The Private Sector In Complex Emergencies

Major-General Jonathon Riley DSO GOC MND

(SE) Iraq - 2005


My theme is all about how the private sector can expand, in the context of complex emergencies and expeditionary operations, to fill areas which at present are the preserve of the civil departments of government or major organisations like the UN, but in which these bodies are, in my view, in difficulties. In order to do this, I must first set the scene.

Post modern campaigns have, to date, been characterised by expeditionary military operations at the front end, to change a regime or secure a territory, followed by some sort of PSO or COIN campaign to keep it, followed in turn by economic construction or reconstruction. Not much different, in fact, from the acquisition of imperial territories! Examples include Sierra Leone, Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Solomon Islands, and East Timor. Whether the experience of Iraq and Afghanistan will diminish the appetite of western governments remains to be seen; but even if it does, the campaign in Afghanistan seems set to run on for some years.

At the front end, in expeditionary military operations, the role of the private sector is pretty well defined. It ranges from the provision of strategic lift, to expeditionary camp infrastructure, food and fuel supply, facilities protection and so on. In extreme cases, like Executive Outcomes or Sandline in Sierra Leone, the private sector is the expeditionary military operation.

At the far end comes reconstruction. Let us be quite clear what we mean by this. Reconstruction is long-term, large-scale investment. It is not a military responsibility: the military does not have the money, resources or expertise. National and international planning is essential. The recognition of the scale of the undertaking and the assembly of the data and talent to address it is outside the control of the military but we feel it acutely. Without direction, a country’s resources will not combine to produce an effective long-term reconstruction programme. This is really the business of business, and your relationship in providing specific capabilities or services to multinational companies is relatively straightforward. Business will do reconstruction if the conditions are right – that is, if first, there is just enough security; if secondly, there is sufficient governance to move money around in the banking system, not be subjected to institutionalised abuse and corruption, and able to operate within a manageable framework of commercial law, for example; and if thirdly, the basic infrastructure functions – no-one will open an office if the electricity does not work, the water is poisonous, and the telephone system is always down.

But there is a missing piece in the scenery, which we describe as Stabilisation, and this is where I want to concentrate. It is in this area that modern, three-block or fourth-generation warfare is thrown most sharply into focus and it is in this period that we should be using military force to set the conditions for reconstruction to take place, and using quickly the time and space gained by it. This matters because in this stage of a campaign we are past the point at which military force is going to be the decisive element. What will be decisive is changing peoples’ lives for the better. I believe that to date we have at best partially succeeded in grasping this, and at worst we will fail both in Iraq and Afghanistan unless we make some hard choices.

In this period, we find top-end counter-insurgency or counter-terrorist military operations, using the considerable kinetic firepower available to modern militaries, may well be in full swing. At the same time, and in the same battle-space, we may see humanitarian relief operations currently handled by big UN agencies and the thousands of niche NGOs who decline any sort of co-ordination. Many do excellent work (MSF, Norwegian Refugee Council, Save the Children for example), but only a few establish an enduring presence.

Security sector reform is an integral part of this phase, essential to building security. So is the building of effective governance, and so-called reconstruction. By that, we really mean CIMIC projects or infrastructure repair designed to increase consent among the population for our presence, and create the conditions for longer-term reconstruction to kick in.

The bulk of these last two – governance and infrastructure repair – are usually assigned to non-military departments of government, more of which later. All this happens, of course, in the glare of the media and therefore underpinned, at least in theory, by information operations. This slide shows, in diagrammatic form, that this is recognised in the campaign plan for Iraq.

So where have we being going right in all this, where are we going wrong, where does the private sector fit into putting right what is currently wrong? I stress that what I am saying is a very personal view based on my own observation and experience, and in no way reflects any sort of official or unofficial consensus.

Support to Military Operations

This is really just a continuation of the front end activities described earlier; however experience shows that militaries will want to extract their scarce specialist capabilities as fast as possible, as well as freeing up their troops from static guard duties, rear area convoy escorts and the like. These are therefore areas of private sector involvement that increase, with the private sector being effectively part of whatever coalition is conducting operations; and therefore, in some way part of the C4ISTAR arrangements. Without it, the military would simply have to shoulder a greater, and unwelcome, burden. There remain questions over legal status and ROE, for example, and attractive as your wages in the private sector seem to serving soldiers, some organisations in this sphere of work have a very patchy record of looking after their people. Things like personnel accounting, casualty evacuation and treatment, next of kin notification, welfare provision, matter. There were times, for example, when some of the contractors based around Basra airport during my time as GOC could not account for their people: a basic requirement in a place like that.

