out of the reach of courts in countries with elected governments.
If the Egyptian upheaval leads to an anti-imperialist regime, the U.S. bosses will need to vastly escalate their military intervention to maintain their control of the region. Besides Iraq and Afghanistan, they are already covertly intervening in Somalia and Yemen. A major expansion of these operations would be a catastrophe for the peoples of the Middle East and for the American people itself.
Ironically, just at the time the Middle East began to blow up in the faces of its American overlords, it became known that a mercenary army, the Saracen International company, an outfit headed by a former officer of a white South African secret service notorious for murdering opponents of apartheid, was preparing to move into Somalia to help the U.S./UN-backed fake official government suppress an Islamist insurgency.
The British Independent reported Jan. 22: “The project, which emerged yesterday when an intelligence report was leaked to media in the United States, requires Mr Prince to help train a private army of 2,000 Somali troops that will be loyal to the country’s United Nations-backed government. Several neighbouring states, including the United Arab Emirates, will pay the bills.” A spokesman for Prince denied that his boss had put money into the scheme but admitted that he offered “advice.”
As soon as this report became public, the phantom Somali government started backing out of the deal. But the “autonomous” government of Puntland, a territory claimed by Somaliland, maintained the contract that it signed with Saracen in November. A report by Idarat Maritime, a research journal devoted to maritime issues, reported that it appeared likely that the mercenaries would be used primarily to secure oil-bearing areas over which the Puntland government is anxious to assert its sovereignty.
Pointing up the murky identity of these mercenary outfits, Idarat Maritime noted that there are at least three and maybe more companies called Saracen, although reports in other papers suggest that these different companies may simply be different avatars of the same beast. One was supposedly based in Beirut but Lebanese authorities said, according to Idarat Maritime, that it is actually based in the United Arab Emirates, where Erik Prince now hangs his hat.
The allegedly Beirut-based outfit has as its chief officer Lafras Luitingh, the former white South African officer of the apartheid-era Civil Cooperation Bureau. The United Arab Emirates, notoriously subservient to imperialism, seems to have become the base of a whole network of international gangsterism.
It is understandable that the Somali government does not want to be linked to mercenaries of the Saracen or Blackwater ilk, since it depends on the support of international bodies that are anxious to maintain a certain legitimacy, such as the UN and the African Union. Obviously, it would have less control of these mercenaries than the U.S. or the Afghan government has had over similar desperados hired to do their bidding.
Idarat Maritime noted: “In addition we will also see an influx of hundreds of new and well-trained militia into southern Somalia. Once trained these men will serve whoever can pay regularly and will look for the highest bidder; loyalty is not a feature of the Somali conflict.” Loyalty is not a feature of mercenaries in general, as was discovered by the authorities of the Roman Empire when their mercenaries destroyed their empire and themselves.
Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan has upset his American sponsors by threatening to oust the mercenaries there that are working for the U.S. government and companies. He has well-founded fears that they work for anyone who will pay them, including the Taliban and rival warlords. The Washington Post reported Jan. 22: “The Afghan government has accused several prominent private security companies, including some that work with the U.S. government, of committing ‘major offenses,’ a move that U.S. officials fear could hasten their departure from the country.”
The article continued: “A list compiled by Afghan officials cites 16 companies, including several American and British firms, for unspecified serious violations and seven others for having links to high-ranking Afghan officials, according to a copy obtained by The Washington Post.”
Karzai had declared earlier that he intended to ban the mercenary groups, but the American officials seem to have been privately assured that no action was planned in the near future, so they were surprised by the Afghan government’s recent pronouncement: “U.S. officials believed that they had reached a compromise in December that would protect key operations and give the companies more time before they would have to depart, but the list has raised new concerns that the timeline has accelerated. ‘We thought it was pretty much on ice. All of a sudden, it isn’t anymore,’ the senior U.S. official said.”
The Washington Post summarized: “A decision to ban the major violators and those that have relationships with senior Afghan officials would affect firms that provide about 800 guards for the U.S. Agency for International Development projects and about 3,000 who work on military construction projects for the coalition, said a senior U.S. official. ‘We’re wringing our hands over this,’ the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. ‘We’re waiting to hear which companies will get disbandment notices and when they will have to disband.’”
Apparently, Karzai was unnerved by U.S. plans to expand greatly the numbers of mercenary forces already plaguing the country: “Earlier this month, U.S. Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry told Karzai
that new NATO development projects could require an additional 25,000 guards, according to Afghan officials. This would be on top of the 27,500 private guards currently in the country, a total that alarmed the Afghan government.”
Obviously, the U.S. government under Obama, no less than under Bush, who was reportedly personally linked to Erik Prince (both of them being self-styled servants of Jesus), has no intention of reducing its use of mercenaries. It apparently considers them the elite troops of imperialism, whose role will constantly expand.
However, the expanding role of private armies financed by imperialists in dependent countries threatens to make even neocolonial pseudo-independence into an egregious farce. Moreover, there is osmosis between the neocolonial rulers and their imperialist overlords. The Washington Post reported Jan. 26: “Afghan justice and security officials want to adopt the U.S. practice of detaining suspected insurgents indefinitely without trial, according to senior U.S. and Afghan officials involved in efforts to have the government in Kabul take control of detention operations in the country.” The U.S. has long tried to wash its hands of torture by shunting political suspects to countries that they know practice it. Now, it seems that the Afghan officials want to institute indefinite imprisonment, citing the example of the United States.
The growth of ruthless private armies and the increasing use of torture and indefinite imprisonment without trial are the features of a descent into international barbarism that has accompanied the U.S. interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan. The crumbling of neocolonialist regimes in the Middle East is obviously a threat to the domination that the U.S. rulers have paid such a high price for. It may be a turning point.
Which way will the U.S. turn—toward a deeper descent into barbarism or toward a respect for human rights and the right of self-determination of dominated peoples? That is going to depend on whether masses of American people stand up and say clearly that the game the U.S. has been playing is now clearly a losing one, that they are not going to accept it any more, and that they will not let any politician tell them that politicians subservient to the capitalist bosses are going to solve the problem.
A danger to the peoples of the Middle East and the U.S. is that the fall of the Egyptian dictatorship, which has been the major prop to U.S. domination of the region, will lead to bigger U.S. military intervention, either directly through the official U.S. military, or indirectly through the murky mercenary forces that the U.S. bosses more and more employ to do their dirty work. It is vital that Americans mobilize to stop any such moves. Now is the time for solidarity with the peoples of the Middle East who have been the victims of our government.
> This article was originally published in the February 2011 print edition of Socialist Action newspaper.