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Friday, March 31, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM


Private army is ready for hire, company says

The Virginian-Pilot

NORFOLK, Va. — Stepping into a potential political minefield, Blackwater USA is offering itself as an army for hire to police the world's trouble spots.

Cofer Black, vice chairman of the Moyock, N.C., private military company, told an international conference in Amman, Jordan, this week that Blackwater is ready to help keep or restore the peace anywhere it is needed.

Such a role would be a quantum leap for Blackwater and raises a variety of questions.

Until now, the 8-year-old company has confined itself to training military and police personnel and providing security guards for government and private clients. Under Black's proposal, it would take on an overt combat role.

"We're low-cost and fast," Black was quoted as saying. "The issue is, who's going to let us play on their team?"

Unlike national and multinational armies, which tend to get bogged down by political and logistical limitations, Black said, Blackwater could have a small, nimble, brigade-size force ready to move into a troubled region on short notice. A brigade consists of from 3,000 to 5,000 solders.

Black's remarks were reported by Defense News, a military publisher that sponsored the conference where he spoke, the Special Operations Forces Exhibition.

Chris Taylor, a vice president at Blackwater's headquarters, confirmed the account. "A year ago or so, we realized that we could have a significant positive impact with a small, professional force," Taylor said.

Blackwater is no stranger to volatile situations. As a security subcontractor escorting a convoy in Iraq in 2004, the company attracted worldwide attention when four of its workers were killed, mutilated and hung from a bridge in Fallujah.

Blackwater, most of whose workers are former members of elite military units such as the Navy SEALs, provides security for the U.S. ambassador to Iraq under a contract with the State Department.

The reconstruction of Iraq has been hampered by insurgent activity, Taylor said, and Blackwater has the expertise to quell insurgent attacks if invited by the Iraqi government.

"We clearly couldn't go into the whole country," Taylor said. "But we might be able to go into a region or a city."

Another place where Blackwater could help restore order, Taylor said, is the Darfur region of Sudan, where millions have been killed or displaced by civil strife. The company could send troops under the control of the United Nations, NATO or the African Union, he said.

Taylor and Black said the company would undertake such a mission only with the approval of the U.S. government.

Peter Singer, a scholar at the Brookings Institution who has written a book on private military companies, said the concept of private armies engaging in counterinsurgency missions raises myriad questions about staffing standards, rules of engagement and accountability.

"No matter how you slice it, it's a private entity making decisions of a political nature," he said.

"It gets dicey."

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company




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