Mercenaries could transform the fight against Isis – if we let them

Private military contractors have a bad name, but a great record against the Islamist insurgency in Nigeria

30 May 2015

9:00 AM

30 May 2015

9:00 AM

Last Sunday Isis raised their black flag over Palmyra. Below the flag, in the days that followed, the usual carnage began: beheadings, torture, desecration. Syrian state TV has reported that over 400 civilians have been killed already, and the big question globally has become: how could this have happened? What went wrong with the Iraqi and Syrian troops? Isn’t there anything the West can do?

Lord Dannatt, the former head of the army, has called on the British government to ‘think the previously unthinkable’ and send troops. He’s right that air strikes are no substitute for decent ground troops — but he must also know there’s no appetite here or in America for risking our boys’ lives.

Perhaps, though, there’s another way of getting well-trained boots on the ground. If we want answers about how to squash Isis, we should look to another field of combat, 5,000 miles away from Palmyra — to a war has been all but won against equally determined Islamists.

After five grim months as part of Boko Haram’s self-declared ‘caliphate’, life is slowly returning to normal to the Nigerian town of Michika. Residents who fled in droves are trickling back to plant crops before the rains, and despite the desecrated churches and tales of neighbours kidnapped and murdered, there is optimism.

Also looking cheerful for the first time are local army units, who unlike the Iraqi army, have found unexpected success in pushing Boko Haram from Michika and other north-east Nigerian towns. They weren’t always this upbeat. This was the same military that failed to stop 276 schoolgirls being kidnapped from the nearby village of Chibok last year, and who fled when Boko Haram first rolled into Michika in the autumn.

So why the turnaround? In Michika recently, I found a clue. Down a dusty road, by a road block of empty munitions cases, I came across a gaggle of Nigerian soldiers, who angrily shooed us away when they saw our cameras. Before they did so, though, my photographer glimpsed six uniformed white men behind them, who made themselves scarce sharpish. Were they the SAS, perhaps? Unlikely. While both Britain and America gave ‘technical help’ to the Nigerian army after the Chibok kidnappings last year, they stopped short of providing special forces. Instead, the most obvious explanation was that they belonged to another, equally publicity-shy force: mercenaries.

This is not simply an educated guess. As my newspaper, the Telegraph, reported that same week, in desperation the Nigerian government engaged a firm of South African guns for hire in January, going by the rather sinister name of Specialized Tasks, Training, Equipment and Protection, or STTEP. It’s run by Eeben Barlow, a former colonel in the South African Defence Force, whose men have a wealth of bush war experience.

In Nigeria, as it turns out, they have not just been ‘advising’, but getting the job done — flying attack helicopters, gathering intelligence, training troops — everything, in other words, that the army’s bloated high command proved so lousy at.

How the press wailed about Boko Haram before Isis dominated the news, yet the defeat of one of the most vicious Islamist insurgencies in modern Africa has gone all but un-remarked. STTEP’s men have not been hailed as liberation heroes or thanked by the UN. More importantly, in an era where the West is increasingly reluctant to carry out ‘outside intervention’, no one seems to be asking whether this model could be used in other desperate countries.

This is in part because the Nigerian government wants to keep quiet about having to rope in help, especially from white South Africans. But it also reflects a lingering sense that using private soldiers is ethically questionable, no matter how urgent the need for them.

Barlow’s outfit is made up of black African soldiers as well as whites, and even includes ex-communist guerrillas. Yet the combination of private money and apartheid-era expertise remains a toxic one in many people’s minds. Hence the calls for STTEP’s prosecution when reports of its involvement in Nigeria first emerged earlier this year, and hence Col Barlow’s indignant retort: ‘I am proud that my “racist”, “mercenary” group of trainers added value to the Nigerian army’s fight against terrorism.’

Indeed, this isn’t the first time his firm has helped an African government quell an otherwise unstoppable insurgency. His previous venture was Executive Outcomes, which helped Sierra Leone fight off the drug-crazed, limb-chopping rebels of the Revolutionary United Front in 1995.

Back then, amid a chorus of international disapproval at the presence of guns for hire, they were replaced by vastly more expensive and less competent UN-backed peacekeepers, who allowed the RUF to ransack Freetown again. Peace was not restored until 2000, when Tony Blair despatched a force of British paratroopers to run the RUF out of town.

