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Still deciding about the Blackwater deal
Posted by: McQ on Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Armed, non-military security in war zones isn't something new like a lot of folks are trying to pretend. This sort of activity has been going on for a while.

That said, I've heard a couple of folks who would know and for whom I have some respect say they have problems with the Blackwater crew. So I'm still looking at this situation a bit more before rendering a final opinion.

However I have to tell you, given what I have read, I did come away laughing when I read this today from Rick Moran:
I am not much enamored with the idea of private security firms being so prevelant in Iraq. But clearly, Blackwater is something of an exception. A perfect security record after 4 years in such a violent land is a record to be proud of.
Heh ... that's not as hard a record to compile as you might think when you kill 17 to 20 people at each rolling road block.

OK, that was just off the cuff and I'm not claiming that's what they do, but given what I have read, it does seem the are a bit inclined to shoot first and worry about it (if at all) later. Anyway, that's how Rick's touting of their record hit me at the time.

Oh ... and regardless of how this turns out, yes, I do believe that any private security firm working for the US government should indeed have to operate under Rules of Engagement and not be left to decide on their own what they'll be. There should also be consequences for not following them. And yes, that's what contracts are for. But they need to be under someone's legal jurisdiction as well.
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Previous Comments to this Post 

McQ they are, by-and-large veterans of the SpecOps Community. It’s not like they were former E-3’s and E-4’s from the Bakery Corps. I think it might be OK they shoot first, it’s their job, keeping the dilpomat alive.

I really don’t know anything about them, but what I’ve read on-line at StrategyPage. I’m not really defending them, just pointing out that they are not just some bunch of Border Yahoo’s
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
Why is the State Department getting a pass on this? If Blackwater is contracted by them, then State should have oversight responsibility.
Written By: Ted
I’m not really defending them, just pointing out that they are not just some bunch of Border Yahoo’s.
I must have missed it ... where’d I suggest they were?
It’s not like they were former E-3’s and E-4’s...
Well I can point to a whole lot of E-3’s and E-4’s right there near them that apparently have much better fire discipline than they do.

And that’s largely a function of leadership, the ROE and accountability.

Written By: McQ

"..but given what I have read.."

What exactly have you read and where?
Written By: Radical Centrist
URL: http://
What exactly have you read and where?
Any number of articles over the week (I’m sorry I don’t remember which exactly - I read a ton of stuff a day), the latest being by Max Boot in the LA Times today (and he makes some good points).
Written By: McQ
I think it might be OK they shoot first, it’s their job, keeping the dilpomat alive.
Damn... just damn
Written By: Captin Sarcastic
URL: http://
I think it might be OK they shoot first, it’s their job, keeping the dilpomat alive.
Damn... just damn
LOL, well to myself which would make it LTM. Purposfully mis-taking your comment Cpt., I agree... Why are these guys protecting diplomats.

Now if they were protecting real statesmen instead...
Written By: bains
URL: http://
"I think it might be OK they shoot first, it’s their job, keeping the dilpomat alive"

Only if they have a clear and identifiable threat. When they are driving along at high rates of speed it is rather difficult to accurately and positively identify armed enemies, and even tougher to differentiate them from armed friends. Avoiding unnecessary ’collateral damage’ is, or should be, also part of their job. It may be riskier to positively identify a threat before firing, but that is why they make the big bucks. It is rather ironic that they may be making the diplomat’s job more difficult with this overabundance of protective firepower
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
Instapundit posted this:

Blackwater copter rescues Polish Ambassador.
Written By: jows
URL: http://
Damn... just damn

I knew we agreed at times....if they’re not under the ROE, exactly what are they under?
Good Lord, what do they have? a license to practice on live targets?
(Okay, extreme, I admit...but I don’t get why they’re not bound by the same rules as the military)

Yes yes, The American Army is all right, decent chaps and all that, but good heavens, don’t let their security firms into your country, they shoot people!
Wonderful recommendation.
Written By: looker
URL: http://
I find it amusing that the lace panties brigade from Foggy Bottom, after all their efforts to hobble and obstruct the military with overlawyered ROE, contracts their own defense to an organization exempt from the ROE that might give the opposition a better chance at said lace panty targets. I guess "some animals are more equal than others."
Written By: Richard
It seems to me that State knows who to call when it comes to protecting themselves, just as the US Embassy (according to jows’s link) knew who to call to pull the Polish Ambassador’s hide out of the fire (judging by his burns, quite literally out of the fire).

