An introduction to Private Australian Security Contractors and their Services in Iraq and Afghanistan

Who are the Australian private contractors who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan? This article provides an inside look at this invisible and often forgotten force. Private Security Contractors can be referred to as businesses offering specialized services relating to warzones and conflicts, such as combat operation, intelligence gathering, operational and logistical support, strategic planning, training security ambitions, maintenance, procurement, etc., (Cotton et al., 2010). According to United Nations (UN) working group, Private Military Companies (PMCs) offer the following services:

1. Armed protection of infrastructure, including buildings, property, installations, etc. (BBC, 2018);

2. Transfer of knowledge with security and policing applications;

3. Development and execution of security measures.

PMCs are recognized by their organizational structure – they have registered businesses with corporate structures, and their motivation is largely based on profit rather than political purposes. Moreover, PMCs can range from small-scale consulting enterprises to huge transnational corporations (BBC, 2018). PMCs began to first appear during the Second World War; geopolitical transformation and reconstruction of the state’s armed forces in the decades following the Cold War further accelerated the growth of the private security industry. Presently, more than 150 enterprises offer their services in more than 50 states; majorly, American-based firms alongside private military contractors from countries such as UK and Australia are serving in conflict zones all across Africa, the Middle East, and Afghanistan.

There exist strong incentives for the utilization of Private Security Contractors; PMCs provide governments with a cost-effective yet organized and effective option to facilitate their persisting military presence (Wilson, 2016). Moreover, there are three major factors that supplemented the growth of Private Security Contractors. Firstly, various troops or militaries in high-threat environments are unable to meet the huge demand for security; this demand majorly emanated from logistical needs; for instance, aiding American-led operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. These military expeditions required huge reconstruction investment by civilian enterprises, which led the private business to operate in conflict zones. Secondly, there have been movements in states, such as the UK, USA, and Australia to privatize government services; for example, in 1997, US Quadrennial Defense Review recommended the American military functions or operation, promoting privatization of former defense functions in the UK and Australia. Lastly, Private Security Contractors have provided states witnessing casualty-averse public with a discrete means to reinforce security in conflictual zones (Brown, 2017). Deployment of private military contractors minimizes the footmark of military forces deployed by the governments; private security contractors have a lower signature once in another state as compared to their nation’s own military. Moreover, casualties of private contractors usually go unreported. The founder of an Australian PMC asserted, “when one of us is killed, well, we are contractors, it is not that bad.”

This article particularly emphasizes Private Security Contractors and their services in countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan. In doing so, this study highlights the major the names of major PMCs, their functions, and the services they have to offer.

Private Australian Security Contractors and their services

In the area of private security, Australia is amongst those countries that have assumed a leadership role. The Australian government has been a downright supporter of burgeoning initiatives formulated to regularize the private security industry. Australian diplomats, academic scholars, and legal experts have played a crucial role in driving initiatives, such as the Montreux Document, the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Contractors, and the creation of global governing standards for the private security industry (Brown, 2017). Moreover, in August 2013, Australia became a foundation state and a major government supporter of the Association of the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Providers (ICoCA) and also contributed funds to this NGO whose objective was to provide a platform to oversee PMC operations.

Therefore, the government of Australia is a major patron of PSC; their contracts include a wide range of security, assessment, and training services. PSC provides training to Australian government officials and staff, which ranges from safety and security operations and preparation for services in high-risk zones. One of the major objectives of Australian security contractors is to conduct a strategic environmental assessment, including risks, and provide advice regarding the state’s diplomatic functions in other countries; at times, their role extends to Australian Defense Forces (ADF) operations in war zones. More than 200 private security contractors, most of whom are armoured, are deployed to secure Australian diplomats, consulates, and embassies in Afghanistan and Iraq. Via the Australian foreign funding program, the government covertly assists PMCs recruited by development providers as well as humanitarian organizations.

