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Private Military Firm Pitches Its Services in Darfur

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Private Military Firm Pitches Its Services in Darfur


Private Military Firm Pitches Its Services in Darfur

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A private military contractor, Blackwater USA says it wants to help with peacekeeping in Darfur. The United Nations hopes to deploy there this fall and is against the outsourcing of force. Blackwater is one of many professional military companies that already provide services in Iraq, from dishing out food to protecting officials. Analysts say the bid for a peacekeeping contract shows that their industry is looking for new markets.

NPR's Frank Langfitt reports.


The international community hasn't lived up to the promise, never again. In Bosnia, Rwanda and now Darfur, hundreds of thousands of people have been slaughtered while the world largely watched. The U.S. calls the killing in Darfur genocide. Doug Brooks runs an association of private military firms which includes Blackwater. He says his members can help where governments have failed.

Mr. DOUG BROOKS (International Peace Operations Association): What we've seen is that the west has largely abrogated any responsibility to put their own people on the ground in peace operations in places they don't care about. It's willing to authorize use missions, it's willing to write some checks for these missions, but it's not willing to put its own boots on the ground. The private sector can step in, it can fill that gap.

Mr. PETER SINGER (Brookings Institution): There is no silver bullet solution to genocide.

LANGFITT: That's Peter Singer, a scholar at the Brookings Institution and the author of Corporate Warriors. He says the peacekeeping pitch sounds great, but has all kinds of problems. For one thing, he says, there's little accountability. If contractors misbehave, as they did at Abu Ghraib, they rarely face charges. Singer says private military firms are focusing on peacekeeping in part to improve their image.

Mr. SINGER: It's a wonderful way to put a very nice face onto an industry that faces a pretty big question of legitimacy, because at the end of the day, it's the corporate evolution of the mercenary trade.

LANGFITT: At Blackwater's headquarters in North Carolina, the airy glass atrium seems more Fortune Magazine than Soldier of Fortune. The company's training center covers an area about half the size of Manhattan. Officials say they train hundreds of military and police personnel here each day.

There's a mockup of a motel for assault training.

(Soundbite of training exercises)

LANGFITT: And there's a kennel where Blackwater trains dogs to search cars and shipping containers.

(Soundbite of training exercises)

LANGFITT: And there are lots of target ranges.

(Soundbite of training exercises)

LANGFITT: Chris Taylor, who heads strategy for Blackwater, shows off a track where people learn how to drive fast in dangerous conditions. We watch as a trainee does a 360 on wet asphalt.

(Soundbite of training exercises)

Mr. CHRIS TAYLOR (Head of Strategy, Blackwater): He's now being spoken to by the instructor to tell him what he should have done and how he can better improve his skills and he's coming back around for another run.

LANGFITT: Taylor says Blackwater personnel could support the U.N. They could set up perimeters and guard Darfurian villages and refugee camps. Blackwater officials say it wouldn't take many men to fend off the Janjaweed, a militia which is supported by the Sudanese government and attacks villages on camelback.

Mr. TAYLOR: Of course we could provide security at refugee camps, defensive security. Any sort of intervention would have to be done by nation state militaries. What we seek to do first is to be the best deterrent that we can possibly be.

LANGFITT: Taylor, a retired Marine with an MBA, insists Blackwater could deploy much faster than the U.N.

Mr. TAYLOR: In the time that it takes to put an internationally recognized body unit on the ground, I can be there in a third of that time and I will be 60 percent cheaper.

LANGFITT: If the logistics are relatively easy, Blackwater admits that the politics are far more difficult. Nations are often reluctant to allow in U.N. peacekeepers, let alone private soldiers. Many African nations would be especially resistant, given the continent's bad history with white mercenaries.

Jean-Marie Guehenno oversees peacekeeping for the U.N. Talking after a recent speech, he said the international community shouldn't be allowed to dump its responsibilities on the private sector.

Mr. JEAN-MARIE GUEHENNO (Under-Secretary General for Peacekeeping, U.N.): I think the idea that private military companies are the response to the lack of engagement of states, I think that is wrong, because if you want to have peace, it's not just a technical issue. It's a political issue, so I don't think states can get off the hook of committing to tragic situations by just handing over the job to private companies.

LANGFITT: In fact, private military firms already provide a variety of services to peacekeepers. They've flown African soldiers around Darfur. In Congo and Liberia, they protected U.N. food convoys, warehouses and personnel. The private industry took off at the end of the Cold War as armies downsized, but conflicts flared in regions like the Balkans.

It now brings in billions of dollars each year. Firms provide everything from fighter jets to bodyguards in more than 50 countries. Singer, the military analyst, says companies are looking to peacekeeping because they expect work in Iraq will begin to dry up when the U.S. pulls back.

Mr. SINGER: There's a lot of crises in the world, and so if they could get their foot in the door in them, it potentially opens up an entire new business sector for them.

LANGFITT: Many humanitarian organizations are against hiring the private sector for peacekeeping. George Rupp, head of the International Rescue Committee, says a company like Blackwater would only make things worse in Darfur, where the combatants already include the Sudanese military and three major rebel groups.

Mr. GEORGE RUPP (International Rescue Committee): I think, frankly, the last thing Darfur needs is one more semi-private armed contingent.

LANGFITT: But Peter Singer says humanitarian organizations are also among the industry's best clients. He says more than 20 groups have hired private military firms for security in places like Haiti, East Timor and Sierra Leone. Singer says many organizations try to keep the contracts quiet so they don't make their donors mad.

Mr. SINGER: We came across a humanitarian group, an NGO a lot of people have probably heard of, that's operating in Iraq. It had its own team of snipers.

LANGFITT: Expect firms to expand their services, says Deborah Avant. She's a professor at George Washington University and the author of the book The Market for Force. Avant thinks that someday, somewhere private will be hired to defend civilians.

Ms. DEBORAH AVANT (George Washington University): I think that that's probably something that will unfold, I would say, within the next five years.

LANGFITT: So this isn't fanciful.

Ms. AVANT: I don't think so. Ultimately, it's a political failure of states, and yet an increasing sense among the, you know, kind of rather diffuse international community that something must be done.

LANGFITT: For now, private bids to do peacekeeping are going nowhere and in Darfur, a fragile peace agreement is fraying. In an interview with NPR, Jan Egeland, the U.N.'s chief aid coordinator, said U.N. trucks are attacked every week. He said some humanitarian organizations have already left Darfur, and others are debating whether to go.

Frank Langfitt, NPR News.

BLOCK: You can read more about the private military industry and its bid for peacekeeping work at

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