Security Sector Reform - Military

When dealing with another army, as in Sierra Leone, Iraq and Afghanistan, the regular armies of the coalition are the best agents for carrying out SSR. In simple terms, it is a case of reproducing oneself, and any unit can take part in training, mentoring, equipment supply, and partnering on operations. AfghanistanHowever SSR is more than just training and equipping. It is really about creating a structure of institutions that will train and equip its own people, and sustain them. I have seen the private sector try to take on the whole thing in the early days of Iraq– the Vinell Corporation of America – and find it too much. This was not their fault. They were contracted for a different problem than that which actually faced us, and this was a symptom of the whole lack of post-war planning that has so bedevilled the campaign in Iraq. Even doing what they did was a struggle. The relationship between contract instructors or mentors, and indigenous soldiers is different from that of serving military to indigenous: it is too much that of professor and student, and not enough of leader and led. But that is not to say that in the institution-building part of SSR, the private sector has nothing to offer – quite the reverse. Examples include logistic training and infrastructure; administrative systems (i.e. the Iraq Army recruiting and personnel database was a triumph by Vinell, it was later handed over to trained Iraqis and still runs very efficiently); base infrastructure provision; range and training area management – another thing that Vinell did outstandingly well; equipment support training; military education – especially in areas like military law and financial systems. In short, the private sector can take the heat off conventional military forces in a range of support areas and in institution building.

Security Sector Reform - Police

In Iraq, we are still criticised for disbanding the old Army, but it is not the organisation that we did disband that gives us problems – but the one we did not: the police! In Iraq, the police fall into two categories. First, the national police. This is a Carabinieri-type, paramilitary third force controlled directly by the Ministry of Interior and dealing largely with counter-insurgency. This has been subject to many of the same restructuring efforts as the Army, and I am not going to discuss it further but concentrate on the second element, the local police. In southern Iraq, Britain stepped forward to take the lead in local police reform in three of the four provinces. The fourth was taken by Italy. A model was applied which had already failed in Bosnia and Kosovo, and was failing in Iraq until the military and the Italians stepped in to support it: we were never allowed to take it over, and although it may not be totally failing, it is certainly far from succeeding. Great Britain – or indeed any other nation – must only step forward to take the lead on police reform if our policing model is appropriate to the problem. It was right, for example, for us to do this in Sierra Leone with its British colonial legacy. It was not right in Iraq, which has a legal and policing model on European lines. Even Royal Ulster Constabulary men, who spent as much time grappling with the problems of health and safety, equal opportunities, and traffic violations as they did fighting violent crime and terrorism, are of limited use to a police force infiltrated by militia factions, acting as the agents of sectarian violence, and therefore in need of complete overhaul from the bottom up and the top down. Moreover, police forces on British or American lines do not come equipped with the organisational skills to reform an institution, to put systems in place, to build infrastructure, to manage complex equipment – they use civilians to do this for them. Moreover, in Southern Iraq, the institutional lead was given to the Foreign Office. The FCO, like State Department, is not like the military, it does not have planning or executive structures to undertake tasks of this scale – it conducts public diplomacy. In my view, the correct lead nation for Iraqi policing was Italy, with its similar legal model and a force – the Carabinieri – that could address the task. In the future, we should have the courage to decline the lead where it is inappropriate for us, and have a clear view on who should do it. The role of the private sector is therefore similar to that in Military SSR with some additional specialist tasks, such as establishing capabilities like forensic analysis, counter IED, criminal intelligence databases and the like. It can also perform the valuable function of analysing the legal and policing model in question, and making recommendations about the appropriate lead nation, or nations, plus those aspects that can be contracted out to private sector companies.