So could private military companies, or PMCs, become part of a potential solution for Syria and Iraq? I can well imagine that they might have been effective early on, back when the Free Syrian Army was still the biggest gang in town. They could have provided high-class on-the-ground advice, logistics and training to what was otherwise a ragtag army of farmers and disaffected conscripts. Now, if allowed, they could certainly tip the odds in Isis-held territory. In both Nigeria and Iraq, the reason troops so often flee is not because they’re outgunned, but because rampant corruption and appalling management leaves soldiers unpaid, under-fed and short of ammo and functioning armoured vehicles.

Fighting the fanatics of Isis would certainly carry a high risk of PMC casualties. Yet this was normal in the second Iraq war, where thousands of former British and American servicemen were employed. Some 225 private military contractors died in Iraq between 2003 and 2011 — more than the entire British loss of 179 soldiers.

The other issue is the UN, which in 1989 set up the United Nations Mercenary Convention, which prohibits their use, although Britain and the US are not among its 33 signatories, and dispute its definition of a PMC. We should remember that UN peacekeeping missions have a lousy track record. According to Colonel Tim Collins, the Iraq war veteran who runs New Century, a PMC that does military training in Afghanistan, they are usually blighted by ‘toothless contingents, indecisive command and the distinct stench of corruption’. But he points out that any challenge to their monopoly would run up against not just ideological objections, but self-interest, given the vast amounts of money paid to developing nations that field peacekeeping units.

‘It would need a level of co-operation from the UN that currently does not exist,’ he told me. ‘But while 20 per cent of that is a Guardian-ista sniffiness about PMCs, 80 per cent of it is because fielding UN forces is a great scam for many countries.’

There would have to be restrictions as to whose side PMCs fought on — few would want STTEP fighting for Robert Mugabe, for example — but surely a clear licensing system could be established. Besides, the more respectable PMCs have long moved on from the ‘Dogs of War’ image of the 1970s. The bigger operators have ex-generals and ministers on their staff, who would be wary of a client that brought them into disrepute.

Efforts could be made to make their activities more transparent, with less hiding behind ‘commercial confidentiality’ clauses. They might also think about rebranding. Shadowy sounding names like ‘Executive Outcomes’ make PMCs sound like Bond villains, when in fact they’re often rightly proud of the work they do. The more transparent the industry becomes, the better. Who knows, one day I might bump into a mercenary in some distant warzone who won’t slink away, but can be open about what he’s achieved in places where others failed or didn’t dare to go.


Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Colin Freeman is the Sunday Telegraph’s chief foreign correspondent.

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Show comments
  • Mow_the_Grass

    IS is a ragtag bunch of religious maniacs which if ever confronted by a specialised US/IDF/UK battalion with close air support – would subdue/destroy them in a week or so.
    But all credit to Eeben and the boykies from Three Two/1 Recce (lekker by die see) – for the work done in Nigeria et al.
    Bakgat manne

    • AgZarp

      Are they ragtag? I’m not sure myself, but I am under the impression that included in their ranks are many veterans of Jihads past, including Chechen and Taliban fighters. Their training of new recruits also seems methodical and at least sufficient enough to beat US/UK-trained security forces with inferior materiel. Granted, Western forces should fare far better against them, but I don’t know if they’re really as poorly organised as some think, certainly not as ragtag as Boko Haram is/was.

      • Mow_the_Grass

        For various reasons believe that some of this ie IS ability is being talked up.
        Could be that as in the case of Syria they are a ‘nice’ counterbalance to Iranian proxy forces ie Hezbilloah (led by elements of Iranian al Quds/Basij) – and that the west really does not have a dog in this fight.
        As regds US/UK trained Iraqi forces – well no one would truly believe that this other grouping would actually stand and fight.
        We see in tv footage (over and over) long lines of ‘technicals’ (converted 1 ton open backed trucks) driving thru town/villages.
        This is target rich material for drones and other air assault.
        Why are these not being picked off as and when?
        ie destroy their mobility.

        • fundamentallyflawed

          Sounds simple but which of the trucks contains women and children?

