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The call for mercenary soldiers is as real in the 21st century as it was in Alexander the Great’s 4th century B.C. However, their use in today’s developing world, where they are most needed, is a political and racial minefield for both employer and supplier. What is a mercenary? Are there recent examples of mercenary success? What skills and qualities should the modern mercenary possess? Are there principles of mercenary employment for the 21st century? If so, then after identification, we will take a current major conflict and apply these principles.



Let’s keep it simple: a mercenary is a soldier who provides active military service to users other than his own country in return for money. “Mercenary” has become a pejorative word. Just as one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter, so in the 1960s Congo the mercenary was a murderer to the communist-inspired rebels but a saint to the thousands of Congolese he saved from their atrocities.


Two recent examples of successful mercenary use will provide the grist from which to mill the 21st century principles of mercenary employment.



In 1964, the Congo was exercising its democratic right to tear itself apart. Africa’s fourth largest country—about Texas-size—the private garden of the Belgian King Leopold until 1908, was still in the turmoil which began within days of its independence in 1960. Assassinations, cannibalism, coups, mutilation, mutinies, rebellions, torture, general lawlessness and murderous banditry prevailed. The UN’s success (its peacekeeping forces were deployed just after independence) in restoring order may be assessed against the fact that they are still there after 48 years and over five million Congolese citizens’ deaths.



Katanga, Congo’s mineral-rich province, led by one of Africa’s great leaders—Moise Tshombe—had seceded in 1960. Ignoring what would now be called political correctness, he recruited White mercenaries who, together with his Gendarmerie, quickly restored order in the province. The UN, arguably in breach of its own Charter, quashed Katanga’s secession.


Tshombe was exiled but later recalled as Prime Minister in 1964 when civil war threatened to turn the Congo into a communist sore in this strategic heart of Africa. Again the pragmatic Tshombe, this time with American and Belgian backing, called on soldiers of fortune. The rebels’ westward thrust to Kinshasa was stopped. Soon “Mad” Mike Hoare’s mercenaries, under Tshombe’s political and Belgium’s strict military control, were in place before Stanleyville, the rebels’ “capital.”


Here the rebels held 1600 foreign hostages, and Hoare’s pleading to be allowed to dash immediately into Stanleyville was ignored by the Americans and Belgians. Surprise was lost and the eventual rescue was too late for nearly fifty souls, hacked or shot to death as a Belgian parachute battalion floated down over Stanleyville, watched by frustrated mercenaries.



Hoare’s mercenaries went on to save thousands of Congolese lives, killing some of Che Guevara’s Cuban Brigade in the process. When Mad Mike Hoare departed the Congo, so did strict military and political discipline over the mercenaries; criminality and mutinies followed. What little acceptance there had been for the use of all-White mercenary units in Africa was gone, forever.


What principles can be drawn from this experience? Mercenaries must be subject to strict military discipline based on international laws governing armed conflict. They must be under political control and subject to their employer country’s criminal laws. Because of potential colonial, imperialist and racist connotations, the all-White mercenary unit is a political and moral liability to its employer and a boon to its enemies; it is a creature of history and has no place in modern developing-world conflicts.


Where do we find our second mercenary success? Think about the following scenario and then place the conflict. A mountainous and desert undeveloped Muslim country, populated by illiterate (not their fault) warlike tribes engaged in perpetual internecine squabbling, under threat of civil war, and with a beleaguered leader relying on foreigners to keep him in power.



Afghanistan 2009? No, Oman 1970. The Dhofar (Oman’s province on the Arabian Peninsula’s southern coast) War 1965–1975, started as a dissident movement with limited nationalist and social development aims. It morphed into the Marxist–Leninist Popular Front for the Liberation of the Occupied Arabian Gulf (PFLOAG). The war’s winner—one of the few countries to defeat a Russian/Chinese-backed full-scale communist revolutionary war—was Oman and its fifty percent-plus mercenary-soldiered Sultan’s Armed Forces (SAF).