Australian private security contractors have largely carried out their operations in Iraq and Afghanistan; recently, Australian security enterprises have expanded their presence to facilitate mining operations and maritime security activities in the African and Indian Ocean regions, respectively. Globally, Australian security contractors report large-scale operations, ranging from extortion and ransom consultancies in Colombia to travel reconnaissance in Mongolia (Olding, 2015). Moreover, their involvement in the Iraq war is noteworthy; for instance, Osprey Asset Management, a company based in Perth, contracted to provide security that underpinned the supply of ballot paper during the 2005 elections in Iraq. The contract lasted for six months and required helicopter assistance and various teams of military contractors for security escorts.

The services provided by Australian private security contractors can be categorized as follows:

  1. Security risk assessment and advice, logistical support, crises management, and evacuation
  2. Provision of armed and unarmed protection to individuals, groups, private property, and valuable assets.
  3. Military intelligence and technical surveillance, which includes administering investigations into treachery, security vetting, counter-espionage, intelligence support, etc.
  4. Armoured escort or onboard security groups for merchant and private vessels, navigation, geospatial monitoring, and surveillance support.
  5. Security training, including fatal and non-fatal training of military personnel, handling of weaponry, and unarmored close combat. Security training also includes institutional

List of Australian Private Security Contractors

The Australian private security industry is significant and mature. There are three major reasons for it:

  • Firstly, military personnel in Australia are well-reputed and regarded for their experiences inter-operability with the militaries of the USA and the UK.
  • Secondly, due to the limited involvement of Australia in the Iraq and Afghan wars, Australian Special Forces were available at the beginning of the operations.
  • Thirdly, Australian mining and energy enterprises have generated a demand for the private security industry.

A survey conducted in 2007 revealed that 9 per cent of the global private security contractors have an active presence in Australia and that one in three of these companies provides tactical security services. Moreover, amongst the PMCs listed in the International Code of Conduct for Private Security, 22 reportedly have their headquarters in Australia (Powles, 2021). Some major Australian private security companies are as follows; these companies are awarded contracts by the Australian government.

Australian     Private     Security


Sharp End International Sharp End International is an Australia-based private security company that provides training to government and corporate entities. These services extended to Foreign External Defense (DID) to provide training to enterprises that are operating in the external environment. The company mainly hires Australian and New Zealand’s Ex-special forces instructors; nevertheless, their cadre encompasses specialists from around the world. Their key services are:

•       Private military operation and support program;

•       Counter-terrorism;

•       Protective programs, specializing in high-risk theatres.


Unity Resource Group Unity Resources Group is a protective security company that provides close protection to specialists around the world, especially in the most hostile and remote areas, such as Iraq and Afghanistan. Their fully licensed services include:

•       Tailored planning and implementation;

•       Deployment of highly trained personnel and consultants;

•       Medical support services;

•       Project life support;

•       Crises and Aviation services;

•       Facilities management.

The company operates security contracts for the Australian embassy and diplomatic personnel in Iraq; it also provides armed guards and conveys when required.

OAM Group OAM Group was founded in 1998 by former Australian military special forces and law enforcement professionals to bring about tailored solutions to practical situations, rather than unsuitable “templated” advice. OAM draws its forces from the Australian Defence Force (ADF), Special Air Service (SAS), Regiment and police, etc. In high-risk theatres, OAM provides the following services:

•       Convoy Escort;

•       Security of sites;

•       Personal Security.

HART Security Hart Security is a company based in U, but it has strong connections with Australia on its board (Hart International, 2020). The company provides high-quality and task-focused security in the following areas:

•       Crises and risk management;

•       Superyacht security;

•       Technical security;

•       Project support;


•       K9 services;

•       Aviation security;

•       Maritime security;

•       Personal security.

AKE Group For more than 30 years, AKE Group has designated its solution to permit its clients to fulfil their commercial obligations and take hold of opportunities where their competitors cannot. The company functions across four main business streams:

•       Analysis;

•       Training;

•       Military operations;

•       Specialist Services.


Case Study

With the militarized conflict across the Middle Eastern region, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan, external powers present in the region explored different methods to utilize their national armies overseas. Although deploying troops abroad to partake in inter-state conflict is considered a norm, intra-state conflicts and civil wars require different strategies to address different strategies employed by insurgents in politically unstable states (Olding, 2015). As a result, countries are increasingly reliant on private military contractors to perform security-related tasks in conflict zones.