          Human Shields are an old concept in the Middle East

          • Mow_the_Grass

            If you see them – they’re open backed utility vehicles – usually with some sort of mounted heavy machine gun welded into the loading bay.
            Anybody/everybody riding same is clearly visible.
            But yes you are correct – human shields are a battlefield tactic of arab/muslim terror groups as we have seen in many theatres.

          • tjamesjones

            yes whenever I see those pictures I think wtf are the planes doing? If somebody is in there taking a photo surely the western planes could be bombing them.

          • Frank Benavente

            Those planes are waiting for permission from nobama cronies to engage . nobama is no leader.

        • Cyril Sneer

          Just take a look at the number of airstrikes carried out against ISIS and compare to previous campaigns. A handful of trucks and emplacements being destroyed daily will not stop ISIS.

          Seems to me that the US is doing just enough to keep the liberal mongs on side and not enough to actually harm ISIS in any meaningful way. The western objective is unchanged – remove Assad and sod what happens afterwards.

        • scampy

          These vermin are killing each other in large numbers and you want to stop it?

          • Galui

            They’re also in the UK “sleeping” and making plans to kill us when the time’s right. Doesn’t matter how long it takes, Jihad goes on until there are no enemies left standing.

      • doosdief

        Not true. There has been talk of Chechen and Taliban fighters with Mali and Algerian-based AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Maghreb) with whom Boko Haram is now allied. But none of these Islamists have been fighting for Boko Haram. Like ISIL, Boko Haram uses extreme measures – execution by fire or crucifiction, tortue, rape and a lot else besides to intimidate the local population. The South Africans – their force numbers only 75 – men on the ground and helicopter crews – have retaliated in kind with no prisoners taken. These pros go to war after dark and using sophisticated NVGs ‘command the night’. Until the mercs were halted, local Boko Haram contingents sought safety on islands in Lake Chad. Now they’ve been allowed free rein again and have once more become a serious threat. Within mercenary ranks Eeben Barlow is looked apon as a self-serving twat by going public in overseas media. In effect, he has caused Buhari to take notice and call a halt to merc activity. Barlow won’t be involved for very much longer.

        • AgZarp

          I was talking about ISIS fighters including Chechens and Taliban, but you bring up interesting points about Barlow. I did think it a bit strange that a mercenary captain went public at all, it just doesn’t seem appropriate.

    • james smith

      Religious maniacs perhaps, but I disagree with the assertion that they are simply a “ragtag bunch”. They’ve scored significant recent victories over the Iraqi army and I think they’re a force to be taken seriously.

      • Des Demona

        But it appears that a six year old with a water pistol could score significant victories over the Iraqi army.

    • freddiethegreat


    • Lawence James

      Similar bombast was uttered before the British invaded Zululand in 1879, the Italians Abyssinia in 1896, and the Spaniards the Moroccan interior in 1920. All ended in disaster, and the recent Israeli incursions into the Lebanon were not, if I recall, walkovers. Kipling reminds us an army of ‘religious maniacs’ – he called them ‘heathens’ – achieved what Napoleon’s army had failed to do, break a British square. Arrogance has never won a battle and it won’t win this one.

      • Gilbert White

        Dear Lawrence they nearly broke a British Square all down to one Steerforth type! Alright they did chip a corner off the camel corps.Kipling was practising truthful irony. The Muslim fuzzies were put to sleep by the camel load as they could be today. The point is our conscience vultures when not making a mint for themselves say it will destroy our souls to cull them.

    • AllahuSnackbars
    • Paul Stable

      Mooi gedaan ne?

  • Kaine

    If you have a problem, if no-one else can help, and if you can find them…

    • Jean-Claude Cameron

      A rather splendid quote.

    • freddiethegreat

      And these guys WERE the A-Team in the ’80s!

      • Paul B

        When they were routed by the Cubans.

        • James H, London

          Heh. That’s funny!

          SA forces when facing combined FAPLA/Cuban forces commonly had a casualty rate of 13:1 in their favour.

          • Paul B

            You remind me of my proudly British former business partner who claimed Dunkerque was a victory.

          • SD jt

            Making such an ill-informed comparison like that is evidence enough that you have no idea what you’re talking about.

          • Paul B

            Present an argument.

