There have always been mercenaries, and even mercenary forces. During the Cold War various types of deniable, surrogate military units were created for covert operations, primarily by the United States. The transition to more professional, heavily equipped private armies (more comfortingly described as “security forces”) began to occur during the American involvement in Iran and then Afghanistan.
As events proved, there were some negative consequences associated with such units, especially in Iran. In fact “Blackwater” accumulated sufficient baggage that the whole concept of such security forces came into disrepute. As an example Libya refused to accept American associated private security forces. That became a contributing factor in the fiasco at the American embassy in Benghazi. While the CIA employed private contractors in Benghazi, they had to be kept low profile since the Libyan government refused to accept them. Even when deployed under diplomatic cover as security for the CIA station (physically distant from the embassy), they could not be stationed directly at the embassy for its own security facility security.
Despite a questionable history, private armies (security forces) have grown substantially and I suspect most readers will be surprised by both their size and military capabilities – described in these links (if the links don’t load for you a search for “private security contractors” will give you current information:
One of the newer trends is the growth of private military contractors is with private air forces. These days some of the largest, most technically advanced, and capable modern forces are actually privately owned. Any single one of them could defeat many nations in aerial action – and it remains to be seen (as it does with private security contractors) what legal constraints if any affect them?:
For that matter, I suspect that most would be surprised at the scale of “private” military combat still going on by Russian surrogate forces against the government of the Ukraine. While that conflict as a whole is more in the nature of the surrogate force efforts of the United States during the Cold War, the use of private Russian military contractors is much more line with what is evolving in terms of private armies in the 21st Century. :
That trend is something I elaborate on at some length in my new book “In Denial: Secret Wars with Air Strikes and Tanks”.
Deniable warfare circa 2020 is taking a variety of forms, China and Iran are approaching it in a much different fashion than Russia and President Putin.
However given the scope of what Russian is doing with its private military contractors, it’s pretty amazing how little media coverage it receives in the United States. Of course given the combination of how America has turned inwards combined with the pandemic perhaps that is understandable. These days our major media outlets have very little left of the foreign correspondent news force they used to field, and do virtually no international news reporting of any depth presently.
For those who have not been following what Russia and Russian oligarchs are doing with private armies I would offer the following news links:
While Russian security contractors are well organized and clearly directed as part of Putin’s global influence strategy, it would be hard to say the same thing for their American counterparts. In that regard it’s also pretty amazing that a security contractor that services President Trump’s political events could have stepped into the following mess in Venezuela in the fashion described in this article.
About the only thing that weighs in against this being part of some American strategy is the utter dysfunction of the operation. On the other hand it provides an interesting contrast between the private armies integrated into Russian strategies and the activities of American security contractors.