Australian security contractors have been extensively employed in Iraq and Afghanistan from the early to mid-2000s. From 2009 onwards, U.S. military operations in both countries led to an increase in the ratio of military contractors to U.S. troops from 1:1 to 3:1. Although the number of private security contractors decreased since then, new proposals to the American and Afghan governments aim to reinstate private contractors in the region; however, this carries important concerns regarding the use of force as its implications for civilians in war-torn states (International Law Association, 2016).

Australian private security contractors are able to function in Iraq and Afghanistan due to their registering and licensing with local governmental authorities.  Theoretically, the contracts are subjected to the law of the countries within whose jurisdiction they operate; practically, it seems improbable that Australia will leave their contracted staff and consultants in the hands of Iraq’s and Afghanistan’s judicial systems (International Law Association, 2016).

•      Iraq

With the initiation of war in Iraq in 2003, the state transformed into a ‘war zone;’ however, the death rate of private security contractors is hardly mentioned. Despite this, private companies employed their ex-combatants and police force for the protection of government officials and corporate leaders, raising the question of their safety, and how well they are vetted and regulated. In Iraq, more than 60 PMCs employed as many as 250,000 personnel to protect the Iraqi government, NGOs, and privateers (McKenzie, 2006). It was widely believed that private contractors were a prerequisite to carrying out operations in Iraq; According to U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, it would have been unwise to think that PMCs should not be present.

Although the Canberra government advised privates to come home, between 200 and 300 ex-Australian military personnel, police officers, and security guards headed to Iraq in order to earn between 300-700 American dollars per day. Major companies that secured contracts in Iraq include the Perth-based OAM and the Unity Resources group, employing hundreds of Aussies. These private contractors were not registered with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT); the department made no claim regarding their role in monitoring and regulation of their conduct.

Unity Resource Group secured a contract with the government of Australia worth 9 million for the protection of the Iraqi Embassy. In 2011, Australia withdrew from Iraq in line with its troop withdrawal from the state; therefore, it removed 33 combatants that guarded the embassy with private security contractors (Cottam et al., 2018). Moreover, hundreds of local national staff were employed to support Unity’s Iraqi operation, which included the provision of local armed guards and intelligence services (Brown, 2015). In 2014, the future of private contractors in Iraq was marked with speculation because of the decision to relocate the Australian embassy to the premises of the U.K. Nevertheless, the privateers continued to manage local guards on the front and, and supervision of private intelligence analysis to continuously gain updates about the threat profile on the basis of locally sources informational channels. Moreover, the services of private security contractors in Iraq extended to the provision of security to mining and energy sectors, mainly for Perth-based firm’s offshore operations; they also provided services for suppliers of oil and gas in northern Iraq.

Australian private contractors have extended their services in Iraq to facilitate the return of kidnapping victims; for instance, the Unity group was involved in the case of Jill Carroll, an American journalist. Nevertheless, privateers have also received widespread criticism over several incidents in which contractors killed and shot civilians (McKenzie, 2006). For example, in 2006, an Australian-Iraqi dual citizen was shot dead by private security employees at a vehicle checkpoint; moreover, in 2007, unity employees who contracted to provide security for USAID contractors killed 2 Iraqi citizens in an incident (Global Policy Forum, 2011).

Furthermore, Perth-based company, OAM Group, secured a contract in Iraq to provide support for the election in Iraq in 2005; at a point in time, there were more than 500 private security contractors within the state to move ballot papers across the conflict-ridden state (Osprey International, n.d.). There were also contracts to secure the regulation of the Iraqi currency.

The HART security has also received notable attention for its role in Iraq; it provided services to support Task Force Restore Iraq Electricity (TF-RIE) in Baghdad as well as Southern Iraq (Hart International, 2020). The contract was established through the US Corps of Engineers to the Perini Corporation. The private contractors provided protection along with sustainable intelligence by bringing together international expertise with local knowledge and staff. The vision has to bear the test of the high-intensity urban environment of the capital, and low intensity, yet complex tribal environment in the Southern part of Iraq, at a time when criminal activity and terrorism were high and general civilians were wary of liberators. Nevertheless, the privateers delivered their services, and the project culminated in 2004; more than 600km of power line were reinstated, and 3 power stations and 15 sub-stations were refurbished (Hart International, 2020). An overall task force of 2700, including local and international staff, provided security in an efficient manner, which included force liaison, PSDs, convoy protection, camp, and logistical support, and base security.

