Trump White House Weighs Unprecedented Plan to Privatize Much of the War in Afghanistan
August 11, 2017
Jim Michaels / USA TODAY & Justin Raimondo / AntiWar.com
Team Trump hopes to privatize healthcare, schools, public utilities, and air traffic control -- so why not war? The plan includes 5,500 private contractors and a 90-plane private air force to provide air support in the nearly 16-year-old war in Afghanistan. One of the biggest winners in this war-profiteering plan is Erik Prince, founder of the controversial Blackwater security firm and the brother of Trump's Education Secretary, Betsy Devos.
Trump White House Weighs Unprecedented Plan
To Privatize Much of the War in Afghanistan
Jim Michaels / USA TODAY
WASHINGTON, DC (August 8, 2017) -- The White House is actively considering a bold plan to turn over a big chunk of the US war in Afghanistan to private contractors in an effort to turn the tide in a stalemated war, according to the former head of a security firm pushing the project.
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 US-backed Afghan military faces a stalemate in the war and growing frustration by President Trump about the lack of progress in the war.
The US military has 8,400 US 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.
"At what point do you say a conventional military approach in Afghanistan is not working," said Prince, a former Navy SEAL. "Maybe we say that at 16 years."
Blackwater, founded 1997, worked extensively in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Prince sold the company in 2010.
The White House did not respond to requests for comment.
Prince said the plan will cost less than $10 billion a year, significantly lower than the more than $40 billion the Pentagon has budgeted this year. The prospect of accomplishing more with less money could appeal to a career businessman like Trump.
Prince, who has met frequently with administration officials to discuss his plan, is the brother of Trump's education secretary, Betsy Devos.
Under his proposal, private advisers would work directly with Afghanistan combat battalions throughout the country, and the air force would be used for medical evacuation, fire support and ferrying troops.
Prince said the contractors would be "adjuncts" of the Afghan military and would wear that nation's military uniforms. Pilots would only drop ordnance with Afghan government approval, he said.
Currently, troops from a US-led coalition are stationed primarily at top level headquarters and are not embedded with conventional combat units in the field. Under the plan the contractors would be embedded with Afghanistan's more than 90 combat battalions throughout the country.
The coalition sharply curtailed air support it provides Afghanistan forces by 2014, when government forces took over most war-fighting responsibilities, leaving major gaps in the Afghan military's ability to provide air support.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson acknowledged this week that the White House is looking for a new strategy to bring America's longest war to an end.
"To just say we're going to keep doing what we've been doing, the president is not willing to accept that, and so he is asking some tough questions," Tillerson said Monday in Manila during an Asia trip.
US troops invaded Afghanistan in October 2001 to oust a government run by Taliban extremists who provided safe haven to al-Qaeda terrorists responsible for the 9/11 attacks.
The top US commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Nicholson, has recommended that several thousand more troops be deployed to Afghanistan, primarily to bolster the advisory mission and help turn the tide against the Taliban.
Mattis has indicated he doesn't want to make a decision on troop levels until an overall strategy has been approved. But the way forward is still under debate at the White House.
"The president doesn't own the Afghan effort yet," Prince said of a war that frustrated Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. "He's about to (with) whatever decision he makes next."
Prince rejects criticism that he and others would profit from it. He said it would represent a cost savings for American taxpayers. "The idea of innovation and risk taking is certainly part of America," he said.
Blackwater has attracted controversy under Prince's leadership. In 2007, four Blackwater security personnel were accused of killing 14 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad. Last week an appeals court overturned a murder conviction for one of the guards and ordered the other three to be re-sentenced.
Blackwater was renamed Xe Services two years after the incident that sparked international outrage. The privately owned company is now Academi.
Tens of thousands of contractors were used in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Blackwater was hired to protect American diplomats in Iraq, while other contractors were used in support functions, such as providing food and supplies to US troops. The US military rarely deploys anywhere now without a contingent of contractors.
A close parallel to Prince's proposal in US history may be the Flying Tigers, a group formed before the United States entered World War II. The Flying Tigers were formed covertly from the ranks of US military pilots, who resigned from the service and were hired by a private contractor and sent to China to defend against Japanese aggression
Privatize the Afghan War?
An Incredibly Stupid Idea
Justin Raimondo / AntiWar.com
(August 8, 2017) -- After sixteen years of fighting what is by now the longest war in our history, American policymakers are out of ideas when it comes to Afghanistan. The Bush administration was all about nation-building: if only we built schools so that Afghan women could be educated and "liberated," a grateful people would abandon terrorism and the war would be won.
