Mercenary soldiers have been used by nation states since Biblical times. The Romans used Goth mercenaries to fight Hannibal and his Carthaginian army. The English used Celtic warriors to defend them against the Vikings. The British used Hessians during the Revolutionary War here in the United States. Mercenaries have enjoyed a very mixed reputation as long as government entities have utilized this soldier-for-hire service.
The most successful use of a mercenary army almost certainly must be the late 20th century prowess displayed by a company named Executive Outcomes. In strife torn countries all over Africa governments and multi-national corporations hired the firm to protect assets such as oil fields and diamond mines while slaughter raged around them. Ethiopia, Uganda, Zambia, Sierra Leone, Namibia, Botswana and Angola are only some of the countries that deployed Executive Outcomes. Chevron, DeBeers, Rio Tinto/Zinc and Texaco are just the tip of the companies that hired the company to protect valuable producing assets.
The name Executive Outcomes would seem to indicate that this mercenary army provided more than just bullets and soldiers for contract hire, and they did. The firm acted as advisors to governments, provided deep background checks on prospective employees, wrote software, provided training at their company owned schools and controlled over 30 legitimate businesses. However, it was as mercenaries that Executive Outcomes dazzled.
The company consisted principally of former South African Special Forces, sprinkled with a few British, Scot, Irish and Americans soldiers of fortune.
The speed and lethality of the Executive Outcomes operations became legendary, striking fear into their opponents and admiration from such interested parties as the CIA, Hamas, the Israeli Mossad and Russian KGB.
Executive Outcomes offered a turnkey service customized to each geopolitical and corporate need. If a refinery needed protection from revolutionaries it was done, and corporate assets contracted for protection to the company were never lost. If a town or city needed liberation, this would be accomplished with unbridled speed, tactics and firepower.
The company’s most famous, and public, success was in Sierra Leone. A brutal civil war had turned the country into an otherworldly zone of death, inhumane slaughter, rape, torture and hate. Young boys were armed to the teeth and took immense pleasure in killing children, the disabled, puppies and each other.
Sierra Leone has one of the world’s largest deposits of diamonds and the rebels were constantly attacking the mines. The Sierra Leone government and the United Nations, feared that if the rebels seized control of the diamond mines they would be able to use conflict diamonds to further fund their madness. The rules of engagement and the fees paid to Executive Outcomes were never publicly revealed. It was also never announced, but widely believed that the company was hired and paid by the United Nations.
The United Nations had placed four thousand peacekeeping troops in Sierra Leone. They had suffered a number of embarrassing losses, and predictably were unable to stop, or even slightly slow the rebels. The decision to engage Executive Outcomes was a painful one for the international community. Diplomacy would never work. Starvation was rampant. The potential for the fighting to spread to Nigeria and other countries was imminent. The thought that a private-company could settle the situation, and quickly, was a bitter pill for the diplomatic community.
Executive Outcomes assembled a team of 300 professional mercenaries. If they were a baseball team, the equivalent would have been a team of 300 Albert Pujols or Mickey Mantles. These guys were good, the best fighters in the world. Each had extensive experience in multiple nasty wars, from Angola to East Timor, and many more. They faced a rebel army consisting of an undisciplined, but brutal force estimated between 50,000 and 60,000 rebels.
The mercenary’s depended on speed, surprise, coordinated tactics and logistics. The rebels depended on superior numbers and firepower. The contest was, well, no contest. In a matter of days the rebels had been removed from the capital, flushed into the jungle and slaughtered by concealed fire teams and snipers.
The United States had suffered an embarrassing defeat in a similar situation in Somalia a year before the events in Sierra Leone. The unbelievable success of Executive Outcomes was an eye opener to military planners, governments and humanitarian groups all over the world. It was an embarrassment for them. As the mercenary army secured Sierra Leone, the violence ebbed and food and medical care re-entered the country. The unpopular truth was that Executive Outcomes, 300 strong army, had performed a feat that no government could, or would undertake.
Here is where the story takes a sad, almost perverted turn. Within 18 months of stabilizing the country of Sierra Leone, the government, under severe international pressure asked the Executive Outcomes forces to leave. They did, and within a few weeks the rebels regrouped and infiltrated the cities anew.
In addition, at this time the genocide in Rwanda was beginning to receive international news coverage. Executive Outcomes presented the CIA, United Nations and the French government a business plan offering to enter Rwanda and stop the slaughter. Amazingly, all said no and the issue was kept Top Secret. No government took action as over 800,000 Rwandan’s were butchered in a televised ethnic cleansing.
In 1999 the government of South Africa outlawed mercenary activities, effectively putting Executive Outcomes out of action. The embarrassment that the company had laid at the doorstep of weak, vacillating governments was too much for them to bear. Rather than utilize and manage Executive Outcomes as a tool to minimize and snuff out rogues everywhere, the United Nations preferred to serve up sanctimonious blather while a country was raped, pillaged and murdered.
I wish we lived in a perfect world, or a sane one. We don’t. I wish there were no need for a mercenary army to exist anywhere. Executive Outcomes proved, however, that such a force, when utilized by the good guys would be a force for good.
Executive Outcomes is the military equivalent of an organization like the consulting firm McKinsey & Co. The Executive Outcomes disruptive innovation was to negotiate contracts with governments and international organizations, provide swift, clear decisive outcomes, minimize loss of life, stabilizing territory and providing an opportunity for peace. The company should have been lauded, not derided by cowardly, insipid bureaucrats and politicians. The company was a classic example of an entrepreneurial success, solving problems and providing needed benefits.