          • Paul Stable

            Our final total got way higher when you consider that the vast losses counted as ours were in reality Units forces from Angola. At Cuito, we killed forty for every one of our fallen and then the Cuban General who “won” the great victory against us was recalled to Havana, accused of corruption and executed. I think our General got a handshake and a nice little medal. A few weeks later I got a nice little medal too. Nice job and a Pro Patria.

  • John Moss

    Apparently there are 4m refugees from ISIS and about 40,000 ISIS fighters.

    if 2% of the displaced are capable of fighting, we should recruit them, train them, arm them and lead them. It would need just 400 SAS/RM/USFS commanders, each leading companies of 200. We would outnumber them 2:1 and those troops would have the incentive to fight to take back their homelands.

    • Otto von Bismarck

      Good idea in principal, but it would take years to train them and it would be hugely expensive to get an army of around 80,000 off the ground (not to mention the scale of organisation needed). You’re looking at a cost of many billions of pounds to pay them, equip them, maintain them etc. The money could probably be better spent elsewhere. Then again, that might be what’s needed to properly defeat ISIS in Syria and Iraq (and would be a dam sight cheaper than sending in Western troops).

    • Patrick Roy

      Sounds like a movie…

    • bionde

      If they wanted to fight they have had ample opportunity. All those young able bodied men swarming into Europe are looking for an easy life or else they are looking to wage jihad against the liberal westerners.

  • Gilbert White

    Thou are a fool. No mention of the Mongol like fighting tactics then?

    • ISIS could be defeated within 24 hours by a determined foe. Their military and strategic weaknesses are blindingly obvious to any moderately informed observer. But the final truth is – Obama does not want them defeated. Why, I leave open to speculation.

      • Mow_the_Grass

        Obama has distanced himself from traditional sunni allies in ME ie Saudi Arabia/ Egypt in favour of his new found friend the shia Islamic state of Iran.
        Glut in oil means that the US reliance on SA is no longer required.
        SA/Bahrain and other gulf states are the chief aiders/abetters/financiers of IS who coincedentally are locked in battle with Iran’s shia proxy army Hezbollah.
        What’s a Kenyan muslim to do.
        Dammed if you do/don’t.

      • scampy

        Cheney and Rumsfeld ordering the dropping of little boy and fat man on these uncivilized vermin would stop them?

        • No – treat it like a Second World War battle: Thousand bomber raids, artillery attacks, rocket launches, tank formations, followed up by troops, parachute drops and special forces. But prior to that – planning – cut off the money – and then attack. Cutting off the money would be fairly easy but would take longer than the battle, as it would reveal Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey as our enemies (among others) and they would need to be dealt with.

          • Hughi85

            Good luck finding a thousand bombers today. 🙂
            You make a point though, ISIS is a territorial entity. They can’t give up ground and melt into the population as true Guerillas could. They have to stand, and they would get pounded into the sand by a Western army.

            The will to send one is gone though.

      • Gilbert White

        You just do not get it like the rest. These things are not worth the foreskin of our Private David. Until the Arabs learn to stand and fight not just spraying bullets like a chubby Palestinian rice belly we are all lost. Even the Teutonic knights failed against Mongol brutality. Apart from this factor I probably agree with you if our half educated ambulance chasing lawyers stayed out a crack regiment could easily deal with them. You need to treat them like elephants and cull the herd entirely.

      • Frank Benavente

        No guess as to which side that traitorous POS is on.

  • soysauce1

    Who is worse? Western politicians with tremendous power and military might who turn a blind eye for their own political reasons while thousands die needlessly or the mercenaries who for a fair days wage risk their lives do the right thing..I know which side I am on, besides it probably keeps quite a few troubled men off our streets at home and gives meaning to their lives.

    • Doug Kursk

      What makes you think these are troubled men? Many are military careerists who feel the need for structure in their lives and, of course, some action.

      They are to be admired.

  • 100%Black
  • scampy

    I am sure Cuban soldiers who have a long history of fighting in Africa without a single war crimes charge would be the perfect christian force to eliminate these muslim vermin.

    • Picquet

      The reporting of Cuban ‘war crimes’ never occurred because their local employers wouldn’t have dreamed of allowing reporters close to any scene of battle. They’re certainly more effective than most of the African armies, and of the UN contingents whose micromanagement by New York makes them almost entirely useless, while the AU is of no use whatsoever, anywhere.
      Well led, equipped and managed PMCs would certainly provide part of the answer.

