American Mercenaries
October 17, 2018 11:51 AM   Subscribe

A Middle East Monarchy Hired American Ex-Soldiers To Kill Its Political Enemies. This Could Be The Future Of War. [Buzzfeed News] “Cradling an AK-47 and sucking a lollipop, the former American Green Beret bumped along in the back of an armored SUV as it wound through the darkened streets of Aden. Two other commandos on the mission were former Navy SEALs. As elite US special operations fighters, they had years of specialized training by the US military to protect America. But now they were working for a different master: a private US company that had been hired by the United Arab Emirates, a tiny desert monarchy on the Persian Gulf. On that night, December 29, 2015, their job was to carry out an assassination.”

“Spear Operations Group’s private assassination mission marks the confluence of three developments transforming the way war is conducted worldwide:

Modern counterterrorism combat has shifted away from traditional military objectives — such as destroying airfields, gun emplacements, or barracks — to killing specific individuals, largely reshaping war into organized assassinations.

War has become increasingly privatized, with many nations outsourcing most military support services to private contractors, leaving frontline combat as virtually the only function that the US and many other militaries have not contracted out to for-profit ventures.

The long US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have relied heavily on elite special forces, producing tens of thousands of highly trained American commandos who can demand high private-sector salaries for defense contracting or outright mercenary work.

With Spear Operations Group’s mission in Yemen, these trends converged into a new and incendiary business: militarized contract killing, carried out by skilled American fighters.”
posted by supercrayon (36 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
 
Thanks, supercrayon. I saw this yesterday and nearly posted but couldn't. Just thinking about it was too exhausting. I am glad you did.
posted by Bella Donna at 12:08 PM on October 17, 2018 [3 favorites]


.
posted by lalochezia at 12:12 PM on October 17, 2018


There's a lot of trained and underemployed people out there, someone is bound to use them for their own purposes.
posted by arcticseal at 12:33 PM on October 17, 2018 [2 favorites]


Life increasingly resembles a video game.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:38 PM on October 17, 2018 [1 favorite]


At least it only ever happens in this tiny country.
posted by rhizome at 12:40 PM on October 17, 2018


Read this yesterday. Let’s just say it strains credulity. Someone took this journalist for a ride. The video might be real, but the description can’t be.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. The only thing here is a lazy journalist and a bunch of wannabe Jason Bournes.

Life is like a video game? Yeah, and these guys are playing them.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:51 PM on October 17, 2018


Let’s just say it strains credulity.

Let's not JUST say it, let's say why.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.

It is common when offering this heuristic as useful to identify the claims you consider extraordinary.
posted by PMdixon at 12:56 PM on October 17, 2018 [7 favorites]


Someone took this journalist for a ride. The video might be real, but the description can’t be.

It is pretty wild, but what specifically do you object to? Granted its sources are generally anonymous, but that seems a reasonable precaution to take given the circumstances.
posted by Think_Long at 12:59 PM on October 17, 2018


The future of war? Mercenaries have been used in wars for centuries.
posted by robbyrobs at 1:00 PM on October 17, 2018 [9 favorites]


Flashing back to Soldier Of Fortune magazine. I don't know about the present day, but back in the 70's the magazine had classified ads looking to hire men with military experience to be mercenaries. For Americans at the time, that would mean veterans of the Korean and Vietnam wars.
posted by King Sky Prawn at 1:01 PM on October 17, 2018 [7 favorites]


Christ. The comments on that article are so insane. At least one person fussing about names being released, like, mad that they aren't ignorant to this event at all really. Fuck mercenaries.
posted by GoblinHoney at 1:03 PM on October 17, 2018 [1 favorite]


> The future of war? Mercenaries have been used in wars for centuries.

Operations like this are, in the context of history, probably a better representative example of military force as a tool of statecraft than pitched state-to-state battles.
posted by cirgue at 1:05 PM on October 17, 2018 [5 favorites]


“I just want there to be a debate,” he said. “Maybe I’m a monster. Maybe I should be in jail. Maybe I’m a bad guy. But I’m right.”

We've had the debate, pal—and you should be hanged.

A/RES/44/34
72nd plenary meeting
4 December 1989


44/34. International Convention against the Recruitment, Use,
Financing and Training of Mercenaries

Article 1
For the purposes of the present Convention,

1. A mercenary is any person who:

(a) Is specially recruited locally or abroad in order to fight in an
armed conflict;

(b) Is motivated to take part in the hostilities essentially by the
desire for private gain and, in fact, is promised, by or on behalf of a party
to the conflict, material compensation substantially in excess of that
promised or paid to combatants of similar rank and functions in the armed
forces of that party;

(c) Is neither a national of a party to the conflict nor a resident of
territory controlled by a party to the conflict;

(d) Is not a member of the armed forces of a party to the conflict; and

(e) Has not been sent by a State which is not a party to the conflict on
official duty as a member of its armed forces.