Between 2003 and 2014, at least five Australian private contractors were killed in Iraq, but the government does not consider or records contractors’ casualties abroad (Brown, 2017). The U.S. labour department’s data showed that as many as 40 Australians were injured while assuming their role as security providers. Some private contractors agitated to be recognized for their service, arguing that their work represents Australia’s intrinsic ability to function in the war zone.

•      Afghanistan

In the aftermath of the horrifying terrorist attack on the twin towers against the USA on 11 September 2001, the prime minister of Australia, John Howard, invoked Article IV of the Australian-New Zealand-USA (ANZUZ) Treated; he cemented Australia’s dedication to supporting the American alliance. Therefore, Australian Defense Force (ADF) deployed a contingent to Kabul along with the USA; the scope and structure of ADF involvement in the Afghan war fluctuated between 2001 and 2013 and reached its peak in 2009 with 1550 personnel. As the conflict continued to unravel and exceed its invitational predictions, so did the stipulations of the ADF. Therefore, in order to fill the capability gap, strategists and operational planners integrated the utilization of private military contractors for the provision of services, such as logistical support and strategic lifting. Australian security contractors enhanced the capacities of ADF by permitting policymakers to decrease the number of combat service support personnel, providing flexibility to ADF with regards to its capability to increase the amount of combat personnel within the restriction of the Australian government’s force caps. The notion was incorporated in Australia’s 2009 Defense White paper, which stated, “The greater use of contractors through such methods as support contracts and Sponsored Reserves, for longer-term stabilization and reconstruction operations, will potentially give the ADF more flexibility.” Therefore, the use of PMC was a deliberate foreign policy tool in Afghanistan (Brown, 2015).

In Afghanistan, the Australian subsidiary of Hart Security secured a contract worth $103 million to safeguard the Australian embassy. Private contractors were responsible for managing teams of domestically hired armed guards who assumed the role of protecting the embassy’s perimeters; they also made up personal protection teams that transported Australian officials in armoured vehicles (Cottam et al., 2018). DFAT managed the contract and liaised with Hart on everything, ranging from meals to the maintenance of weaponry. Hart has been operational in Afghanistan since 2003 and was the first private security company to have its license renewed; the renewed contract would allow the company to continue its security and training services to diplomatic clients and enterprises in Afghanistan.

In Afghanistan, private security forces at Australian embassies were staffed by a mixture of expatriate and domestic national staff. The two security companies, i.e., Unity Resource Group and Hart international, had differing viewpoints on utilizing the nationals of a third country, Afghanistan, in this case. However, in both cases, contractors utilized weapons supplied by the government of Australia, which included critical communications equipment and protective measures for armoured vehicles. Unity Resource Group services in Afghanistan also included security provisions for the Australian embassy in Baghdad; as of 2015, it employed 160 expatriate staff who were in an armed capacity. Unity’s services extended to local intelligence services and contracts for supplying equipment to ADF in Tarin Kowt, Afghanistan; it also operated sustainment aircraft between Afghanistan and Kabul to facilitate military operations.

Recent development in the Afghan affair is the collapse of the Afghanistan government and the Taliban takeover in 2021. Military strategists that aim to comprehend the collapse of the Afghan military point to the departure of private security contractors from the region. Contractors had played a critical role in training, gear maintenance, intelligence gathering, and close air support in the American war against the Taliban. Therefore, their exit eroded the capacities of Afghan Air Force elements and facilitated the Taliban’s rise to power (Detsch, 2021).

