Mercenaries are fighting superpower wars from Venezuela to Libya

Gabriel Moyssen
Mercenaries are fighting superpower wars from Venezuela to Libya
Men suspected of being mercenaries for Muammar Gaddafi, the deposed leader of Libya, are being held in a sports center in Tripoli, Libya - Photo: Mohamed Messara/EFE

Mercenaries are fighting superpower wars from Venezuela to Libya

Gabriel Moyssen
Mexico City
-A +A
Considered “the second oldest profession of the world,” mercenary armies are fighting superpower wars in an ever more complex global environment

Leer en español

Considered “the second oldest profession of the world,” mercenary armies are fighting superpower wars in an ever more complex global environment of the twentieth first century, as the failed naval incursion against the Venezuelan government has shown.

On Monday, authorities in Caracas reported they captured three more soldiers of fortune—including a Bolivian national guardsman—and seized three Colombian fast boats tied to the attempt to oust President Nicolás Maduro launching a surprise landing operation in La Guaira state shore last week.

The detention brings the number of combatants taken into custody to 34, among them two ex-United States Army Special Forces members who led the botched attack to kidnap Maduro; just days before, American mercenaries Luke Denman and Airan Berry admitted their role in the May 3 dawn action, which Venezuela said was orchestrated by ex-Green Beret Jordan Goudreau and Clíver Alcalá Cordones, a Venezuelan General defector.

Goudreau runs in Florida a private security company, SilverCorp USA, that helped provide weapons and train forces for the raid to cash in on a USD $15 million American bounty for Maduro, accused of “drug trafficking and money laundering,” while Alcalá was imprisoned—on narcotics charges precisely—in the United States prior to the incursion.

Denman, 34, declared he was recruited in December by Goudreau for the attack; Goudreau promised him USD $100,000 to lead the mercenaries and secure a Caracas airport “for safe passage for Maduro and the receiving of arms.”

The failed “Operation Gideon,” which also left eight raiders dead in a brief clash with Venezuelan units during the landing attempt, is a clear example of modern warfare by proxies, involving non-state actors—SilverCorp USA—and state actors such as the United States, Colombia, and Brazil, which supported the assault to bring to power self-proclaimed Venezuelan President Juan Guaidó.

Recommended: Buoyed by protesters, opposition leader Juan Guaidó claims Venezuela presidency

In the last 20 years Washington and its allies have increasingly resorted to Private Military and Security Companies (PMSC), in order to avoid public opposition to war adventures and limit the casualties of its own armed forces.

Throughout history, soldiers of fortune have also offered—at least in theory—the benefits from a highly skilled force selected among former professional troops, including cost reduction, efficiency, and the anonymity of its clients (the U.S., Colombia, Brazil, and Guaidó have denied its participation in the attack).

From 2008 to 2010, the number of “contractors” went up by 67,000, according to the Atlantic Council expert Sean McFate, himself a former member of DynCorp International, a firm hired by the U.S. State Department to defoliate coca crops in Colombia spraying innocent peasants with toxic glyphosate in the process.

It is estimated that the U.S. lost as much as USD $60 billion to fraud by contractors in the early years of the Iraq occupation, a booming period for an industry worth up to USD $249 billion in 2019.

During the 2017 fiscal year, the Pentagon gave USD $320 billion to federal contracts, of which 71% were for “services” including PMSC, McFate pointed out.

For its part, the United Kingdom increased spending in the same area from GBP £12.6 million in 2003 to GBP £48.9 million in 2012.

The symbol

If there is a name which currently symbolizes the PMSC, that is the name of Erik Prince, head of Academi, the company formerly known as Blackwater and Xe Services responsible for the 2007 killing of 17 civilians in the Nisour Square of Baghdad, also involved in 200 “escalation of force incidents” in Iraq according to the U.S. Congress.

Relegated during the Obama administration due to the Nisour Square massacre—other two companies, L-3 Services and CACI Premier Technology tortured inmates in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq—Prince has found new opportunities with Donald Trump in the White House.

Brother of Betsy DeVos, Trump Education Secretary, Prince proposed a “third path” using contractors to “save the war in Afghanistan” after two decades of occupation. His plan, he emphasized, will cost less than 20% of the current spending and will save U.S. taxpayers “more than USD $40 billion a year.”

