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.
From the Hardcover edition.
Must-have resource on PMCs for the casual reader, the academic, and the policy wonk
By MountainRunner "Matt Armstrong" - October 11, 2006
Licensed to Kill is Robert Young Pelton's broad survey of the modern world of mercenaries. Strike that, of contractors. Mercenaries, after all, as Doug Brooks of IPOA (International Peace Operations Association) said in the movie Shadow Company: anyone convicted as being a mercenary should be shot along with his lawyer (Doug, pardon my paraphrasing). Regardless, Pelton's subtitle captures what these guys are: hired guns. Or as one of the contractors in the book put it: "guns with legs".
Pelton's book is (or can be) a quick read. It's conversational, often with the feel that you're sitting in a pub having a beer while he tells you a story (as you do in his World's Most Dangerous Places books). For me, however, it wasn't a quick read. I found myself highlighting sentences, scribbling in the margins, and applying colored flags for quick and future reference. Pelton may challenge the journalist\ community with how he gets into the action (journos not always being the type who... read more
OK, but his sources in Baghdad could have been better
By Herb Hunter - September 11, 2006
I can't speak for the accuracy of other parts of this book, but I was working as a private contractor in Baghdad when the author was there gathering his info. I hate to say it, but he spent so much time in one small location talking to a limited group of people that his perspective was somewhat warped. At times his writing demonstrates an amateurish over-infatuation with GI-Joe cliches. The result, as one other reviewer aptly pointed out, is that the book sometimes reads like a half-baked article from Soldier of Fortune.
Many (but, I emphasize, not all) of the guys working at his location at that time had very questionable backgrounds and were definitely not the best and brightest of the bunch. A few were unqualified for any other job in country and wound up there, where the author was located, by default. What made the author's "research" more puzzling was the presence of a compound with about 300 more highly qualified PSD guys less than a mile away from where his head... read more
Educational and intriguing look into PSC's
By Kevin Lynds - December 26, 2006
RYP's book on the modern history of PSC's offers what appears to be an honest look into the world of today's military contractor, or what some would call "mercenary". Much of the book covers the work of PSC's in Iraq today and gives an honest look into what the job entails. The daily hurry-up and wait game, the same routine day in and day out, with short bursts on intense violence and excitement and the ever-present knowledge that the enemy is everyewhere and can be everyone (or anything - IED's).
Mr. Pelton seems to gain a lot of access to not only the personalities of those running today's security companies, but those that ran and operated in past ones, such as Sandline and Executive Outcomes. Some of their (the owners and the operators) motivations are laid out in the open, some are percieved and some are questioned. For example, the US contractors that work in Iraq mostly seem to be family men, trained in the military, that have no other job experience or training and... read more
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