The Obama administration -- which came to power on the strength of candidate Obama's contention that the Iraq war was "the wrong war," and that we had neglected the Afghan front -- instituted a "surge" of some 40,000 more US troops, and then declared victory in 2014.
Now the Trump administration is confronted with the reality of the Taliban in charge of nearly half the country, and the dysfunctional Afghan government barely able to hold Kabul, the capital.
What to do?
Steve Bannon, President Donald Trump's top political advisor and the architect of his 2016 election victory, has been pushing for the "zero option" -- the complete withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan.
Bannon and his fellow nationalists want out for political and ideological reasons: they want to concentrate on the President's domestic agenda, and oppose on principle the whole nation-building scheme that has been in place since the Obama years.
This is what the Trump base wants, as well, but it looks like the nationalists have lost that debate, with the President taking the "zero option" off the table.
The generals, led by National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster, want to launch yet another "surge," with at least 3,000 more US troops to be sent into the Afghan quagmire, and more taxpayer dollars pumped into the corrupt and incompetent Afghan governmental apparatus.
Trump has reportedly rejected this option as well, and ordered his advisors to come up with a new plan. Meanwhile the Taliban continues to make gains on the battlefield, we continue to suffer casualties, and there is no new policy in place.
Into this policy vacuum comes Erik Prince, notorious founder of Blackwater, the world's leading mercenary outfit: a company with a dubious history, and a CEO with a reputation to match. Reportedly the Bannon group, frustrated in their desire to get Trump to withdraw, is pushing a plan to "privatize" the Afghan war, and Prince is out there trying to drum up support for the idea. Here is Prince in an interview with Breitbart outlining his proposal.
Listening to Prince make his pitch, it becomes immediately clear that his scheme is not an alternative to a "surge" but rather an adjunct to it: he wants to let the generals have their way for six months or so, and then his company would be brought it to consolidate and maintain the gains made.
At that point, a "Viceroy" would be brought in who would have complete control of US policy in Afghanistan, presumably one of Prince's employees if not Prince himself. The rules of engagement would be dispensed with, and any level of brutality would be allowed.
Since the Afghan government is broke, and is entirely dependent on US aid, one has to assume that the American taxpayers would be paying for Prince's "services" -- oh, but Prince has a handy-dandy solution for this problem, which is to allow him to exploit Afghanistan's supposedly fabulous mineral resources. Having pocketed this loot, Prince & Co. would be properly compensated for subjugating the Afghan people
Prince explicitly raises the example of the British East India Company, a mercantilist construct that deployed private armies in order to conquer the Indian subcontinent, as an example of a success story. Yet the East India Company was not a success: established in 1600 with a grant of monopoly on all trade with Asia, by 1772 it was begging the British government for a bailout.
Asked what "victory" in Afghanistan would look like, Prince is vague: the Afghan government would be relatively "stable," and the "export of terrorism" from Afghan territory would cease. How and why Prince's privateers would be any more successful in bringing this about than the US military has been over the course of the last sixteen years is not clear.
What is clear, however, is that a mercenary army would have little incentive to declare -- or actually achieve -- victory, since that would mean its services were no longer required. Indeed, it would have a strong financial incentive to prolong the conflict -- and gin up new ones.
This is what happened with the British East India Company, which had a powerful lobby in the Parliament. While the East India lobby was focused on maintaining its monopoly privileges, and lobbying for "free trade," Prince's Mercenary Lobby would be pushing for more wars -- and for subsidies from the taxpayers.
This kind of "privatization" means private profits for the politically connected and socialized costs imposed on the rest of us. The Prince scheme is crony capitalism at its very worst, imported into the foreign policy realm.
It is, in short, a rip-off, just the sort of Washington insider deal that Trump vowed to rid us of when he declared war on what he calls "the swamp." It doesn't get much swampier than Erik Prince.
There is no alternative to withdrawing from Afghanistan other than doing what we've been doing for the past decade and a half. The Trump team criticizes the Obama administration for announcing our withdrawal date in advance, but was such an announcement really necessary?
Short of annexing the country and making Afghanistan a US possession, like Puerto Rico or some Pacific atoll, the Taliban didn't need to be told that the Americans would eventually be leaving.
It's only a matter of time. Better now than later: better we don't lose a single additional soldier in that godforsaken wasteland. It's long past time to withdraw.
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