In order to describe where international efforts fit into the whole process, and how they function, a clear distinction needs to be made between infrastructure repair – of which military CIMIC is a part, essential service provision, and reconstruction.  First, infrastructure repair and essential service provision remain important tools in building and maintaining consent; their activities must be targeted at those areas which opinion polling tells us matter to local people.  These usually include electricity, water, sewage, health, communications and employment. School projects and playgrounds, so beloved by soldiers, seldom feature in the top five needs (ignoring the wants) of local people, and yet how much time and energy do we spend on them! Infrastructure repair or CIMIC therefore carries out short term projects, in line with long-term priorities, to address particular needs usually related to essential services. The particular example of point power generation at critical sites (hospitals, sewage treatment works, water pumping stations etc) versus electrical grid and power station installation illuminates the general principle. For post-conflict reconstruction to work properly, short term repair, medium term essential service provision and long term capacity building all need to begin at the same time, and as early as possible.  At present, bodies like Department for International Development (DfID) and USAID are the agents for medium and long-term elements, while infrastructure repair often gets left to the military. The best one can hope for at present is that it is looked on, and funded as, complementary, but not as an alternative to reconstruction.  If short term repair, medium term essential service provision and long term capacity building are not synchronised from the outset, then infrastructure repair and CIMIC operations are likely to become the ongoing emergency band aid solution geared towards retaining dwindling consent.

In such a situation, the military, especially the US military, spends considerable sums of public money (CERP, or in GB, QIP) on consent-building repair work, but without the framework of a medium and long-term plan in which to nest. Why? Because responsibility is given to indigenous government departments which lack the capacity to execute them or are just plain corrupt, and they therefore fail. And at home, big project funding can be hijacked by pork-barrel politics. We have seen the current Democratic indignation in Congress over missing millions in Iraq? I saw early on at first hand a great deal of money for reconstruction projects in Iraq being re-cycled straight back into US companies and swallowed up in “overheads”. Lest I beat up too much on this, let me also say that we were often obliged to do this, because Iraqi companies, our first port of call, either could not deliver, or tried to cheat us.

We must add to this the problem of engaging support for indigenous government departments from their counterparts in Britain, the US, and elsewhere – what is termed “capacity building”. Like the FCO and State, but with the honourable exception of DFID and USAID, these departments simply do not have people to send, nor the planning and executive structures to mount expeditionary projects. Even DFID has trouble getting enough people – and what about the Depts of Education and Science, Employment, Health, Social Security; or the Water Board! They have enough trouble keeping things going at home.

To try to overcome this, GB set up the Post Conflict Reconstruction Unit (PCRU). It is an excellent organisation, but which sits between departments in Whitehall, and has no powers of enforcement in what is termed the interagency process. Perhaps it should become an integral part of the PJHQ, and CJO should have a DFID deputy?? It must have a minister responsible for it at the top of the chain of command. If some way can be found to give this organisation real teeth, and a delegated budget, then it can do what it was set up to do: engage expertise from the private and public sectors for stabilisation operations. In doing this it acts as the public sector face on the problem, kick-starting engagement, and thus overcoming the reservations that some areas in the public sector may have about engaging the private sector, especially where public money is concerned. But how else, in these operations, are we to help the indigenous people to help themselves?

Take the oil and gas industry in Iraq as an example. Iraq has the world’s third largest proven reserves of oil. It should be awash with money! But the reality is that the oil infrastructure is creaking, the organisation is corrupt, security is poor, and methods are out of date. And how is it that 4 years on, not one power station has been built in Iraq, and the oil fields flare off enough gas every day to generate the entire electricity requirements of the country?

There is no public sector body in GB able to solve this problem alone; but the PCRU, engaging first an organisation like CRG can identify the totality of the problem, and the ways and means required to solve it – to produce a programme. Having done this it can engage those it needs from the public and private sectors to carry out the necessary tasks, if necessary over a period of years, with the aim of handing over progressively to Iraqis, and retaining its own expertise to carry out regular programme reviews.

Another means of delivering infrastructure, and indeed governance (more of which in a minute), is the Provincial Reconstruction Team, or PRT. These exist in both Iraq and Afghanistan; the PCRU provides the bulk of the personnel for this in Basra, for example. A good part of the current US Surge into Iraq, by the way, was supposed to be PRT manpower, but when it came to delivering, who was tasked to find the manpower and money – the US Army! The PRT may be charged, as in Iraq, with developing the connections between central and local government so that central funding finds its way into effective local projects; or in Afghanistan, it may be about developing local infrastructure, government, and services from the bottom up in country which has no tradition of doing this. One problem is that there is no commonly agreed model for a PRT – call it something else if you like – every nation fields its own version and having spent time with quite a number, I can find no commonly agreed set of competencies or requirements. The model will of course vary from country to country – what suits Iraq will not suit Afghanistan – but here is a task on which the indigenous governments ought to insist: that PRTs adopt a common methodology. They do not at present insist, because no-one has suggested that they should.