However, as McFate stresses, “mercenaries can start and elongate conflicts for profit, breeding endless wars. A world with more mercenaries means a world with more war,” and to confirm his words, The Intercept revealed in April that the Trump administration adviser sought to provide military services to the sanctioned Russian firm Wagner Group in Libya and Mozambique.

Prince, it added, also proposed Trump create a private spy service to circumvent the U.S. intelligence agencies, and is an adviser to the facto ruler of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, whose intervention in Yemen along with Saudi Arabia has caused the worst humanitarian catastrophe in the world.

Recommended: World conflicts to resurface after the coronavirus pandemic

The tentacles of Prince have even stretched to China; he is co-chair of Frontier Services Group (FSG), a Hong Kong based logistics company he founded and whose largest investor is the Chinese government. In an evident conflict of interest, FSG signed a contract for fishing rights in Mozambique when Prince was trying to sell his military capabilities to the Wagner Group.

Considered at the vanguard of a murky world without regulatory laws where a new class of powers, from multinational corporations to warlords, billionaires, religious extremists, drug traffickers, and organized crime can rent private armies, the Wagner Group has been key for the success of Moscow’s intervention in Ukraine and Syria.

A semi-private force connected to the Russian military intelligence founded by ex-Special Forces (Spetsnaz) Lieutenant Colonel Dmitry Utkin, wounded during the fight in Ukraine, the firm has followed the Russian doctrine of hybrid warfare combining conventional warfare, irregular warfare, and cyberwarfare with other methods, such as disinformation, propaganda, political, and diplomatic actions, which U.S. analysts also call “full spectrum dominance.”

Last week, a leaked report submitted to the United Nations Security Council said Wagner Group has deployed about 1,200 troops to Libya to strengthen the forces of Field Marshall Khalifa Haftar, who is disputing the control of the North African country with the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA).

In addition to this effort to boost Haftar’s offensive over Tripoli, Moscow has recruited former Syrian rebels opposed to its ally President Bashar Assad, emulating a move by Turkey, which mobilized early this year at least 2,000 fighters, including minors, from the self-styled Syrian National Army to Libya promising them salaries of USD $3,000 and Turkish citizenship.

Haftar is increasingly reliant on foreign powers to prop up his campaign. Mercenaries come at a cost, they don’t know the lay of the land, and are struggling to make ground in urban terrain,” told Al Jazeera Anas El Gomati, director of the Sadeq Institute in Tripoli, alluding to the assistance received by Haftar’s Libyan National Army from Russia, UAE, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and France, while the GNA is supported by Turkey, Qatar, Algeria, and Italy.

In Venezuela, press reports highlighted for its part that “eight Russian specialists” participated in operations in La Guaira after the mercenary incursion, providing Venezuelan forces “assistance in the field of drone management and the monitoring of forestlands.”

Back to the Middle East, before the escalation of the war in Libya, Syria was the scenario where thousands of extremists from other Muslim countries, sponsored by Saudi Arabia, the U.S.,Turkey, Israel, and Qatar, joined the ranks of local rebels, as well as the terrorist groups Al Qaeda and Islamic State.

Nevertheless, it is less known that a true legion of guns-for-hire from Sudan, Pakistan, Nepal, France, Australia, Colombia, and even Mexico—as local media reported in 2015—contracted by Academi and trained in Israel, has been deployed by Saudi Arabia and the UAE in Yemen against the Houthi rebels to no avail.

Just last February, at 100, “Mad MikeHoare, an Irish soldier of fortune who fought in Africa and the Indian Ocean, died in Durban, South Africa, leaving behind a career which reflects some of the darkest moments of neocolonialism and the Cold War.

Going back in history from Hoare’s war crimes in Congo, we can find the origins of the Swiss Guard in the sixteenth century conflicts which involved the Papal States; the Varangian (Viking) Guardsmen of the Byzantine emperors, and Xenophon of Athens, philosopher and writer who led the mercenary army, the Ten Thousand across Iraq, Armenia, and Turkey in the 5th century BC.

Editing by Sofía Danis
More by Gabriel Moyssen

Mantente al día con el boletín de El Universal