Blackwater hires professionals, mostly from within the US and allied SPECOPS community. These guys are already elite soldiers and operators, and Blackwater further trains them before deploying them in-theatre. They’re anything but yokels with guns, and their perfect track record at protecting their principals largely speaks for itself. It obviously speaks loud-and-clear to the State Department.

Incidently, "shoot first" doesn’t mean you’re the bad guy. If you see an ambush coming, why is it unacceptable to pre-emptively assault the ambush, roll them up, and/or suppress-and-withdraw? Is Blackwater expected to wait until they’ve got incoming rounds before engaging?

If a vehicle approaches your convoy, and you suspect it might be a VBIED, would you wait to see the "whites of his eyes" before engaging? Distance is non-trivial in this scenario... remember that blast overpressure decays exponentially with distance, so distance from the blast epicenter is critical. Would you hesitate for a second? Two seconds? A vehicle at 60mph is moving at 88 feet-per-second... how close would you let a suspicious vehicle get?

These aren’t easy decisions, and they have to be made in an eye-blink. For my own part, I’m unwilling to MMQB Blackwater just yet.
Written By: TheNewGuy
URL: http://
Incidently, "shoot first" doesn’t mean you’re the bad guy.
I don’t think anyone is suggesting it does, and certainly there are instances when, as you point out, it is perfectly acceptable to do so.

Just as obviously there are those in which such a reaction isn’t acceptable. Rules of Engagement usually spell those out. And accountability normally enforces the ROE. Even the CEO of Blackwater says there’s really nothing which holds his operatives accountable for their action (what was his quote? "We can’t flog them")

That’s the point here.
Written By: McQ
I’d like to see more data. How many warning shots, how many people shot, how many people killed.

But, this goes beyond Blackwater.
And yet the very report that has gobsmacked so many says they have been in an average of 1.4 escalations of force per week that involved gunfire, and 80% were initiated by Blackwater. Since this number would include warning shots fired, this means that of more than 16,000 missions run by Blackwater they have had only 195 incidents of shooting and they have had a grand total of ZERO of their protectees killed. Let’s say that again, ZERO of the most important targets in Iraq were killed while under Blackwater protection.
Barnett had a good take on it the other day, commenting on Ralph Peters editorial:
Peters at his most colorful, but the point is sound: when you feed the Leviathan and outsource too much SysAdmin (because you refuse the well-known uniform burden of nation-building, screw up the reconstruction, and go-it-far-too-much-alone re: allies), you end up with a difficult scene.

Blackwater’s failures are a result of pushing off too much of the effort on a State Department grossly ill-equipped for the job.

This is why the Department of Everything Else is inevitable.

After years and years of operational experience building up, you can’t call our interventions "crisis responses" anymore. They’re simply the new international security environment I dubbed the Gap.

The market stares us in the face, but we change only when abject failures drive us to do so.

Blackwater is both problem and solution: the question is the mix and the new rules required.

Those choices await the next administration.
Written By: Keith_Indy
Oh, and by the way, McQ, the note "Keith_indy" links above? That’s a very nice demonstration of how one shouldn’t opine on something so easily checked before, you know, checking?

Lest one make a fool of one’s self.

Like you just did.
Written By: Charlie (Colorado)
URL: http://
"These guys are already elite soldiers and operators,"

Yes, but that skill set is not quite the same as the skill set and reflexes required for a bodyguard working amid a friendly population. An argument could also be made that the loss of one of their principals is less important than the loss of good will caused by killing the wrong people. This is, remember, a counter-insurgency, and force protection should not be the highest priority.

"These aren’t easy decisions, and they have to be made in an eye-blink."

True, but that is a factor in mitigation and extenuation, not guilt or innocence.
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
Lest one make a fool of one’s self.
How’s that Charlie?

I’m asking about ROE and accountability and saying there’s a need for both.

