Hundreds of army officers resign to cash in on Iraqi security boom
THE Ministry of Defence has begged private security firms working in Iraq to stop ‘poaching’ its best soldiers amid fears that hundreds of officers are leaving the army to cash in on the spoils of war.
Scotland on Sunday can reveal that the number of officers requesting Premature Voluntary Release has soared since Saddam Hussein was ousted. Some 350 senior soldiers have applied to leave in the past six months alone, compared with the previous year’s total of 499.
The army - which is already struggling to maintain numbers - can ill afford to lose so many officers in such a short period. MoD bosses recently approached ex-servicemen running many of the private security firms in Iraq and asked them not to recruit from among serving soldiers.
But it is unclear what impact, if any, the request will have. As attacks by insurgents claim the lives of increasing numbers of coalition soldiers, civilian workers, politicians and policemen, the need for private ‘muscle’ in the country grows.
Serving soldiers realise they can massively increase their army salaries, earning as much as 1,000 a day providing protection.
Special forces have been particularly badly affected by the exodus, with around 40 SAS operatives quitting the service since the fall of Saddam.
Details of the ‘brawn drain’ afflicting Britain’s military planners emerged as UK security firms working in Iraq raised new concerns about the calibre of staff providing vital protection services for thousands of people in an increasingly perilous atmosphere.
A number of the companies have demanded that the British government crack down on ‘cowboy’ companies, claiming that bouncers and security guards are among those passing themselves off as former elite soldiers, and that they are putting lives at risk.
This will add to the woes of Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon as he tries to rebuild confidence amongst the armed forces following controversy over equipment shortages in Iraq.
The continuing concerns over the safety of civilians and officials in Iraq emerged as a series of explosions and attacks across the country yesterday claimed the lives of dozens of Iraqi civilians and at least seven US soldiers.
The demands for higher standards among guards reveal the extent of the government’s problems in Iraq. Ministers are already desperately trying to stop the lucrative private security industry poaching the military’s own highly-trained staff as a fast-track route to improving the service they provide in an increasingly competitive sector.
A memo circulated among the six British firms providing security in Iraq informally requests that they look elsewhere for recruits. "We have had an informal communication from a senior officer in the regiment who has asked us not to poach anybody," confirmed one former SAS soldier who now runs a security company.
"We do not have to go out of our way to persuade people to leave. The fact is that guys who are coming to the end of their careers know they can decide to stay on for another year or get out and name their price. They can earn in a day what they would earn in a week and most do a lot better than that."
Paul Brown, a director of Hereford-based AKE, said serving soldiers were inevitably a valuable resource for the biggest companies. "Most of them take ex-military personnel, but they also recruit from right across the forces," he said.
An MoD spokeswoman said the forces could not stand in the way of people who wanted to leave, but she said they had to undergo a period of "quarantine" before going to other jobs.
Up to 15,000 personnel are working for private firms in Iraq, and their costs are expected to swallow up almost a quarter of the 12bn the United States is ploughing into the effort to rebuild Iraq.
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