    • Frank Benavente

      You have no idea what you are talking about.

    • James H, London

      So you’d send communists to fight Moslems?

      Couldn’t they both lose?

      And if you honestly think the Cubans were angels, you’re a useful idiot.

  • WTF

    You fight fire with fire and when fighting a bunch of Islamic savages ! The west has its hands tied by human rights cr** so the best option is to employ well trained mercenaries who have no qualms using extreme prejudice or following Geneva conventions that are pointless when dealing with ISIS.

  • ADW

    The Gurkhas have a long tradition but, now we are seven decades on give or take from the days of empire, it is time for them to go from the British army. Fine soldiers that they are, however, we could employ all current brigades (they are mercenaries after all) first to fight isis and then what’s left of Procol Harem if need be. Isis wouldn’t last an hour against them.

    • Frank Benavente

      The Gurkhas have shown more loyalty to the UK then they were given. UK forces are small and getting smaller. Civilians should be made to fight their country’s battles and see what you say then about professional soldiers …All so easy for some people sitting far removed from the battlefield to talk and not risk anything. After all you’re just a civilian.

      • Gilbert White

        The Gurkha’s employed by the sultanate of Brunei as mercenaries collectively earn more than some African capital cities. Along with our own gurkhas and the parasites deposited into our country by sundry lawyers and celebrities could have helped their own country to recover from the quake. Fortunately the media soon lost interest in the crisis.

  • Feminister

    Just put women in charge. It is the answer to literally every problem.

    • Cyril Sneer

      That’s actually the cause of most problems.

  • Dogsnob

    They don’t like it up ’em!

  • jim

    Our priority must be reducing the moslem presence in Europe.You want to save Baghdad when you’ve lost Bradford..

    • Wh0_Is_J0hn_Galt

      Please specify Sunni Muslims (Saudi Arabia), Shia Muslims (Iran) have never ever been a problem for the West.

      • jim


        • Fried Ch’i

          Your cluelessness sums you up, pal.

          Let me visualise that:

          jim = ?!!!

          • jim

            Clown..Iran is no friend to me..but I’m sure you get along great with them..Always surprised to hear trannies defending islam.

          • jim

            Big pal of the Iranians eh? Why doesn’t that surprise me? Just because you’ve been fooled doesn’t mean everyone else has.

          • Lord of the Manor of Tyburn

            Let me guess – Nullpointer, Shazza and Nick etc all like it.

      • MathMan

        Shia Muslims in Iran. Would they be the nice men trying to build the atomic bomb?

      • Brogan75

        In doubt, I would get rid of both.

