U.S. military experts and veterans are slamming Bill O'Reilly's proposal to create an American-backed worldwide mercenary force to battle Islamic State militants and other extremists, calling the idea “an outrageous thought” that is “fraught with problems.”
O'Reilly proposed the idea on Fox News Monday night, claiming the only credible plan to defeat the Islamic State had to include a mercenary force of 25,000 “English-speaking” fighters that would be recruited and trained by the United States. He added that the mercenary army would be comprised of “elite fighters who would be well-paid, well-trained to defeat terrorists all over the world.” He also promoted the idea on CBS This Morning.
Military leaders criticized O'Reilly's approach, citing the poor precedent it would set and the potential danger of having the United States support a mercenary effort that it cannot control in the trenches.
“I think that that's pretty much an outrageous thought,” said Dennis Laich, a 35-year military veteran and retired U.S. Army major general who served in Kuwait and Iraq. “The idea of mercenaries in the Middle East, depending on where they come from, is fraught with some history of failure ... If a mercenary military commits atrocity in the name of the United State is that a war crime? Will they be subject to the U.S. military code of justice? We take on a responsibility for their actions that we can't control. It's tactically unworkable and it's strategically and morally incompatible with fundamental principles of the U.S. Constitution and military policy.”
Retired Lt. General Edward Anderson, a West Point graduate with 39 years in the U.S. Army, cited the lack of control over such a group.
“It would seem from a military perspective there are a number of issues there, one is command and control,” he said in an interview. “My initial reaction is that I am not too enthusiastic about the idea. I can't think of a time when that has worked in the past, not on a scale you are talking about here.”
He added, "my biggest concern would be who has the authority to oversee and direct the operations on a large scale for a force of 25,000? Especially if you are talking about multiple contributors, each of them has a loyalty to whoever they are coming from.
“In order to do something like this with ISIS you have to have a logistics piece, an intelligence piece and a communications structure - this is not easy and to think you are going to put together a band of mercenaries to do this does not sound reasonable to me.”
Paul Eaton is a retired U.S. Army major general with 33 years in service and now a senior advisor to the National Security Network. He called O'Reilly's idea “a bad precedent.”
“The use of force or entities that use force ought to be a monopoly of the state. My conservative nature is that wars are fought by men and women in uniform and the idea of a mercenary force with American fingerprints on it just doesn't appeal to me much,” he said. “I would not want to see the United Sates in a situation where we're willing to throw money at raising a mercenary force because we're unwilling for whatever reason to send our sons and daughters.”
Jamie Barnett, a former U.S. Navy rear admiral with more than 30 years of experience, also served as Director of Naval Education and Training at the Pentagon. He said the mercenary idea “is fraught with problems and dangers and expense.”
“This is going to be a long-term fight,” he added. “That would be expensive enough, but the idea of putting English speakers on the ground just invites problems. We need indigenous fighters who see this as their homeland. We need to concentrate on the approach we have done in the past, which includes training people to fight their own fights. It is not like we have an abundance of trust in anyone over there.”