2. A mercenary is also any person who, in any other situation:

(a) Is specially recruited locally or abroad for the purpose of
participating in a concerted act of violence aimed at:

(i) Overthrowing a Government or otherwise undermining the
constitutional order of a State; or

(ii) Undermining the territorial integrity of a State;

(b) Is motivated to take part therein essentially by the desire for
significant private gain and is prompted by the promise or payment of material
compensation;

(c) Is neither a national nor a resident of the State against which such
an act is directed;

(d) Has not been sent by a State on official duty; and

(e) Is not a member of the armed forces of the State on whose territory
the act is undertaken.

Article 2
Any person who recruits, uses, finances or trains mercenaries, as defined
in article 1 of the present Convention, commits an offence for the purposes of
the Convention.
posted by standardasparagus at 1:12 PM on October 17, 2018 [18 favorites]


I do kinda wish journalists would stop treating mercenaries as some sort of wacky new thing gosh wow brave new world and all.

The 60s and 70s were chock full of this kind of thing, although most of those involved were British, French, and South African rather than American. I mean, shit, just to pick only one guy has everyone already forgotten Denard? Op. Kaskari was only 1995!
posted by aramaic at 1:30 PM on October 17, 2018 [6 favorites]


With no legal consequences, Americans have served in the Israel Defense Forces, the French Foreign Legion, and even a militia fighting ISIS in Syria.

I had a friend from Spain growing up in the US that had to check in with the consulate every so often for some kind of draft registry. If Spain went to war, he would be expected to return and automatically renounce his US citizenship by doing so. Is that no longer the case?
posted by dr_dank at 1:48 PM on October 17, 2018 [1 favorite]


> Life increasingly resembles a video game.

Metal Gear has been telling this story for years. Zany science fiction aside, it's been trying to predict that soldiers who don't know how to do anything but fight would try to maintain a sense of meaning by forming private military companies and eventually attempting to create a rogue nation without borders. Sure, mercenaries have always existed, but have we ever had such sophisticated and organized private military forces? With executive titles and business cards? Just look at the evolution of Blackwater Xe Services Academi Triple Canopy.

And just because something isn't new doesn't mean it's acceptable. I will be so cross if we let history prove Kojima right on this one.
posted by Arson Lupine at 1:50 PM on October 17, 2018 [7 favorites]


war of assassins sounds particularly like Dune.
posted by macrael at 1:53 PM on October 17, 2018 [3 favorites]


The only claim in war that strains credulity are claims that make war not seem like some sort of surreal parody.
posted by maxsparber at 2:21 PM on October 17, 2018 [1 favorite]


Spear Operations Group, according to three sources, arranged for the UAE to give military rank to the Americans involved in the mission, which might provide them legal cover.

Pretty flimsy. Of course if they genuinely joined the UAE military then none of the rules against mercenaries would apply but just signing them up without them being substantively part of the UAE's normal command and control structure, subject to military discipline, being paid an equivalent amount to people in the military holding those ranks is the weakest of sauce.
posted by atrazine at 2:21 PM on October 17, 2018


Wouldn't joining another country's military have its own set of problems for American citizens? Possibly including treason charges?

If they're giving up US citizenship for the job, I would expect it to be legal, but if they're remaining US citizens... I'd expect that actually joining the military of another country, one that theoretically could be ordered to attack the US, would be very problematic.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 2:31 PM on October 17, 2018


Sure, mercenaries have always existed, but have we ever had such sophisticated and organized private military forces? With executive titles and business cards?

The Sforzas became Dukes of Milan.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:57 PM on October 17, 2018 [5 favorites]


and even less successful condottiere had subcontractors and livery and portraits frescoed in the Duomo. (John Hawkwood, in the last case, but they were numerous. If your neighbor state hired one...)
posted by clew at 3:33 PM on October 17, 2018 [2 favorites]


If Spain went to war, he would be expected to return and automatically renounce his US citizenship by doing so. Is that no longer the case?

The US doesn't recognize renouncing US citizenship.
posted by rhizome at 3:36 PM on October 17, 2018


With no legal consequences, Americans have served in the Israel Defense Forces, the French Foreign Legion, and even a militia fighting ISIS in Syria.

The French Foreign Legion are not fucking mercenaries. The Legion is fully part of the French military, under control of the French government, subject to French law. And the IDF? Look, we can discuss awful shit about the IDF all day long, but it turns out that is also, y'know, the military of a sovereign nation.

I don't have a hard time believing Americans are hiring themselves out as mercenaries. But a sentence like that does not give me any confidence in the author's understanding of his subject.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 4:11 PM on October 17, 2018 [13 favorites]


The US doesn’t recognize renouncing US citizenship

How to renounce US citizenship.
posted by schadenfrau at 4:41 PM on October 17, 2018 [3 favorites]


But a sentence like that does not give me any confidence in the author's understanding of his subject.