Omani, Baluchi, Iranian, Pakistani, Zanzibari, and Indian soldiers were led by a sprinkling of British, Irish, Rhodesian, South African, Australian and New Zealand, et al, seconded and mercenary officers. All, apart from the British and Indian-seconded officers, were subject to Sharia law.


The single and most important war-winning factor was Oman’s Sultan. One of the rebels’ stated aims was the removal of the old Sultan, Said bin Taimur. His son Qaboos did just that in 1970. Combined with the British planned withdrawal from the Gulf and Qaboos’ civil development and consultation plans, PFLOAG’s raison d’être was removed at a stroke. In this war of ideas where politics was the key, Qaboos was demonstrably the political boss. Additionally, SAF soldiers’ loyalty was to him and Oman and not to the UK or the British seconded officers who directed the war on the Sultan’s behalf. It was an Omani war, not a British war.



What principles can be drawn from this experience? Mercenaries’ loyalty must be to their employer and not their mother country. The politics of the war/action must be demonstrably in the interests of, and controlled by, the employer, who follows his own country’s selfish agenda.


Bearing these principles in mind, let’s consider Afghanistan. The Taliban point to NATO forces and describe their presence as an infidel foreign occupation of Muslim lands. It is now the Taliban’s biggest, and maybe only, propaganda weapon and the best recruiting sergeant for terrorism world-wide. Remove the occupiers—remove the Taliban’s raison d’être. NATO forces, the “occupiers,” can only leave Afghanistan if the Afghan National Army (ANA) is a well-trained, well-led professional outfit capable of preventing a Taliban military victory. How do you turn the current ANA into such a force? The answer—use mercenaries.



How would such an army look? Remarkably like the 1970’s SAF mercenary army. Let’s start with the work horse in this type of warfare—the infantry company.


One hundred and twenty Afghans would be commanded by a mercenary officer in charge (OC); the second in command (2IC) would be an Afghan. A mercenary sergeant major would be the company weapons trainer and mortar commander. Platoon commanders, the seed corn of future company and battalion commanders, would be Afghans. The battalion CO would be a mercenary, ably (after training) assisted by an Afghan 2IC. Signals, Forward Air Controller, doctor, admin officer—all would be mercenaries understudied by Afghans.


The same principle would apply to artillery, armour, engineer and logistics. ANA command and control would be exercised by a mixture of Afghan and mercenary general officers. The number of mercenaries would be the minimum required to get the job done to the highest military standards while allowing the Afghan seed to grow. The air force would be mercenary-heavy.


Remembering our principles, these mercenaries would not be advisers. They would be commissioned into the Afghan armed forces to lead, fight and mentor. They would be part of the fighting ANA as much as the indigenous Afghan soldier and subject to the same legal, political and military control as he. The Taliban would be fighting  against its own government and army, not an occupying “infidel” force.



Life for the 21st century soldier of fortune need not be all mundane. There is one scenario where our mercenary principles do not apply: that most exciting of military enterprises—the coup d’état.


Let’s imagine a country—Zongowe, in the continent of Atlantis—ruled by a despot who has taken his land from relative heaven to absolute hell. Disease, famine and lawlessness stalk the land as the despot refuses to relinquish power to a democratically elected party. His grip is maintained by a clique of robbers and murderers who know that his demise would mean their demise.


While the despot’s people suffer and die, the UN, world powers and the despot’s neighbours do what they do best: they talk. It is politically impossible for the USA, Europe and the democratic governments of Atlantis to forcibly remove the despot, while other Atlantis despots do not want to set a precedent for despot removal. They might be next on the list.


There is a way to do it.



So, what does our 21st century soldier of fortune look like? He will be an ex-officer or ex-sergeant (minimum rank), 25–35 years old, a nonracist, of high moral standards, expert in his field and graded “above average” before discharge from his national army or air force. By serving his country’s friends and allies, the soldier of fortune serves his country. “Mercenary” will no longer be a pejorative word. It will be an honourable profession.


In return for risking life and limb, our soldier of fortune will have the most comprehensive insurance policy covering every eventuality. In three years of mercenary service, he will earn enough to buy a house, pay his kids’ way through college and purchase lifetime health care. There should be some beer money left over.