President Considers Privatizing War in Afghanistan
August 08, 2017
Republicans are often chided for having a blanket solution to every government problem: privatize it.
But now, according to a report published by USAToday, that’s exactly what President Donald Trump is considering doing with the war in Afghanistan, which has now gone on for nearly 16 years. Erik Prince, a former Navy SEAL and founder of Blackwater USA—now known as Academi—has pitched the plan, which would turn over the U.S. military advisory and training missions of local Afghan forces to private contractors.
Under the proposal, 5,500 private contractors, primarily former Special Operations troops, would advise Afghan combat forces. The plan also includes a 90-plane private air force that would provide air support in the nearly 16-year-old war against Taliban insurgents, Erik Prince, founder of the Blackwater security firm, told USA TODAY.
The unprecedented proposal comes as the U.S.-backed Afghan military faces a stalemate in the war and growing frustration by President Trump about the lack of progress in the war.
The U.S. military has 8,400 U.S. troops there to train and guide local forces. They do not have a direct combat role, and presumably would be replaced gradually by the contractors.
The plan remains under serious consideration within the White House despite misgivings by Trump’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, an Army three-star general, and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. Other White House officials, such as chief strategist Stephen Bannon, appear open to using private contractors.
It’s unclear for whom Prince is pitching the plan. Under his leadership, Blackwater USA was heavily involved in counterinsurgency efforts in both Iraq and Afghanistan during the George W. Bush presidency. He sold his interest in the company to private investors in 2010, and it has operated under the Academi name ever since. The report implies the contractors would be supplied by Academi—although it refers to it simply as “Blackwater”—but Prince now operates a company called Frontier Services Group that provides many of the same security services Blackwater USA/Academi has provided and is providing.
According to the USAToday report, the plan would involve “embedding” the contractors with local Afghan units; currently, U.S. forces operate independently in relatively secure top-level facilities. The contractors would wear Afghan military uniforms, and operate under Afghan military orders. The report also states the plan would carry a price tag of about $10 billion a year, compared to the $40 billion the Pentagon is currently spending.
But, there would be the question of how to ensure the new plan doesn’t become another open-ended engagement, albeit at a substantially lower cost than is currently being expended.
Meanwhile, The Military Times is reporting the aviation component of the plan would actually be conducted by a company called Lancaster6, which is led by Christiaan Durrant, an ex-Australian Air Force pilot. Previously, Durrant served as operations director of Prince’s FSG. He also previously ran the “special aviation services” component of FSG known as EP Aviation, which has been operating in the conflict zone in Central Africa.
That report states Prince pitched his idea to the Afghan government first, in March:
According to a senior Afghan military official, Prince has submitted a business proposal offering a “turn-key composite air wing” to help the fledgling Afghan air force in its fight against the Taliban and other militant groups.
The development comes as the White House is considering a plan to draw down the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and replace the ensuing power vacuum with contractors.
Pentagon officials are skeptical of that plan. Moreover, a senior Afghan defense official told Military Times that U.S. Army Gen. John Nicholson, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, has refused to meet with Prince regarding the contractor plan.