Mercenaries are in the headlines again, this week in the madness and insanity that is Qaddafi's Libya. My initial thoughts when I first saw this was that the North African Nutjob had a cadre of Eastern European professional soldiers as a sort of Varangian Guard, but as it turns out Qaddafi's personal foreign legion are basically a pack of thugs from Zimbabwe:
If these guys are anything like any and every African soldier I ever trained, worked with or encountered on the battlefield; they've all got malaria, half of them can't read or write, and their only understanding of the Law of Land Warfare is that they're breaking every law in the book. No matter how hard you train them, in contact they revert to the "spray-and-pray" school of gunfighting and the safest place to be when they're shooting at you is right out in the middle of the street because they can't hit the broad side of a barn from the inside.
These are heathen savages, capable of the most horrific atrocities. To call them barbarians is an insult to all barbarians everywhere and the only thing professional about Qaddafi's mercenaries is the fact that they've been doing what they're doing for a prerequisite period of time. Their knowledge of tactics or gunnery starts at the buttstock of their Kalishnikov and ends at the business end.
Despite the public's fascination with the subject, there's a lot of misunderstanding about the term "mercenary". Most people consider a mercenary to be a soldier that serves merely for wages. According to this broad definition, practically every member of every standing, professional army in the world is a mercenary - and I've actually heard American soldiers referred to in this vein.
A more selective definition is found in Webster’s Dictionary: "a mercenary is a soldier hired into foreign service serving merely for pay or sordid advantage." According to this criteria, every foreign national serving in the U.S. military - including yours truly - is a mercenary.
According to the definitions found within the Hague and Geneva Conventions; a mercenary is a professional soldier hired by a foreign army, as opposed to a soldier enlisted in the armed forces of the sovereign state of which he is a citizen, and is "motivated to take part in the hostilities essentially by the desire for private gain and, in fact, is promised, by or on behalf of a party to the conflict, material compensation substantially in excess of that promised or paid to combatants of similar ranks and functions in the Armed Forces of that Party" (Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Convention of August 1949).
Non-conscript professional members of a regular army are not considered mercenaries even though they get remuneration for their service. Under this definition, even members of the French Foreign Legion and the Gurkha Regiment are technically not mercenaries under the Laws of Land Warfare, even though they meet many of the requirements of Article 47 of the 1949 Additional Protocol I; they are exempt under clauses 47(a)(c)(d)(e)&(f). Journalists tend to describe these soldiers as mercenaries regardless.
There ARE mercenaries out there; I have known a few. Adventurers, guns-for-hire, some of them I even consider professional counterparts, but more often than not their activities are of questionable legal or ethical nature. I myself have been called a mercenary but this is a stretch; I retired honorably from the military, and I work in the security profession. I am certainly not a criminal, and there are some things that I simply will not do for pay.
The notorious Thahan Phran (ทหารพราน; literally "Hunter Soldiers") - an irregular light infantry force which patrols the borders of Thailand - are considered mercenaries, although they are technically part of the Royal Thai Army, and they certainly are not foreigners.
The private security contractors in the hire of the U.S. Department of Defense or State Department are not mercenaries; they are technically no different than the private security manning the gates at U.S. government facilities throughout the United States - they not mercenaries anymore so than postal inspectors are Federal Law Enforcement.
On the other hand, Qaddafi's goons ARE mercenaries, although I consider them professionals only in that they serve for pay. And in light of the way these brigands are conducting themselves, they are not soldiers any more than the Khmer Rouge or Hitler's SS were; "uniformed organized crime" is how I refer to this kind of scum.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . SEAN LINNANE SENDS