Licensed to Kill
Licensed to Kill
Hired Guns in the War on Terror
Three Rivers Press (CA), Paperback, 9781400097821, 358pp.
Publication Date: August 28, 2007
Robert Young Pelton first became aware of the phenomenon of hired guns in the War on Terror when he met a covert team of contractors on the Afghanistan/Pakistan border in the fall of 2003. Pelton soon embarked on a globe-spanning odyssey to penetrate and understand this shadowy world, ultimately delivering stunning insights into the way private soldiers are used.
Enter a blood-soaked world of South African mercenaries and tribal fighters backed by ruthless financiers. Drop into Baghdad’s Green Zone, strap on body armor, and take a daily high-speed ride with a doomed crew of security contractors who dodge car bombs and snipers just to get their charges to the airport. Share a drink in a chic hotel bar with wealthy owners of private armies who debate the best way to stay alive in war zones.
Licensed to Kill spans four continents and three years, taking us inside the CIA’s dirty wars; the brutal contractor murders in Fallujah and the Alamo-like sieges in Najaf and Al Kut; the Deep South contractor training camps where ex–Special Operations soldiers and even small town cops learn the ropes; the contractor conventions where macho attendees swap bullet-punctuated tales and discuss upcoming gigs; and the grim Central African prison where contractors turned failed mercenaries pay a steep price.
The United States has encouraged the use of the private sector in all facets of the War on Terror, placing contractors outside the bounds of functional legal constraints. With the shocking clarity that can come only from firsthand observation, Licensed to Kill painstakingly deconstructs the most controversial events and introduces the pivotal players. Most disturbingly, it shows that there are indeed thousands of contractors—with hundreds more being produced every month—who’ve been given a license to kill, their services available to the highest bidder.
“An incredible look into the murky and virtually impenetrable world of private military contractors . . . Pelton may well have seen the future.” —Sebastian Junger, author of The Perfect Storm and A Death in Belmont
“Licensed to Kill is smart, funny, sometimes scary, and always interesting. Pelton truly captures the cast of characters that make up our new ‘coalition of the billing’ in the War on Terror.” —P. W. Singer, author of Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry
“A rollicking read that takes the reader inside the murky world of military contractors—from the craggy passes of the Afghan-Pakistan border, to the extreme danger of Baghdad’s airport road, to the diamond fields of Africa. Licensed to Kill is not only a great travelogue, it also has some important things to say about the brave new world of privatized violence that will increasingly be a feature of twenty-first-century wars.” —Peter Bergen, author of The Osama bin Laden I Know and Holy War, Inc.
“Robert Pelton enjoys the credibility not shared by many to comment on the world’s dark corners. Licensed to Kill sheds light on one of the corners—the world of private for-hire guns, mercenaries, and armies. It’s a reality; it’s a business; it’s lucrative . . . Consider Licensed to Kill a ‘safety brief,’ a military term for ‘pay attention.’ Read it . . . pay attention.” —James A. “Spider” Marks, Major General, United States Army (Ret.)
“Pelton reveals how the U.S. military-industrial complex has created its own dark version of the nonstate warrior [and] asks if companies like Blackwater and Executive Outcomes could become the new Hessians for both multinational corporations and overstretched armies.” —Jonathan Taplin, professor, USC Annenberg School for Communication, and producer of Under Fire, The Last Waltz, and Mean Streets
“‘The dark side of the war on terror’ may sound redundant, but how else can you describe the world of contractors, mercs, and wackos who are paid big money to keep the key players alive and the war machinery humming? It’s a cynical, funny, and very scary place, stretching from Arkansas to Fallujah, and no one gets it, or tells it, better than Robert Young Pelton.” —John Rasmus, editor in chief, National Geographic Adventure