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  • DynCorp Leaves Fellow Mercs Out To Dry During Heavy Combat Operations

    "Blackwater USA's Gary Jackson, whose company operates in hostile parts of Africa and southwestern Asia, insists that his employees would never bolt from a war zone. "They're paying us good money to go to places that are already ugly," he says. "If it gets real ugly, that's why they hired us in the first place." Pentagon officials also insist that private firms have proved reliable so far. "I've never seen any deficiencies, even under fire," says the Army's Don Trautner. "I challenge anyone to come up with a situation where a contractor would run under harsh or hostile conditions."

    Brian Boquist doesn't have to come up with a hypothetical scenario. Boquist is the founder of International Charter Inc., a small private military company based in Salem, Oregon, that has provided air transportation for peacekeeping operations in Africa and Haiti. In 1996, Boquist subcontracted with DynCorp to fly helicopters for international peacekeepers in Liberia. Four months into the contract, rebels from the countryside spilled into the capital city of Monrovia, shooting people and burning homes. While black smoke hung over the city, refugees trying to escape the violence poured into the U.S. Embassy compound. All around them, corpses lay in the street.

    Boquist and his colleagues fled to the embassy from their downtown hotel—but when they got there, their superiors from DynCorp were nowhere to be found. "They had left the day before," Boquist says. "Just disappeared." Boquist tried to contact the company for several days and finally reached DynCorp's U.S. offices by telephone. "Do the best you can to get your personnel out," he recalls being told. By then, though, the airport in Monrovia was closed. Stranded in the burning city, Boquist and his colleagues armed themselves—buying weapons on the black market and picking up abandoned guns from the street—and defended the embassy and the refugees inside until U.S. military reinforcements arrived. "It's easy to be patriotic when you don't have anyplace to go," he says.

    Boquist hasn't forgiven DynCorp ("it was hell on earth"), but notes that it's only natural for businesses to be concerned with their bottom line. "They're worried about liability and being sued, and that takes precedence," Boquist says. "That's the same problem you're going to face in any major conflict."

    Despite such experiences in the field, the Bush administration is rapidly deploying private military companies in the Persian Gulf and other conflict zones. By March, DynCorp alone had 1,000 employees in the Middle East to assist in a war with Iraq. "The trend is growth," says Daniel Nelson, the former professor at the Pentagon's Marshall Center. "This current president and administration have—in part because of September 11, but also because of their fundamental ideology—taken off constraints that somewhat limited the prior administration." According to some estimates, private military companies will double their business by the end of the decade, to $200 billion a year.

    President Bush only has to look to his father's war to see what the consequences of this trend could be in a second conflict with Iraq. In the Gulf War's single deadliest incident, an Iraqi missile hit a barracks far from the front, killing 28 Army reservists who were responsible for purifying drinking water. Other troops quickly jumped in to take their place. "Today, the military relies heavily on contractors for this support," Colonel Steven Zamparelli, a career contracting officer, notes in the Air Force Journal of Logistics. "If death becomes a real threat, there is no doubt that some contractors will exercise their legal rights to get out of the theater. Not so many years ago, that may have simply meant no hot food or reduced morale and welfare activity. Today, it could mean the only people a field commander has to accomplish a critical 'core competency' task such as weapons-system maintenance...have left and gone home."

    From Barry Yeoman


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