Mercenary armies have been fixtures in most international armed conflicts. They can be used by both sides of the opposing parties as long as they are properly compensated for their ‘efforts’. However, what is so mind-boggling is the fact that they are part of the overt and covert operations of the CIA. Here are 25 mercenary armies recruited by the CIA in its efforts to provide military support to countries in need.
Even before the Cold War, the United States was open about its hostility to the Bolsheviks of Soviet Russia. During the Red Revolution (Bolshevik revolution) of 1917, the U.S. did not only withdraw its funding for Russia but also greatly opposed the British and French plan to include them as allies against Germany in 1918. To make matters worse, they openly supported the Volunteer Army or the anti-Bolshevik White Army in South Russia not only with funding but with troops as well. Comprising of Cossacks, nobles, volunteers, and peasants; their number grew from 64,000 to 150,000 and were better supplied than their Red counterpart. However, they were often a disordered and a lawless lot.
A large and well-organized partisan army, they were trained and aerially supplied by the CIA to engage in a series of guerrilla conflicts against Nazi Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and the Soviet Union during World War II. They began as a resistance group with the goal to establish a united independent national state in the Ukrainian territory but later on developed into a guerrilla army making sporadic attacks against their enemies. The group came to an end in 1952 when the Soviet Union purged their leaders with the use of infiltration and espionage.
The March 1949 Syrian coup d’état led by the Army Chief of Staff Husni al-Za’im has not only ended the initial period of civilian rule, but also ushered in the independent republic of Syria. There were reports that the CIA funded and provided personnel in Za’im’s attempt to seize power, though they both vehemently denied it. However, once in power, Za’im made several key decisions that benefited the United States including the approval of the Trans-Arabian Pipeline (TAPLINE), which transports Saudi Arabian oil to Mediterranean ports and improved relations with Israel and Turkey, two allies of the US in the region.
After the Second Sino-Japanese War, the People’s Liberation Army broke away from the National Revolutionary Army, which gained a number of warlords and provincial armies after their leaders joined the Kuomintang. They were then used by the CIA to fight Red China after the Burma Campaign, where they had an armored battalion equipped with Sherman tanks as an aid to the Nationalist Chinese regime. However, the Chinese brigade found it more profitable to monopolize the opium trade than fighting for the CIA.
During the 1950s Chinese invasion of Tibet, the United States provided support by training several groups of Khampa fighters in modern warfare at Camp Hale in Colorado and transported them back to Tibet with funding and supplies. These fierce warriors, who supported the Dalai Lama until his exile in 1959, had 14,000 fighters at its peak and fought the battle until 1970. There were reports that they were given an annual subsidy of $180,000 to spend on training volunteers and to pay for the guerrilla operations against the Chinese.
An overt operation of the CIA, the Guatemalan coup d’état of 1954 was a paramilitary invasion of the anti-Communist army of liberation to depose President Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán with Operation: PBSUCCESS. Mercenary personnel have conducted air raids against the Guatemalan military targets and cities, which stemmed from the CIA’s mistaken perception that the nationalization of the sequestered 400,000 acres United Fruit banana plantation was influenced by the communist Guatemalan Labor Party.
Sukarno’s reign has faced threats to its legitimacy since its beginning in 1956. However, the situation worsened in 1958 when the rebels against Sukarno’s regime received covert aids due to their anti-communist rhetoric. They were defeated, however, with the last guerrilla bands surrendering on August 1961.
The Eisenhower and Kennedy government-sanctioned move for the CIA operatives to recruit 1,500 Cuban refugees living in Miami in 1960 was due to their attempt to overthrow the Cuban government (led by Fidel Castro). This small army, which landed in Cuba on April 19, 1961, was accompanied by B-26 bombers. However, they were defeated by the Cuban armed forces led by Castro within three days due to the ill-conceived and poorly-planned operation.
When the government of Peru sought the help of the United States to quell the guerrilla forces who were creating havoc in the eastern Amazonian provinces in the mid-1960′s, the CIA responded by fortifying the camp in the area. Moreover, they sought the help of the Green Beret personnel from the US Army to train local Peruvians. This elite unit was later disbanded for fear that they might stage a coup against the government.
Even before the CIA was formed, its predecessor OSS had already been conducting covert operations in Thailand and were behind the assassination of then-President Ngo Dinh Diem in 1963. However, in 1961, they trained the Chinese people living in the hills of Vietnam, who became known as the Nung mercenaries, to become part of the Civilian Irregular Defense Groups in South Central Highlands, a component of the ‘Mike Force.’ The CIDGs later became the Vietnamese Rangers.
A paramilitary organization, it was set up by the CIA to operate in the secret war from 1962 to 1975 in Laos against the communist Pathet Lao forces. Composed of 30,000 Meo tribesmen and led by Lao General Vang Pao, they were trained by 40 to 50 CIA operatives in modern warfare. They were also paid and supplied by the CIA, though their numbers dwindled to just 10,000 refugees by 1975, which all fled to Thailand.
The Congo Crisis from 1960 to 1966 was a period of turmoil that started with the country’s independence from Belgium and ended with the seizing of power of Joseph Mobutu. In 1964, the CIA imported some European mercenaries and Cuban pilots to fly B-26 bombers as back up to pro-Western leaders Cyril Adoula and Joseph Mobutu. The crisis resulted in the death of 100,000 people, the assassination of then-Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba and a Cold War proxy battle between US and the Soviet Union.
When the democratically-elected government of President João Goulart was overthrown on March 30, 1964, declassified transcripts of the communication between President Lyndon B. Johnson and the US Ambassador in Brazil, confirmed the CIA’s hand in the coup. In the said transcript, President Johnson was quoted to have had authorized support of ‘logistical materials’ to be given to the rebelling Brazilian army generals as part of Operation: Brother Sam. He also acknowledged in the same transcript, CIA covert operations and funding for pro-democracy street rallies, armed forces, friendly labor, student groups, and other acts of protest.
When President Ronald Reagan was asked by the US congress to provide a progress report every six months on the human rights situation during the civil war in El Salvador as a condition for further military aid, it was discovered that as far back as 1964, the CIA had been helping the two paramilitary intelligence networks, ORDEN and ANSESAL, in their operations as death squads. Millions of dollars was spent to finance, train, and provide automatic weapons and surveillance techniques to the Salvadoran Army, which was responsible for 40,000 killings in El Salvador from 1980 to 1982.
The Cambodian coup in March 1970 was the culmination of the over 15-years attempt of the CIA to depose Cambodia’s left-leaning Prince, Norodom Sihanouk. The CIA formed the anti-Sihanouk Kampuchea Khmer Krom (KKK), which were trained by the Green Berets and armed with US weapons. They overran the capital of Phnom Penh, took control of the government and placed Cambodia under the hands of Lon Nol, who later on dispatched soldiers to murder tens of thousands of civilians.