ROC in Baghdad!

Jon Swain the veteran Vietnam reporter wrote in a recent Sunday Times Magazine article that the second largest armed force in Iraq is not the 8500 strong British contingent, but the army of former military veterans employed by a plethora of companies generically called private security companies, the PSCís. The aim of these companies is to protect the army of reconstruction personnel, who are slowly bringing order the chaotic Iraqi infrastructure. The PSCís are now in the front line in the fight against the insurgents and employ 25,000 armed civilians, mainly former soldiers of highly regarded armed forces, plus the indigenous Iraqis contracted to the PSCís. With each man earning about US$1000 dollars a day there is no shortage of volunteers. These PSCís outnumber British armed forces by 2Ĺ to1 and to date they have lost more than 300 men against our losses of 98.

The largest of these PSCís is the British based company Aegis Defence Services operated by that doyen of mercenaries Lieutenant-Colonel Tom Spicer OBE, who hit the headlines when his now defunct company, Sandline International, was accused of selling arms to Sierra Leone in contravention of a UN resolution. Lt-Col Spicer was later exonerated, when it was revealed that British Foreign Office officials knew in advance about the arms shipments Aegis Defence Services with 200 expatriate bodyguards and 1000 Iraqis on its payroll has contracts with both the US and UN authorities to protect their personnel.

This formidable mercenary firepower needed co-ordination and Lt-Col Spicer proposed computerised control centres called ROCís (Reconstruction Operations Controls) which have communications links with the US Military using Tapestry, the civilian version of Blue Force, the US military satellite system and provides vital information to every convoy and mobile PSC team throughout Iraq. Apart from providing intelligence and close personnel protection for the contractors, it is also involved in the propaganda war to win hearts and minds of the Iraqi people.

The ghastly murder and burning of three US contractors in Fallujah revealed that the US Marines had no knowledge that these contractors were working in their area and as a result, Spicerís Aegis was awarded a $293 million contract, the largest yet awarded to a British company in Iraq. The contract was won in the teeth of hostile US competition, which tried to have him barred on humanitarian ground by highlighting the Sierra Leone accusations and his defence, in 1992, of two Scots Guardsmen convicted of murdering a teenager in Northern Ireland.

Aegis has taken delivery of three South African Revas troop carriers with formidable fire power to protect its thirty-one escort teams and the twelve Iraqi led Reconstruction Liaison teams. Aegis vehicles are linked by Tapestry to one of the ROC Centres and if attacked they surround the clientís vehicle to give protection and covering fire from light machine guns mounted on each car, The US Quick Reaction Force (QRF) is alerted by the National ROC Centre and despatched to repel the insurgents and extract the contractors. Since the grisly events in Fallujah, the lives of many contractors have been saved and there are few companies not subscribing to Aegisí services.

The main National ROC Centre is located in the heavily fortified Baghdad International Green Zone, where the US has established a relatively safe area for its off duty personnel and contractors. Gurkhas, attack and sniffer dogs guard the Control which is manned round the clock and inside is a large 7ft by 7ft video screen displaying a map of the country. A dozen or so uniformed personnel sit facing the map at three lines of tables and each operator has his own computer monitor, waiting to respond to the next attack. The combined services of Aegis and the other PSCís saves the US deploying another division to Iraq and prevents more US body bags making the sad flight home, but the steady loss of these mercenaries masks the true death count in this benighted country.

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Inevitably, the naming of the ROC Control Centres begged an explanation and I put the question to Lt-Colonel Tim Spicer. The following e-mail reply was received:

Alan
Sadly, the Reconstruction Operation Centre was not named after the illustrious Royal Observer Corps and its excellent work in (the) Defence of Britain. A sad day when it stood-down. Please pass on best wishes to former ROC members from Aegis Defence Services.
Tim Spicer
02 November 2005

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Written by Alan Price-Talbot, alanpricethomas@hotmail.com
Chairman ROCA Cardiff and Newport Branch, 15th December 2005
With acknowledgement to Jon Swain and The Sunday Times.