The war in Iraq has been a windfall for hired muscle, with private security types able to pull in hundreds of dollars a day -- at times doing the same job as a soldier. In some instances, senior managers for a company like Blackwater -- the North Carolina-based company whose name is synonymous with armed contractors -- could pull in more than a grand a day, according to reports.
But between any future U.S-host nation status of forces agreement -- including one the United States and are pushing to nail down before Dec. 31 -- and the Army's new stability operations field manual, the boomtown days of for armed contractors may be numbered, say Army officials.
In response to questions by Dod Buzz during the Association of the U.S. Army conference in Washington, D.C., officials said the rules under which Blackwater and other private security companies have been operating are going to change, including in Iraq. Furthermore, they suggested that if FM 3-07, the stability operations guide, is implemented correctly, there may be less need to have private security.
"SOFAs will direct a lot of that in the countries" the United States deploys troops to, said Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, commander of the Combined Arms Center at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, the command that oversees the Command and General Staff College. "We could see a major shift even next year in Iraq, if you want to talk very specifically [with] what contractors may or may not be able to do as the year 2009 rolls along."
But if the steps spelled out in the new field manual are fully factored into planning even before any hostilities, then actions taken right after the shooting stops -- establishing or re-establishing health care, a judiciary, public works and security, etc. -- could reduce the need or likelihood of private security moving in.
Private contractors have proven expensive to the United States not only in terms of their financial costs, but politically. Blackwater security forces have developed a reputation as being cowboys in Iraq, particularly after a shootout in September 2007 in Baghdad that left 17 civilians dead.
At about the same time federal prosecutors announced they would investigate Blackwater for allegedly smuggling weapons into Iraq; some reports claimed the weapons were going to the Kurdish Workers' Party, or PKK, which has been fighting a hit-and-run war with Turkey.
On Oct. 9 Blackwater announced it had organized a group of defense experts and former prosecutors to monitor itself and make sure it followed U.S. export laws.
"I can see those [rules for private security forces] changing," Caldwell said. "I can see other nations taking a much different approach to how they allow them to operate in the future, based on things that everybody's heard."