As Iraq, Afghan wars end, private security firms adapt
Rueters October 21, 2012
* Iraq, Afghan withdrawal may mean leaner times for contractors
* Shift to guarding private sector’s oil fields and mines
* Some see big shakeout in private security industry
* U.N. member states wary of private security forces
By Peter Apps, Political Risk Correspondent
WASHINGTON, Oct 21 (Reuters) – On a rooftop terrace blocks from the White House, a collection of former soldiers and intelligence officers, executives and contractors drink to the international private security industry.
The past decade – particularly the U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – provided rich pickings for firms providing private armed guards, drivers and other services that would once have been performed by uniformed soldiers.
But as the conflicts that helped create the modern industry wind down, firms are having to adapt to survive. They must also, industry insiders say, work to banish the controversial image of mercenary “dogs of war” that bedevil many firms, particularly in Iraq.
“This industry has always gone up and down,” Doug Brooks, president of the International Stability Operations Association (ISOA), told Reuters on the sidelines of its annual conference in Washington. “What we’re seeing now is that it is becoming much more mature – and much more responsible.”
The free-for-all atmosphere that pervaded the industry, particularly in the early years of the war in Iraq, insiders say, appears gone for good. A string of high profile incidents – often involving armed private guards firing on sometimes unarmed Iraqis – trashed the reputation of firms such as Blackwater, a Virginia-based firm since renamed several times, as well as the wider industry.
Members of the ISOA – which include some but not all of the major contracting firms as well as smaller players – subscribe to a code of conduct that they say helps identify responsible firms.
Despite these efforts, industry insiders and other observers say quality remains mixed. Some firms providing armed guards for merchant ships passing through the Somali pirate-infested Indian Ocean, for example, only hire elite personnel who have served in the Marines or special forces. Others, however, have a reputation for being less discriminating and for unreliable staff and weapons.
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