In a scene largely unheard of for American contractors, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently revised the estimate of the number of Russian mercenaries who died in a battle near Deir al-Zor.
According to reports, about 500 Russian troops attacked a Syrian Democratic Forces base with tanks, artillery, and rocket launchers; the SDF is a rebel group that has received U.S. assistance for years. In response, American forces called in a massive airstrike featuring AC-130 gunships, F-15s, and F-22s supported by an artillery bombardment. Afterward, a group of Apache helicopters swept across the remnants of the Wagner Group positions. American commanders apparently warned the approaching Russians that they would be attacked, but it is unclear how effective that warning was. Initially, the Pentagon said the counterattack killed about 100 mercenaries, but the administration now says the dead may have been as many as 300.
“We got our f— asses beat rough,” one Russian commander lamented. “My men [are] there drinking now … many have gone missing … it’s a total f— up.”
Some Differences Between Mercenaries and Contractors
Many people believe there is no difference between the Russian mercenaries in Syria and the American contractors in Afghanistan. In fact, there are some significant differences.
First off, American contractors would probably never be humiliated in battle. Historically, most mercenaries are proxies for regular army troops in unpopular wars. As a result, they are often under-equipped and under-supported. Contractors often serve in unpopular places, but they almost always serve alongside regular servicemembers.
More importantly, American contractors never serve in an offensive capacity. In fact. Most contractors serve in strictly support roles. They are mechanics, longshoremen, quartermasters, and other necessary personnel. They also help train foreign armed forces to make them more self-sufficient.
Armed contractors have strict orders never to fire unless fired upon. A few of these individuals are aggressive “door-kickers.” Most are sentries who man checkpoints and perform other such functions.
Some Legal Aspects of Contractors
These are roles that American contractors have filled since before there was an America. In the Revolutionary War, General Washington’s army relied on a vast network of support personnel. Sometimes these individuals were regular soldiers, and sometimes they were non-combatants who just wanted to help.
Then as now, these contractors had a willingness to serve in any needed position. Moreover, they often had a skill set unique to a particular job. These skills could not possibly be developed in a military academy. Finally, their employment was flexible. When the army moved on, they often went home.
Over the years, contractors proved their mettle in conflict after conflict. Shortly before the turn of the 20th century, Congress became concerned about possible over-use of paramilitary organizations. Some factory owners already employed Pinkerton detectives to violently break up labor demonstrations, and some lawmakers feared that federal employment could be next.
So, in 1893, Congress passed the Sundry Civil Appropriations Act, a/k/a the Anti-Pinkerton Act. This one-line law broadly prohibited any employment of any Pinkerton-like organization. For years, courts and the federal government interpreted this provision as a ban on any paramilitary organizations. That included military contractors.
Over a half-century later, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit commented that the Anti-Pinkerton Act seemed outdated. The public had little appetite for foreign wars in the wake of Vietnam, but the U.S. still had overseas commitments. Contractors seemed like the logical way to fill the void.
The floodgates opened in 1978, when the General Accounting Office said it would disregard the APA ban and allow the federal government to hire overseas contractors. For the first time, armed contractors saw action away from home.
Today, that role has significantly expanded. Washington does not treat American contractors like expendable assets, the way Russia uses its mercenaries. Armed and unarmed contractors are partners in carrying out U.S. foreign policy.
Armed contractors may be relatively new to the scene, but an overseas compensation system has been in place for over 50 years. Congress passed the Defense Base Act in 1941 to basically be the Veterans Administration for contractors. Instead of providing personnel and facilities, the DBA provides money for injured contractors. Than money comes in the form of:
- Lost Wages: Most injured victims receive two-thirds of their average weekly wage for the duration of their disability. Lost wages includes both regular cash and non-cash compensation, as well as bonuses and other irregular compensation.
- Medical Benefits: In addition to emergency care, the DBA also pays for physical rehabilitation and all other follow-up medical care. Typically, the insurance company pays these expenses directly, the victim never sees a bill, and the victim is not responsible for any unpaid charges.
Injured victims can choose their own doctors but cannot change physicians during the course of treatment.
While compensation is available, it is often difficult to obtain without a committed attorney. For example, insurance company lawyers routinely challenge medical expenses as “not medically necessary.” If needed, an attorney can partner with an independent medical expert. That partnership is often enough to sway an administrative law judge in the victim’s favor.
To begin your claim for compensation, contact the professionals at Barnett, Lerner, Karsen & Frankel, P.A.