      • zabada

        Syiah who using religion to dominate more territories.. the war now,between Syiah and Sunnis is Zionist and ,America games.All strong Muslims countries who have been an enemy to Israel must annihilated ….so Zionist planned to destroy Iraq Saddam Sunni and Iran.The two really a strong enemies to Israeil.After destroyed Sunni glory in Iraq ,Zionist created new Syiah regime in order to destroy Iran.How ? By Planted Syiah uprising.Sonce Syiah is a minority,Sunni will unite and win and massacred Syiah..then Iran will intervene to protect their Syiah bothers…and Sunni will annihilated Iran ….on behalf of Israel.So if Iran clearly intervene in Yemen or Iraq Zionist games will be completed.I guess most Arabs and Syiah not believe the games.They even not acknowledge the game.Before Jews playing death game by crushing America wtc and blame Osama.and blame and accuse Saddam have wmd.Zionist jews planted war between Western Christian force and Muslims countries…that,s why America destroy Iraq saddam and Israel will save..at the same times Zionist planted sectarian at the area and Israel will save forever when Saudi and Sunnis coalition will destroy iran.The game drafted in White House before 9 11.,, The wars in Middle East now is really Zionist games..and 9 11 created by Zionist in order to destroy all strong enemies to Israel.America now is in the hand of Zionist Jews bankers..and America will lead Western Christian countries to fight and die for Jews and israel..but many said Muslims is brutal and killing each others.Western people not acknowledge that Syiah is not islam..All sunnis regard Syiah is non Mulsims..So it is war between non muslims and muslims..likely when America engage in war on Iraq Saddam..it is a war between Christians..non Muslims with muslims..Sunnis Muslims Iraqis.Zionist who planted the game and lured Christian to destroy Sunnis Iraqis Saddam..then Zionist lured Syiah to kill sunnis ..force Sunnis to killed Syiah..including annihilate iran..how smart Zionist was..they fooled Christian ,Syiah and Sunnis to destroying each others.Anyways .Christians can,t be destroyed by Zionist games..since they are strong..even it,s also killed thousands of Whites.Sunnis and Syiah who are suffer by this dirty games that supported by Christians Whites Zionist in America and others Western Christians,who are converted to Zionism.Christians is not a strong religion to prevent western people to convert to Zionist.Most of them bribed by Zionist Jews to do dirty games on behalf of Israel ,Jews and Zionist.Zionist also planted bad moral on Christians..and turned to nonreligious people.Jews also planted bad moral in Christian and Syiah long a go in order to destroy morality and to destroy human kind.Some sunnis countries also lured by Zionist to kill their Sunnis brothers.Are these game really make Israel safe?.No.Their games will unite Sunnis in future..and the game will turn to an upset..in very near future.Zionist last game will divided people in two..Non Zionist force and Zionist force.Of course sunnis is leading the war on Zionist..Likely to the past Zionist always created strong force to them.Jews already digging their grave.I feel so sorry for Western Whites zionist, who are eventually fooled by Zionist Jews and lured them to die for Jews and engage a fool war on Muslims only to save millions of greedy and weird Jews in Israel.

    • Sarfaraz Abbasi

      Typical hate-filled mindset. Not different than ISIS

      • Doug Kursk

        How so? Your equivalency statement is simply not correct. When the likes of the OP start to chop off heads, rape children and brutalize the populace in the name of Christianity, then we will talk.

      • Cyril Sneer

        Deal with it, it’s your future. Don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll be able to tell your grandkids that once, a long time ago, you used to live in Europe.


  • teddylocsinjr

    My countrymen in the Philippines, whose government is currently carving out a homeland for jihadists with a US-sponsored peace deal with Muslim secessionists our army has beaten in every fight, may soon need the services of “mercenaries.” We’ll get in touch when the shit hits the fan over here.

  • doosdief

    The Nigerian Government has abruptly put a hold on South African mercenaries going after Boko Haram Jihadis. An ex-military man, former General and coup plotter Buhari simply cannot tolerate his shitty army being shown up by a bunch of military professionals – black and white – from ‘down south’. The South Africans achieved in three months of concerted ground and chopper gunship effort what the Nigerian Army couldn;t do in six years. Go figure.

    • BoiledCabbage

      Army? Nigerian Golf Club, more like.

  • Marcus

    Mercenaries are a far better solution as these young men have
    full knowledge of the risks and most importantly the cause for which they fight

    Sending our boys to die for King and country when they are if anything making
    us less safe is abhorrent.

    Let alone these young men are often slaughtered simply to ensure a lucrative retirement lecture circuit in the USA for which ever Prime minister is in power at the time.

    • Callipygian

      ‘making us less safe’ is delusional

      • blandings

        I don’t know how she plays in your town, but G is rather taken with this chick.

        • Callipygian

          Hi G. Never heard of her, but a good song, subtly done, with an excellent video. One has to be careful with narrative songs and my experience of contemporary American country is that it wields nothing finer than a sledgehammer (‘stuck down in Mexico/sick as a dog/living on refried beans’ is one example, to say nothing of the jealous man that glimpsed ‘his boots under our bed’).

          I didn’t have time for getting high last night, my girl having had an eye op, and a tranquillizer the wallop of which was hard for her to wake up from. When she did, I lay awake in a vigil, trying to interpret every rapid breath, shift of position, slight complaint, etc. I think I got it mainly right: she certainly has bounced back this morning. At various times in the night I gave her a full tin of tuna, a cheesy breakfast, and water, all of which seemed gratefully received (food helps bolster any pain relief and makes pain in general less bad). We may both be taking a nap this afternoon! I intend to spoil her rotten, on the first truly relaxing day I’ve had in weeks!

      • Marcus

        You’re right; we’re much safer now that we lost in Afghanistan and lost in Iraq.

