Mercenaries Unleashed: Britain is Global Leader in Private Military and Security

10th April 2018 / United Kingdom
Mercenaries Unleashed: Britain is Global Leader in Private Military and Security

Below are the excerpts from a report published by War-On-Want, which makes for terrifying reading when considering the rise of global instability as the rules-based international order crumbles. The world is quite clearly entering a period where once-robust democracies have grown fragile – Britain is just one example amongst a growing list. Britain has lost most of its geographically located empire and struggling with that fact is an establishment that is producing more destabilisation around the globe in an attempt to reverse its fortunes. The rise of private military and security organisations is a symptom of a world moving from globalised cooperation to trade wars, cold wars and hot wars. 


In the years since the declaration of a ‘war on terror’ and the invasions of first Afghanistan and then Iraq, the world has witnessed an enormous proliferation of private military and security companies (PMSCs) seeking to profit from instability and conflict. Hundreds of companies have been established in the past few years alone, and there now exists a vast private industry worth hundreds of billions of dollars. Sadly, rather than introducing binding regulation of the industry, the British government has decided to allow the mercenaries to regulate themselves.

The UK is an important hub for the PMSC industry. At the height of the occupation, around 60 British companies operated in Iraq. Now there are hundreds of British PMSCs operating in areas of conflict around the globe, working to secure government and corporate presence against a range of ‘threats’.

The leading British PMSCs are sprawling corporate entities, with complex structures and a global footprint. Companies like G4S (which acquired ArmorGroup in 2008), Aegis Defence Services (now part of GardaWorld), Control Risks and Olive Group make hundreds of millions of pounds in profit each year from the industry, and come complete with PR departments and marketing teams. The result has been a proliferation of euphemistic branding: this is an era of ‘risk management consultancy’ and ‘security solutions’, provided to ‘clients’ operating in ‘high-risk and complex environments’.


At the heart of the industry is a revolving door between PMSCs, military, intelligence and corporate worlds, with the interests of these sectors closely intertwined.


No fewer than 14 companies are based in Hereford, close to the headquarters of the SAS, while at least 46 companies employ former members of the UK Special Forces. Many of the smaller PMSCs consist entirely of ex-military personnel, and the larger corporations have ex-military personnel in key posts. As Graham Binns, CEO of Aegis Defence Services and former Armoured Brigade Commander, said: “In the world of business, ex-military people have got a lot to offer – I certainly hope so anyway.”


The British PMSC industry took off with the occupation of Iraq and the resulting unrest. The Director General of the British Association of Private Security Companies, Andy Bearpark, has made clear: “In Iraq in 2003 and 2004 money was basically free. That meant contracts were being let for ridiculous amounts of money – millions and millions of dollars of contracts being pumped into the industry. The industry exploded in terms of the volume of business on the back of Iraq.” UK firms like Aegis Defence Services, ArmorGroup (now a subsidiary of G4S), Control Risks and Olive Group snapped up large contracts.


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Perhaps the biggest market for British PMSCs in Iraq is the provision of security for private corporations seeking to invest in the country


The oil and gas sector is the central focus of multinational corporations in Iraq. Royal Dutch Shell, BP, ExxonMobil and other multinationals have signed deals to produce, refine and export oil and gas from the country, and are willing to pay PMSCs to help secure their operations.

Aegis Defence Services boasts that the company’s “largest area of business is Iraq”, and that it “has been operating in support of the oil and gas sector for over two years”, providing “a full security service including Command, Control and Information, Mobile, and Static Security Services on major oilfields for international oil companies as well as oil service providers”.


UK multinational G4S is the world’s largest private security company. Its 2008 acquisition of the UK’s biggest mercenary company, ArmorGroup, granted G4S access to the private military and security market in Iraq, as ArmorGroup had previously won a number of significant contracts in the country.


G4S announced in September 2015 that it had secured a new contract worth up to $270 million to provide security services to the Basra Gas Company. At the same time, the company successfully renewed its contract to provide security services to the British embassy in Afghanistan, to the value of £100 million over five years.


G4S is the target of an international campaign over its complicity in the Israeli oppression of the Palestinian people, as it provides equipment and services to prisons and detention centres where Palestinian political prisoners are held, and to military checkpoints along the illegal Apartheid Wall.