I have some bad news for you about the science section of the paper then.
posted by PMdixon at 4:58 PM on October 17, 2018 [2 favorites]


How to renounce US citizenship

And as a bonus you even get your name published in the Federal Register

Its a derail to this thread but ’d love to see a separate thread on renouncing citizenship some time. There are a *lot* of interesting people who have renounced their citizenship
posted by inflatablekiwi at 9:30 PM on October 17, 2018 [1 favorite]


also btw...

If You Need to Dodge an Assassin, This Man Can Arrange the Getaway Jet - "Need to escape the country, fast? The niche market for private jets for getaways and luxury escapes is booming."

The passport king who markets citizenship for cash - "A small firm of wealth advisers has built up a lucrative business helping clients obtain passports in Caribbean countries through means such as donations to a national trust fund, investments in property or governments."
posted by kliuless at 9:41 PM on October 17, 2018


Bizarro. I had read years ago (at least) that the US holds on to citizens, but maybe it had more to do with dual-citizenship now that I think about it.
posted by rhizome at 11:09 PM on October 17, 2018


dr_dank: I had a friend from Spain growing up in the US that had to check in with the consulate every so often for some kind of draft registry. If Spain went to war, he would be expected to return and automatically renounce his US citizenship by doing so. Is that no longer the case?

Compulsory military service ended in the early 00s. It wasn't terribly popular in my cohort.
posted by sukeban at 11:36 PM on October 17, 2018 [1 favorite]


Wouldn't joining another country's military have its own set of problems for American citizens? Possibly including treason charges?

If they're giving up US citizenship for the job, I would expect it to be legal, but if they're remaining US citizens... I'd expect that actually joining the military of another country, one that theoretically could be ordered to attack the US, would be very problematic.


There's several different legal issues in play here:

1) US laws on serving in other countries' militaries
2) US laws on what the above does to your citizenship (nothing unless done with the intention of giving up US citizenship)
3) International law on mercenaries
4) The inherent legality of their actions under national and international laws

Serving in the military of a country of which you are not a citizen does not make you a mercenary. There are Nepali citizens in the British military, British subjects in the Australian military, Central Americans in the US military, All kinds of people in the foreign legion, and some non-Israeli born Jews in the IDF (everyone in the IDF is an Israeli, the Americans in the previously linked article will have received Israeli citizenship before beginning their service). Mercenaries are outside standard procedures of command, military justice, and payment.

The UAE had a significant number of non-Emirati military personnel up until quite recently. As recently as the early 2000s I knew non-Emirati combat pilots in their air force - although at the time there were efforts under way to get to 100% frontline forces being nationals and to phase out the use of foreigners in technical and maintenance roles as well. Crucially, they were not outside of the chain of command. They wore standard uniforms and filled standard positions.

These guys may have been given UAE military ranks if they're operating completely independently and only carrying out high level instructions, they'd have a hell of time claiming not to be mercs.

How this is complicated by the tacit and/or explicit consent of the US government is not clear to me. Former active duty US soldiers who may still be in one of the reserves working with a US ally with the knowledge of the US government might well be able to argue that they are not in fact mercenaries based on those facts.

Aside from that, mercenary or not, what they're doing may be a breach of US laws and of international law.
posted by atrazine at 5:24 AM on October 18, 2018 [6 favorites]


Foreign mercs are used in the US against American citizens.
posted by Oyéah at 4:38 PM on October 18, 2018


Funny how sex tourism has been illegal for decades, but violence tourism? Knock yourself out.
posted by rhizome at 7:53 PM on October 18, 2018 [3 favorites]


Can I just say that it was a little jarring seeing the UAE described as "tiny"? I mean, it's larger than Scotland in terms of land area, and almost twice the population, but I can't recall ever seeing Scotland described as tiny. The UAE has the tallest building in the world and artificial peninsulas shaped like palm trees, for heaven's sake; it's not Nauru. It's not even among the smallest countries in the Persian Gulf region! So that was some weird minimalization.
posted by skoosh at 1:59 AM on October 19, 2018 [2 favorites]


Well I mean... I'm noticing on Wikipedia that
Scotland's only land border is with England, which runs for 60 miles (97 km) in a northeasterly direction from the Solway Firth in the west to the North Sea on the east coast.
Which would seem to indicate that the amount of time it would take an airplane to pass over Scotland from west to east latitudinally would be measured in seconds, not even minutes.

Isn't the entirety of the UK usually described with some variation of “small” whenever its successful resistance to conquest by Nazi Germany is recounted? There's no shame in being a relatively tiny country in 21st-century terms, especially not one that's still larger than, say, the ancient Kingdom of Upper Egypt or many of the legendary places mentioned in the Bible. Or bigger than Byzantium was for centuries preceding its demise.
posted by XMLicious at 10:34 AM on October 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


WHAT SHOULD WE MAKE OF ELITE AMERICAN MERCENARIES IN YEMEN?, SIMON FRANKEL PRATT, War On The Rocks
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:10 AM on October 26, 2018


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