Hillary Clinton's mercenary troops set for action in Iraq

[/caption] Ok, so that’s a bit of a scare headline, but I was struck by this story in the New York Times for two reasons.  First, it does report that the last US combat troops have left Iraq, but second, it mentions that the US State Department is going to be doubling their security contractors (upto nearly 7,000) and these civilians will be providing security, escort duty, quick reactions forces, even flying drones over Iraq. Huh? Just yesterday I wrote about the possible inefficiency in using US Navy ships in humanitarian efforts, and today I’ve got a bit of the opposite–using civilian military forces in place of the Army.

To move around Iraq without United States troops, the State Department plans to acquire 60 mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles, called MRAPs, from the Pentagon; expand its inventory of armored cars to 1,320; and create a mini-air fleet by buying three planes to add to its lone aircraft. Its helicopter fleet, which will be piloted by contractors, will grow to 29 choppers from 17. The department’s plans to rely on 6,000 to 7,000 security contractors, who are also expected to form “quick reaction forces” to rescue civilians in trouble, is a sensitive issue, given Iraqi fury about shootings of civilians by American private guards in recent years. Administration officials said that security contractors would have no special immunity and would be required to register with the Iraqi government. In addition, one of the State Department’s regional security officers, agents who oversee security at diplomatic outposts, will be required to approve and accompany every civilian convoy, providing additional oversight.
Wow, really sounds like the kind of job the military might excel at don’t you think? There is a reason–plenty of reasons.  Obama’s team can say “we’re out of Iraq” with shades of the “Mission Accomplished” banner far from their memories (deja vu?) and the Iraqi ‘government’ for lack of a better word can says ‘the US is out of Iraq’.  Of course the reality on the ground is probably a shade different than those two stories that both governments want to start spinning.  There are still 50,000 advisors in country, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there are more than a few special operations teams looking for this guy or that (and not afraid to fire a weapon if it comes to that). Something tells me there are a few asterisks to the story of “the last combat troops leaving” that we haven’t heard just yet.]]>

The Peace Corps needs a Navy

dispatched 6 desperately needed helicopters from combat operations in Afghanistan, but with the arrival of the USS Peleliu those six will return to be replaced by 19 USMC helos (eventhough, in an unrelated incident, the captain of the Peleliu was relieved of command last weekend). Last year the disaster was in Haiti, and before then we had earthquakes and tsunamis all of which required a significant deployment of US combat capabilities in a humanitarian effort.  Sometimes these come at a cost, such as when our aircraft carriers were working with the Indonesian tsunami and we had to offload all the combat aircraft (carrier pilots need to land on a carrier every 21 days to maintain proficiency, which was nearly impossible with all the relief operations ongoing on the deck and the refusals of local governments for military aircraft to operate in their airspace). While the military does a wonderful job assisting in humanitarian efforts, it’s sometimes like calling the fire department to rescue a cat from a tree.  Is the military the most efficient resource we can send to a humanitarian crisis?  Is there a better suited federal agency or group that could provide necessary assistance? Perhaps it is time for the Peace Corps to develop a Navy. Taking a few amphibious assault vessels out of the reserve fleets and turning them over to the Peace Corps might be an interesting approach.  Staffed with Peace Corps volunteers, professional (contract) pilots, and merchant mariners, we could develop a small fleet of emergency assistance vessels that would patrol the worlds oceans providing medical assistance to impoverished lands and responding to natural disasters with their own fleet of specially suited rescue and logistics helicopters.  Without the ‘US Military’ label that goes on some operations, countries might be more willing to accept assistance.  Take the Chinese earthquake in Sichaun in 2008.  Existing Chinese military units were vastly overstretched, but national pride prevented initial requests for international assistance.  Had an amphibious ‘rescue’ vessel been offshore or in Hong Kong the response from the US could have been non-militaristic and immediate. Of course given the budget deficits and the fact that humanitarian dollars flowing to the Pentagon help to offset some of the operational expenses of the forces, I don’t foresee this happening anytime soon.  C’est la vie.]]>