While Iraq and Afghanistan remain longstanding markets for British PMSCs, instability in other resource-rich regions of the world, such as northern and western Africa, is leading to increased opportunities for these companies. All major UK PMSCs now operate across the continent.


Aegis Defence Services claims it has experience in 18 African states, including resourcerich Angola, Niger, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Central African Republic, where it provides “protective security for multinationals in very high-risk environments”. G4S, meanwhile, makes over a third of its profits in the “emerging markets business”, with annual turnover of around £500 million in Africa.


The toppling of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in Libya in 2011 led to a rapid influx of PMSCs into the country, spearheading the arrival of multinationals keen to restore their involvement in Libya’s oil and gas sector. As one PMSC executive put it: “We’re there to facilitate the re-entry of clients in Libya.”

Security companies have also seen an opportunity for training post-Gaddafi security forces and, compared to the former regime, Intelligence Online noted that “Libya’s new leadership is showing greater openness toward foreign private security companies.”


Again, British companies are leading the way. Just days after Gaddafi’s death, the UK company Trango Special Projects was touting for business among prospective investors: “Whilst speculation continues regarding Qaddafi’s killing,” it said on its website, “are you and your business ready to return to Libya?”


At the same time, one online forum for security recruitment, the Security Contracting Network, was emphasising opportunities in the country: “There will be an uptick of activity as foreign oil companies scramble to get back to Libya. Keep an eye on who wins related contracts, follow the money, and find your next job.”

Other UK PMSCs operating in Libya include Control Risks, Olive Group, AKE and Blue Mountain, a company whose name is derived from a poem inscribed on a clock tower at the headquarters of the SAS. SNE Special Projects, another UK company, is run by Jason Woods, an ex-soldier with the Parachute Regiment who has acted as a ‘security consultant’ for Control Risks Group, specialising in the Nigerian oil and gas industry.


SicuroGroup, run by ex-British military personnel including former members of Special Forces and military intelligence, operates throughout West and East Africa, and also has a significant contract for “an international oil and gas company re-establishing operations in Libya.”

PMSCs from several countries are now being contracted to take up active combat roles in ongoing wars within African and Middle Eastern states. The Nigerian army has secured the services of South African mercenary troops from the apartheid era to fight the militant Islamist group Boko Haram in the north of the country, while hundreds of Colombian mercenaries recruited by the infamous US PMSC Blackwater (now renamed Academi) have been fighting alongside Gulf forces in Yemen.

According to its former director, Nick Buckles, G4S has also benefited from the unrest in North Africa and the Middle East, “with particularly strong growth in Egypt, Yemen and Bahrain.” G4S was involved in the evacuation of high-ranking government officials, multinational employees and embassy staff during the 2011 uprising in Egypt, and saw its revenues in that country double to approximately £8 million between 2007 and 2011.


The use of private armies in the maritime industry is booming, and British companies are again at the forefront. Over half of the member companies of the Security Association for the Maritime Industry (SAMI) are British.


In the north-west Indian Ocean alone, SAMI estimates there are more than 200 PMSCs operating in a sector worth $500 million per year and growing. According to Professor Chris Kinsey at King’s College London, British PMSCs are “following the cash cow…. putting armed contractors on ships is something the British are particularly good at, and they seem to be the ones dominating this particular type of security activity.”


A Cardiff-based PMSC employing ex-Navy and Special Forces personnel using “military grade weapons” is operating throughout the Indian Ocean. The company operates a floating armoury in the middle of the Red Sea, using ships registered in land-locked Mongolia.


As the number of boots on the ground of occupying forces has fallen, public attention has turned away from Iraq and Afghanistan and the private armies which gained notoriety there. Away from the public gaze, the business of PMSCs has boomed. From dependency on Pentagon contracts, they have found a wealth of new and eager clients amongst the private sector, especially in the extractive industries. They have sought out and exploited political instability in the wake of the Arab uprisings. And they have spread floating armouries across the world’s oceans to protect commercial shipping interests. In all of this, UK companies are playing a leading role, reaping enormous profits.

PMSCs have a track record of profiting from war and conflict. Despite facing numerous accusations of human rights abuses in conflict situations around the world, they remain unaccountable and unregulated.



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