Factors behind Australia’s use of private security contractors in Afghanistan and Iraq

The use of Australian private security contractors in regions such as Afghanistan and Iraq is influenced by various political, organizational, operations, and financial factors. Deploying security contractors in the context of diplomatic security has been a rising trend; for nearly 8 years, DFAT relied on ADF, but since 2011, a shift has been witnessed towards private security contractors. Therefore, security contracting has been a significant aspect of Australia’s diplomatic presence in Afghanistan and Iraq; this has also set DFAT back nearly AUD 50 million. However, the actual number of security contractors is not revealed.

•       Political factors

There are several political advantages to using private security contractors. Security contractors in place of ADF personnel decreased ADF casualties in conflict-torn states of Afghanistan and Iraq; simultaneously, it enabled the Federal Government to earn brownie points with the public of Australia by reducing troop commitments abroad. Moreover, globally, there is less concern over the death of contractors rather than a soldier; however, these political risks can be mitigated if DFAT substantiates confidentiality claims under the Freedom of Information Act. In this way, there would be transparency regarding the specifics of a particular security contract.

On the positive side, Australian security contractors have been viewed by diplomats in Iraq and Afghanistan as a means to assist the diplomatic process (Cottam et al., 2018). In the case of the former, DFAT saw the use of ADF personnel as an impediment to the construction of strong ties between the Australian and Iraqi governments. It is difficult to seek normalization of relations when you are continuously surrounded by uniformed troops and armoured vehicles.

•      Organizational factors

Organizational factors also play a critical role. DFAT aims to exert control over the manner in which the provision of security is executed in accordance with its own policies and procedures. Even then, utilizing ADF personnel came with conditions attacks; defence leadership had a say in the process of security provision in exchange for deployment of personnel. Resultantly, ADF personnel providing security to diplomats and key infrastructure find themselves in the same position as their American counterparts- ‘servant to two masters.”

Therefore, under these circumstances, private security contractors are viewed as means to avoid such circumstances. The aspiration to renew contracts, in addition, to constructing a satisfied consumer base in Iraq and Afghanistan, serves as a significant incentive to accede to the demands of ADAT.

•      Operational gains

 The private security industry, the governments (Australia in this case), and scholarly literature has espoused the operational advantages of private security contractors. PMCs allow the building of teams for an international of former military and law enforcement peroneal that are regarded as best suited for the task in conflictual zones. Therefore, private security contractors are viewed by DFAT as a means of gaining the necessary insight and experience of the operating environment. For example, if knowledge of a specific dialect is a prerequisite to functioning in Iraq or Afghanistan, for say, a contractor that has command over that particular skill is deployed. When the Australian diplomatic presence commenced in Afghanistan in 2006, it was comprised of very few officials functioning out of a luxury hotel that was guarded by private contractors. With the evolution of diplomatic presence, which includes the setting up of the Australian embassy in Kabul, the need for security contractors has been rising. As a consequence, ADF has been freed of lengthy security commitments, as was the case in Iraq from 2003-to 2011.

•      Financial gains

 The use of private Australian security contractors allows DFAT to keep away from financial commitments linked with building and maintenance of in-house security provisions in Iraq and Afghanistan. It also mitigates the risk of this capability being under-utilized or not being as efficient as contractors. Moreover, ingress to pool of global personnel aids DFAT and PMCs financially; downward pressure of security expenditure also facilitate hiring of former army personnel from developing world. For example, Chilean citizen have guarded Australia’s embassy in Iraq; at the same time, DFAT has faced problems with regards to keeping its cost low.

Risks associated with the services of Australian private security contractors

 Private security contractors have a long history of mission creep, meaning that contractors operating in one region have extended their reach beyond the area of their initial offering of services in order to attain more lucrative contracts. The Paladin affairs is a significant case in point here; the Paladin began to offer its services as a small-scale sub-contractor on the Manus Island, but later it expanded to win larger contracts when other security providers backed out. Similarly, in Iraq, PMCs were able to carve out and win larger contracts (Knaus, 2019). There are two lessons for Australian private security contractors that can be derived from this. First and foremost, the politically unstable region around the globe allure dodgy people. The major problem that occurs in providing services in politically sensitive areas is that PMCs with high caution standards do not offer them. Companies that offer services in such environments possess unsavory backgrounds; therefore, it is important to observe extra diligence (Global policy Forum, n.d.).