        • Callipygian

          Depends how you define ‘loss’. Insisting that the only win is one in which we wipe out the world’s total supply of fanatics is not realistic, I’m afraid (wish it were!).

          • Marcus

            No. It does not.
            I have heard many Hitchens-type arguments for the Iraq and Afghanistan war.
            But no one has ever said we won in Afghanistan or Iraq however. Not once.
            You would have to be being obtuse in the extreme to say we won either of those wars.
            We did not. Both are now hot beds for extremism and failed states.
            One started off like that and after all the deads solders is ….the same.
            The other has got lots worse since we invaded.

          • Marcus

            Define ‘loss’ in a way that would mean we did not loose in Afghanistan and Iraq.

  • freddiethegreat

    A couple of years ago, ex-SADF troops were being recruited to train a Zimbabwean rebel army. Anyone know what happened with that? Did the foreign backers pull out?

  • William Haworth

    Mercenaries will never want people to take their pictures. Islamists have long memories, and it would be a shame if people who risks their live for our freedom should be killed in front of their children, 10 years after the fall of ISIS.

  • William Haworth

    Our leaders need to read some history of the end of the Roman empire. Here we are, facing massive population movements from the uncivilised East, refusing to defend ourselves, contemplating hiring mercenaries to fight for us, and paying ourselves to do no work. This is a re-run of 400 AD, and it didn’t end well the first time.

  • Patrick Roy

    Special forces and private mercenaries are indeed the way forward.

  • Paul B

    The tone of this article reminds me of an apartheid era Van der Merwe joke. Van der Merwe, visiting London, was amazed to see six white men digging a hole. “Gimme a dozen bleks”, says Van, “and I could do thet all by myself.”

  • BoiledCabbage

    Regular Western armies are impotent because of Lawfare, the Geneva Conventions and the HRA [which applies to overseas deployments] – whilst all potential enemies routinely ignore all the fatuous european “Rules of War”.

  • ConstablePlod

    Time and again the west has proven masters at getting in quickly with highly specialised teams and taking out the bad guys. Problems only crop up when we try to govern the ungovernables.
    I’m all in favour of licensing mercenaries and sending them in to take out ISIS high command. It’ll solve the problem and cost us far less than propping up a corrupt and inefficient military.

  • Palidor

    Which mercs are left? The South African ones are busy all over Africa and the American ones are already fighting in Ukraine.

  • Jim91

    “The other issue is the UN, which in 1989 set up the United Nations Mercenary Convention, which prohibits their use”

    It amazes me that the UN is still given such deference and exaggerated respect. What exactly has it done of any importance for global affairs in its entire history? No one who looks at its track record in the absurdly named Peacekeeping operations can seriously claim that its going to play an important role in combating Islamic extremism.

  • jason

    lol u prats got no chance defeating them. if u want to defeat isis send your coward troops

  • Roger Hudson

    Can someone explain how a PMC is not a ‘mercenary’ by the definition of the UN convention, they fight for gain and are not a legal party to the conflict.
    They don’t get POW status, they get executed.
    Or are ‘mercenaries’ what ‘others’ have while the ‘good guys’ use ‘contractors’?

  • MathMan

    ‘Cry “Havoc!” and let slip the dogs of war.’ Julius Caesar Act 3, scene 1.

  • Fairly Educated Scot

    The Spectator has out-Spectated itself; calling for the West to interfere in the Middle East yet again but not only that to do so using a privitised army. “We need to bomb the foreigners but we also must ensure the private sector can profit!”

  • Brogan75

    Just nuke the whole thing. Problem solved in half an hour.

  • John Andrews

    Defeating ISIS would be a waste of blood and gold. They are a medieval society so use a technique from the Middle Ages: lay siege to the areas ISIS has taken. Stop imports, exports, traffic, telecoms, everything. They’ll soon sort themselves out.

  • Sten vs Bren

    “Some 225 private military contractors died in Iraq between 2003 and 2011 — more than the entire British loss of 179 soldiers”

    Which would suggest that the private sector’s results in that country were no better than the legitimate army.

    But I reckon you could find the correct cash figure that would convince some private sector operative to torture and commit war crimes. You can’t do that with real soldiers.