The first link (Blackfive) has this:
There definitely needs to be some formal oversight and accountability for contractors in Iraq and that is a problem.
Sounds like what I’m "opining" about if you ask me.

Peters is all for that as well. And Barnett seconds Peters.

Might want to take your own advice before commenting next time, Charlie.
Written By: McQ
A perfect security record after 4 years in such a violent land is a record to be proud of.
Perfect record? Does he mean perfect except for getting those four guys in Falludja killed and strung up, insitgating a month-long battle that Blackwater didn’t have to fight?
Written By: Retief
URL: http://
Zero of their protectees? Except for a couple of hundred truck drivers. But I guess they’re not among the most important targets in Iraq, so we won’t count them.
Written By: Retief
URL: http://
happened across this site while researching for an essay i’m doing on PMCs (private military companies), and Blackwater in particular. you guys (and gals) should check out Robert Pelton Young’s book Licensed to Kill: Hired Guns in the War on Terror

it seems the discussion is split in 3 parts:

PROs- 0 principal (the protected individual) casualties in a most difficult of warzones; are (mostly) ex-SF, SEALs, ect; much less of a bureaucracy (*); 0 political backlash for contractor deaths (exception-fallujah incident)

CONs- 0 accountability; shoot first, dont bother asking questions later (aka cowboy mentality); "contractor misconduct equals American misconduct" (**)

MIDDLE- support PMCs, just want to see more accountability; the need for ROE (though i thought they already had that—> warning shot, shoot the engine, shoot the driver)(***)

"Dan Laguna manages Blackwater’s aviation program in Iraq. "We are the Quick Reaction Force for just about everyone. The military takes too long to respond because of the approval they have to get all the way up the chain of command. I am the only one that makes the decision to go or not to go and we always go when someone is in harm’s way." "

(**)-source: Jeremy Scahill’s (author of Blackwater:The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army) testimony to Congress on May 14, 2007 :

(***)- when you have suicide car/truck bombs using ever evolving tactics (slowing down to hit the front, creeping from the side/behind, jetting across the median), this process can be understandably shortened to less than a few seconds. the cowboy image probably comes from this, though without the seemingly loose ROE in favor of a more stirgent one, we would be hamstringing PMCs such as Blackwater that use the ’Mega Guns and Armor’ method of protecting the principle(****)...which is obviously working, when you look at their principal casualty record.

(****)- 2 other methods are talked about in Pelton’s Lisensed to Kill: the ’undercover’ way of the Brits (*5*), and security in a more sinister fashion:
"An American partner in an Iraqi security company told me that his firm gave up on the Western-style PSD [Personal Security Detail] after finding it more effective for the security of their operations to hire Iraqi Sunnis from Saddam’s former elite guards. He told me that the effect of this shift in human resources recruitment policy is that "you shoot at us or cause a problem, and the solution is taken right down to the family level." While he wouldn’t go into exact details of what that might entail, it suggests that his new contractors are using revenge as a tool aimed at preventing future attacks."
-Licensed to Kill: Hired Guns in the War on Terror
(*5*)- check out this vid if interested:

-shoot first, dont bother asking questions later: this is just smart policy. after an ied/ambush, you’d want to quickly get the principle "off the X" as they say in PMC parlance. if you stay and play, you leave yourself open to a "Blackhawk Down" type of scenario. arresting individuals for central booking for a later court hearing at the end of an ambush is nonsensical.

-"contractor misconduct equals American misconduct":, i dont have a comeback for that one, lol. its very true.
"An argument could also be made that the loss of one of their principals is less important than the loss of good will caused by killing the wrong people. This is, remember, a counter-insurgency, and force protection should not be the highest priority."
- timactual
i totally agree, but from blackwater’s perspective, the protection of the principal trumps that. im sure gen. petraeus understands that too, but sees their (the PMCs) job more important or he would have been more vocal and active in having them change their ways. besides, can u imagine the propoganda coup the insurgents would have accomplished if Paul Bremer or Khalizad (head of CPA and USA ambassodor to iraq, respectively) had been killed? "Some estimates put the price on Bremer’s head as high as $45 million." (Liscensed to Kill)

LOL, i hope this post didnt bore ya’ll. would love to hear your ideas.

Written By: SeanV
URL: http://

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