Risks to ‘public’ and private military personnel in Iraq is substantial. An unfortunate incident involving Edinburgh Risk & Security Management (ERSM) earlier this year underscores issues of any operating military force, public or private. On 20 Apr 2005, Edinburgh Risk contractors were ambushed on Route IRISH while supporting the Independent Election Commission of Iraq. This team was en route to pick up employees of the same firm from the airport when they were ambushed (i.e. a principal was not with them).
"On 20 April 2005 Edinburgh Risk personnel assigned to Operation APOLLO (support to the Independent Election Commission of Iraq) were engaged by enemy forces on Route IRISH (BIAP Road) during the execution of their duties" (from the official AAR).
This operation raised questions about tactics, training, equipment selection, and force sizing of private security companies operating in theatre. Worse, it highlights the independence of these companies that cannot rely on the integrated responses available to the US military teams.
Co-habitation on the battlefield threatens inadvertant blue on blue fighting, as this quote from the AAR of a team member atests:
After his second burst I removed my “Haji dress” because there was nothing between those U.S. Army .50 caliber heavy machine guns and us and I didn’t want them to look down the road at the gunfire and see all of us wearing local clothing to include Shemags and engage us. Besides my fear of being shot by the U.S. Military, after Johno began shooting, I assumed the cars near us knew we were Contractors anyway. Our “cover” if we ever had one was now non-existent.
Three files are available here:
- Video of BIAP / Route Irish encounter on 20 Apr 05
Uncut original with ~3:30 of freeze frame (mpg, 180mb) via HTTP
Reduced size file without ~3:30 of frozen footage (wmv, 14mb) via HTTP
- Official BIAP AAR (after-action report) (45.0K)
- AAR by James Yeager (43.0K)
A review of the video and the AARs raises several important questions that are quite unlike those raised by AEGIS "trophy video", once posted at http://www.aegisIraq.co.uk (also now available here). Mainstream media questions about "undue" or "excessive force" or out of control "mercenaries" don’t come from the ERSM video. What has the above Route IRISH video does raise, mostly within the operator community, is questioning over equipment, instructions, and processes of these very companies. Keep in mind that most of the private security companies in operation in Iraq are unknown to the majority of people not paying close attention (also invisible to some who think they are paying attention) because of their clean records and because of their complete professionalism from top to bottom. This is not to suggest ERSM is less professional, but providing the operators with unarmored vehicles for travel along a route known to be dangerous does not seem right. This is not as bad as providing skateboard helmets (as reported by private security operators in Iraq, such as "one embassy detail that wears the Protec skateboarding helmets") but is irresponsible. Is it as bad as providing one less man on mission that deserves five instead of four or in unarmored vehicles when the site commander recommends armor?
James Yeager may be one of the poster children on the issue of liability of private security companies (Wesley Batalona, Scott Helvenston, Michael Teague and Jerry Zovko are other notable examples).