PBS' investigative documentary series FRONTLINE explores the private military contractor industry in Private Warriors, an hour-long look at the profit opportunity in war-torn Iraq for companies providing security services.
It is one of the most lucrative businesses that have arisen in the country since the initial phases of the war - services like vehicle escorts and property protection. Ex-military personnel and similarly trained individuals from all over the world live and work in the region under contracts from both private companies and government entities that pay them anywhere from $400-1000 USD a day - many times that of what a US soldier makes.
Andy Melville, a project director with Erinys Iraq, cites that insurgents attack convoys they oversee at an average of around two a week, but they had never lost a client they were protecting. He goes on to explain that they are cleared to use lethal force for defensive purposes only, and never under any circumstance do they initiate combat.
What he does not touch on, but the filmmakers do, is the many risks private security personnel take when working these contracts. Being private companies, the standards and accountability for putting their employees in harm's way are not nearly that of the US military and the working conditions they are placed in often reflect that. Understaffing, lack of team familiarity, and fiscally-driven priorities frequently put the contractors in significantly more danger than they would face in a proper military outfit.
One example of four ill-equipped men being killed and the video of the barbaric aftermath being released on the internet even worked to undermine US military strategy in the region, as political unrest resulting from it led to local forces foregoing more peaceful intentions to seek out and bring the killers, of what were ultimately civilian US citizens, to justice.
This of course raises the political issue of whether the presence of private security companies significantly conflicts with military operation in regions like this. Even with companies in existence that have the sole purpose of being a conduit between military intelligence and the private security sector, the film demonstrates there is not nearly enough checks and balances in this industry of modern day cowboys.
Watch the full documentary now