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Robert Young Pelton
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Q+A: Cash of Arms 
Robert Young Pelton's inside look at outsourced war. 
Text by Cliff Ransom   Illustration by Andy Friedman

Illustration: Robert Young PeltonMercenaries, legionnaires, hessians, ronin—hired guns have gone by many names, but in today's shadowy war on terror they're better known as private security contractors (PSCs), and theirs is one of the world's most dangerous jobs. For his latest book, Licensed to Kill (Crown, $24), Robert Young Pelton entered the ranks of these high-priced commandos, tailed them on Afghan battlefields, drank with them on Baghdad rooftops, and found the new face of modern warfare.

How did you first fall in with PSCs?
In 2003 while on assignment for Adventure ["Into the Land of Bin Laden," April 2004], I managed to hole up in a dilapidated fort near the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan with a group of them. At the time, basically pre-Iraq, the world at large knew very little about these guys. I wanted to know who they were.

Where do these contractors come from?
Right now, it's like the United Nations of hired guns. I've met Chileans, South Africans, Ugandans, even Canadians. Most are ex-military but some are just small-time police officers looking for a big change. At last count there were about 70,000 contractors in Iraq. Compare that with 130,000 U.S. soldiers and you get an idea of the scale of the private-security sector.

Any harrowing moments during your research?

I spent a month with Blackwater USA, one of the largest private-security companies in Iraq, dodging snipers, car bombs, and ambushes while we shuttled passengers to the Baghdad airport.

What have you learned about the nature of modern conflicts?
The more militaries get overstretched, the more governments are going to rely on outsourced armies. War is big business. To understand the phenomenon, I was lucky enough to get in deep with a lot of these guys, which is remarkable considering I've found some terrorist organizations easier to infiltrate. This book offers a glimpse of warfare's future.         

Cover: Adventure magazine

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