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The March of the Private Armies

January 7, 2013
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Source: Express UK

IT SOUNDS like a radically modern idea. With the Royal Navy now downsized to a mere shadow of its former glory how do you protect commercial shipping, not to mention human cargo, in pirate-infested waters? Answer: bring in a private navy.

And in a couple of months that is precisely what corporations or indeed governments will be able to do when Typhon, a privately owned and run British maritime force, goes into operation. Set up by British businessman Simon Murray Typhon will provide an armed escort for shipping off the east of Africa which has long been plagued by Somali pirates. Murray, 72, plans to provide at least three so-called “mother ships” to accompany shipping convoys wanting to take the shortest – but also the riskiest – route from the Horn of Africa through the Mozambique Channel down to the Cape of Good Hope.

With a former Royal Navy commodore and an ex-commander on board as heads of operations the venture seems destined for success.

After all, since almost every other public service has been privatised – the railways, telecommunications, gas and electricity – privatising a branch of the armed forces seems a natural progression, a move in step with the march of the modern world.

Private armies already operate in at least 50 countries from South America to the Middle East. President Karzai of Afghanistan’s bodyguards are provided by a private company not his own state. In Nigeria private forces guard oil platforms. Iraq is awash with private security firms with around 48,000 operatives. The Americans alone employ about 20,000 of them. The US army has even used a private firm’s Apache helicopters to fly special forces personnel to the location of a covert operation.

The Libyans guarding the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya’s second city, when the building was torched last September were employed not by the Libyan state or even by the Americans but by Blue Mountain, a British company. Indeed about 70 per cent of private military or security firms are British or American.

In 2008 security firm G4S, better known for providing routine bank and airport security, took over Armorgroup, which supplied 9,000 guards to protect non-military supply convoys in Iraq. With more than 625,000 employees in 125 countries, G4S is now the second biggest private employer in the world.

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