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A Business Model That Really Succeeds at Warfare
Mercenaries have been used by nation-states since biblical times. The Romans used Goth mercenaries to fight Hannibal and his Carthaginian army. The English used Celtic warriors to defend against the Vikings. The British used Hessian during the Revolutionary War here in the United States. Mercenaries enjoy a very ambiguous reputation while government agencies use this mercenary service.
The most successful use of a mercenary army almost certainly has to be the late 20th century prowess demonstrated by a company called Executive Outcomes. In conflict-ridden countries across Africa, governments and multinational corporations hired the firm to protect assets such as oil fields and diamond mines while carnage raged around them. Ethiopia, Uganda, Zambia, Sierra Leone, Namibia, Botswana and Angola are just some of the countries that have deployed Executive Outcomes. Chevron, DeBeers, Rio Tinto/Zinc and Texaco are just a hint of the companies that have hired the company to protect valuable production assets.
The title Executive Outcomes would seem to indicate that this army of mercenaries provided more than just bullets and contract soldiers, and they did. The firm acted as advisors to governments, provided in-depth background checks on potential employees, wrote software, provided training at their company-owned schools, and supervised more than 30 legitimate businesses. However, it was the hires that Executive Outcomes dazzled.
The company consisted mainly of ex-South African Special Forces, with a few British, Scottish, Irish and American soldiers of success.
The speed and lethality of Executive Outcomes operations have become legendary, inspiring the fear of their opponents and the admiration of stakeholders such as the CIA, Hamas, Israel’s Mossad, and Russia’s KGB.
Executive Outcomes offers turnkey services tailored to every geopolitical and corporate need. When a refinery needed protection from revolutionaries, it was done, and corporate assets transferred to protect the company were never lost. If a town or city needed liberation, it would be accomplished with unstoppable speed, tactics, and firepower.
The most famous and public success of the company was in Sierra Leone. A brutal civil war turned the country into an otherworldly zone of death, inhuman slaughter, rape, torture and hatred. The young guys were armed to the teeth and took great pleasure in killing children, disabled people, puppies and each other.
Sierra Leone is home to one of the world’s largest diamond deposits, and insurgents have constantly attacked the mines. The Sierra Leone government and the United Nations feared that if the rebels seized control of the diamond mines, they would be able to use the conflict diamonds to further fund their madness. The terms of engagement and fees paid to Executive Outcomes have never been publicly disclosed. This has also never been announced, but it is widely believed that the company was hired and paid for by the United Nations.
The United Nations has deployed four thousand peacekeepers in Sierra Leone. They suffered a number of embarrassing casualties and predictably failed to stop or even slightly slow down the insurgents. The decision to bring in Executive Outcomes was painful for the international community. Diplomacy will never work. There was a famine in February. The potential for the fighting to spread to Nigeria and elsewhere was inevitable. The idea that a private company could solve the situation, and quickly, was a bitter pill to swallow for the diplomatic community.
Executive Outcomes has assembled a team of 300 professional recruiters. If they were a baseball team, the equivalent would be Albert Pujols or Mickey Mantle’s 300 team. These guys were good, the best fighters in the world. Each of them had extensive experience in many nasty wars, from Angola to East Timor, and many others. They encountered a rebel army consisting of an undisciplined but fierce force estimated at 50,000 to 60,000 rebels.
Mercenaries depended on speed, surprise, coordinated tactics and rear support. The rebels depended on numbers and firepower. The contest was, well, no contest. In a matter of days, the rebels were driven out of the capital, washed into the jungle and killed by hidden fire teams and snipers.
A year before the events in Sierra Leone, the United States suffered an ignominious defeat in a similar situation in Somalia. The incredible success of Executive Outcomes has opened the eyes of military planners, governments and humanitarian groups around the world. It was embarrassing for them. When the mercenary army gained a foothold in Sierra Leone, the violence subsided and food and medical aid began to flow into the country again. The unpopular truth was that the Executive Results, a 300-strong army, had accomplished a feat no government could or would attempt.
Here the story takes a sad, almost perverse turn. Within 18 months of the stabilization of the situation in the country of Sierra Leone, the government, under serious international pressure, asked the forces of the executive committee to leave the country. They did, and within weeks the insurgents had regrouped and infiltrated the cities again.
Also, at this time, the genocide in Rwanda began to be covered in the international news. Executive Outcomes presented the CIA, the United Nations and the French government with a business plan proposing to enter Rwanda and stop the slaughter. Surprisingly, everyone said no, and the matter was kept in strict secrecy. No government took action as more than 800,000 Rwandans were killed in televised ethnic cleansing.
In 1999, the South African government banned mercenaries, effectively shutting down Executive Outcomes. The embarrassment that the campaign placed on the doorstep of weak, wavering governments was too much for them to bear. Instead of using and managing the executive output as a tool to minimize and exterminate crooks everywhere, the United Nations preferred to serve up philistine chatter while the country was raped, robbed and killed.
I wish we lived in a perfect world or a sane one. We don’t do that. I wish there was no need for a mercenary army anywhere. However, Executive Outcomes proved that this kind of power used by the good guys will be a power for good.
Executive Outcomes is the military equivalent of an organization like the consulting firm McKinsey & Co. Executive Outcomes’ disruptive innovation was in contracting with governments and international organizations, delivering fast, clear decisive results, minimizing casualties, stabilizing territory and enabling peace. The enterprise should have been praised, not ridiculed by cowardly, tasteless bureaucrats and politicians. The company was a classic example of entrepreneurial success, solving problems and providing needed benefits.
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