Unsettling accounts of private, quasi-military organizations that played a surprisingly important role in countless post–World War II conflicts and then flourished to become front-page news after 9/11.
Veteran British war correspondent Geraghty identifies three traditions of freelance soldiering: the “traditional mercenary,” common during the chaotic days of postcolonial Africa; the “plausibly deniable warriors,” who carry out covert missions for legitimate governments; and “modern private security operators,” which include Blackwater, DynCorp and dozens of others prospering in Iraq and Afghanistan. Caught up in the anarchy in Congo in the 1960s after the sudden Belgian withdrawal, white mercenaries received rare positive PR by rescuing large numbers of whites from the widespread massacres. Soon the United States, South Africa, Cuba and the Soviet Union supported mercenary armies, both black and white, in a vicious bloodbath in Angola lasting into the 21st century. America’s not-so-covert ’80s support of the Contras fighting the leftist Nicaraguan government is an example of “plausibly deniable” warriors, but Britain enjoyed greater—and less publicized—success sending men to Yemen in the ’60s to frustrate Egypt’s efforts at control, and to Oman to stabilize the government. Readers may be surprised to learn of Britain’s leading role in the plausibly deniable aid to mujahideen fighting the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Geraghty also notes that the American invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan produced a vast expansion of private security services. Despite well-publicized episodes of trigger-happy behavior, such services remain essential in chaotic nations with ineffective police. Because Britain enjoyed more success in keeping its covert operations covert, the author’s British viewpoint offers a unique perspective on the role of mercenaries in modern warfare.
A lively and entertaining but sometimes nasty journalistic look at modern soldiers-for-hire.