Australia has been a minor player in the provision of private security services as compared to the USA and UK and has entrusted fewer of these sensitive activities to the private sectors. Much of their services have been without controversy. If this type of activity or contract ought to be extended, regulation must be improved. Therefore, the most significant risk is that poor contracting practices result in corruption and humiliation; for instance, in Iraq, America scrambled to bride legislative and regulatory holes surrounding private security contracting (Aylward, 2019).

Furthermore, there are several legal issues associated with the use of Australian private security contractors, especially with regards to accountability of their wrongdoing under international humanitarian law, human rights law, and criminal law (Elsea et al., 2008). When security contractors function in a violent environment, they are often placed in a position where they could readily violate international law; for instance, in the worsening situation in Iraq, especially in the wake of ISIS activities, there was a probability that Unity Resource Group would be compelled to employ lethal force. This situation as occurred in the past as well; in 2007, the Unity Group’s security convoy employed force that led to the killing of two women, one of whom was a humanitarian worker, in a car that did not stop in spite of ‘hand gestures and signal fire.’ Moreover, in 2006 in Baghdad, the company killed a 72-year-old Australian-Iraqi Professor who did not stop at a check post for security guard.

Therefore, there surrounds a great deal of ambiguity over criminal prosecution for the acts of private Australian security contractors, with the issue of jurisdiction being a major impediment to accountability. Particularly, the operations of PSCs may fall under the jurisdiction of more than one country; in these cases, applicability of law becomes complex (Elsea et al., 2008). This can be deemed as one of the unspoken reasons due to which states find the option of private security lucrative; it allows them to escape the risk of military deployment. All in all, DFAT bears no responsibility for medical, evacuation, or rehabilitation support to PMCs.

Conclusion and Recommendations:

 Thus, Australian Private security contractors have been deployed in conflict and disaster zones for over two decades, forming an integral part of Australian diplomatic presence and operations abroad. PMCs have been employed to serve in high-risk environments to provide security to national facilities and diplomats, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Due to confidentiality surrounding the use of private security contracts in the context of Australia, principles for in-depth cooperation between governmental agencies, military, NGOs, civilian leadership, and PSCs have been annunciated rarely. Recommendations to direct engagement of PSCs with other actors are as followed; guidelines include guidelines for the engagement at tactical, strategic, and operational levels.

  • Generating situational awareness of and with private security contractors is crucial: it is imperative for both civilian and military actors to generate an understanding of the role of PMCs, their roles, and areas of operation.
  • Informational sharing and intelligence development: privateers providing security to officials and national facilities in conflict zones must be appraised for threat warning. Clear governmental channels and reliability grading must be established for intelligence gathering.
  • Establishment of coordination channels before a conflict deployment: There is no formal industry or body in Australia as there is in the UK, i.e., Security in Complex Environments Group. It is necessary to establish a coordination point for consulates and embassies to determine where PMCs are operational.
  • Mature and continuous diligence is imperative: Within the constraints of legal boundaries, the Australian government should verify the military backgrounds of potential employees and share contract performing assessments between different governmental departments.
  • The government of Australia can exert its influence over the private security industry: ADF is a major supplier of training and talent for PMCs; there exists an active and productive network between ADF and The provision of ADF that stipulates that military personnel must remain in the inactive reserves for a period that follows separation from the army must be extended to ex-combatants to declare employment with PMCs.
  • Confirmation of responsibilities to private security contractors in conflict areas: in this regard, different actors, including government, civilian and military, should comprehend their responsibilities. In a war zone, this would include deciding if reaction forces should be deployed to support contractors in case of attack; moreover, it involves analyzing obligations to PCSs as non-combatants under the pretext of international humanitarian law. Therefore, it is essential to clearly understand and demark responsibilities between different departments and agencies.


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Paul Johnstone
Experienced Security Advisor and Trainer/Lecturer skilled in Crisis Management, Law Enforcement, Counter Terrorism, Emergency Management, Investigations, and Physical Security. Strong military and federal law enforcement professional who graduated from University of Technology, Sydney (UTS), Australian Federal Police College and various tertiary institutions in Australia and China.