Within the PRT model, the private/public sector engagement at local levels will be similar to that which I suggested for the PRCU at national level, and should cascade from it. Just as we should plan short term repair, medium term infrastructure building, and long-term reconstruction concurrently; so we should always plan on building top down and bottom up – so long as we can join them in the middle. This is project planning beyond the scope of the military, and beyond any single department of government. Back to the centrality of something like the PCRU and the absolute requirement to engage the broadest available expertise from the private sector: this starts with intellectual capital, and extends through conventional security, and out to many areas of commercial, communications and industrial activity.


Implicit in much of what I have been outlining is the business of governance . This largely involves what is termed “capacity building” – although most people do not understand what this means. The ability of the local people to be able further to develop their own country is dependent upon their prevailing Arghandab Afghanistanability to identify problems, conceptualise solutions, plan and execute projects. Despite their intelligence, qualifications, determination and stoicism, many people throughout the areas in which we conduct our operations have not been exposed to modern systems of design, management and budgeting, nor the latest technologies and construction techniques, nor have they had responsibility for planning and delivering to a customer base. Ironically, we were once very good at capacity building; we had an organisation called the Colonial Service – essentially expeditionary civilians. These were the people in colonial territories who were, in far-flung areas, the governors, tax collectors, school inspectors and teacher trainers, senior medical officers, police superintendents, the bank managers. India before independence was run by the ICS, but this was just a few hundred Europeans. Its success was not just in doing the administrative work, but in training and mentoring Indians who first worked under or alongside their British superiors, and in time – 200 years of time – took over. But it had to be a long period, in order for the ethos of service to the country to permeate generations of locals who came from a tradition which was quite otherwise. Nowadays we express exasperation if we cannot get a result in 6 months! Today, the role of the ICS falls on the UN, and on civil departments of government. All these have so far found difficulty in dealing with the problem, often for the same reasons I mentioned in infrastructure repair. How is that four years on in Iraq, there is still no banking system, no effective civil service, no standard teacher training system – let alone a national intelligence service! The role of the private sector outlined in the business of infrastructure can be expanded to deal with the issues of governance; indeed they are to an extent inseparable. It is capacity building that lends stability and forward momentum. It is the more important of the two strands, because ultimately capacity building is the key to scaling down the international effort. Without capacity building a PRT or a national-level assistance team can, in effect, risk becoming a substitute government in perpetuity. Capacity building is the exit strategy. We must recognise this

Here is a diagram of what I have tried to describe:

private sector in complex emergencies

Over time, the weight of effort will shift according to progress, or lack of it. The level of development of the host country will also be a factor in determining where effort is required. Initially it is likely that there may be a military lead in many areas – driven by security constraints. This must however migrate rapidly to a civil lead and then, through capacity building to a host nation lead. At that point we can change our tack towards advisory functions rather then supporting functions.

There are also risks. Chief among these is the commitment of sufficient delegated funding to achieve demonstrable results without red tape. Without host-nation buy-in at national and local level, we may repeat the mistakes of previous policies. The CPA “Governorate” teams in Iraq failed to achieve significant impact on delivery of services despite more benign conditions and Coalition control. They were based on a “one size fits all model”, under-staffed on the civilian side, disconnected from the Iraqi structure and not linked into long-term planning requirements. Then again, local people might see the existence of a PRT as a failure to deliver transfer of control. The requirement for force protection may leave the impression – with locals and the international community – that PRTs are a way of perpetuating a western presence in the area.

I have tried to simplify a complex problem, and in doing so, expose where the current system is – at least from the perspective of this General – not doing what we want it to; and where I think in principle the opportunities lie. I have not provided you with detailed solutions or programmes precisely because I am a military officer, and not one of the experts that I am suggesting could form the basis of success for the private sector, where the public sector is in difficulties.


Copyright © 2005 Jonathon Riley

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