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article imageOp-Ed: Eric Prince presents plan to privatize much of Afghan war

By Ken Hanly     Aug 9, 2017 in Politics
Washington - The Trump administration is considering a plan to turn over much of the Afghan US war effort to private contractors supposedly as a means of breaking the stalemate in the war against the Taliban.
The plan is being pushed by Erik Prince the founder of the firm Blackwater that was active during the Iraq war earlier and also in Afghanistan. Prince sold the company in 2010. The Prince proposal would see 5,500 private contractors used to advise Afghan combat forces. Many of those hired would be former US Special Operations troops. The plan also includes a 90-plane private air force that would provide air support for Afghan forces. President Trump has grown more and more frustrated with the lack of progress in defeating the Taliban insurgency.
The US already has 8,400 troops in Afghanistan. They are supposed not to have any combat role but are present to train, advise, and guide local forces. Presumably, under Prince's plan these troops would gradually be replaced by those hired by Prince. Prince was a former Navy Seal. He is now chair of the Frontier Services Group a logistics company that focuses on Africa and South Asia. There are rumours that his hired pilots are flying planes in Libya. He is also under investigation for money laundering as discussed on the appended video. However, he appears to have close ties to the Trump administration and is rumoured even to be acting as an advisor. His sister Betsy De Vos is Trump's Minister of Education.
There are already many more private contractors in Afghanistan than US troops: "The latest figures available, for the first few months of 2016, show nearly 29,000 defense contractors still in Afghanistan, with fewer than 9,000 U.S. troops stationed there. About two-thirds of the contractors were foreign nationals, but only about 10 percent were providing security services. " Some White House officials such as Stephen Bannon favor using more private contractors but H.R. McMaster, Trump's national security adviser and also his defense secretary Jim Mattis have misgivings about the project. The White House would not comment on Prince's plan.
Prince is selling his plan as a huge cost saver at less than $10 billion a year compared to more than $40 billion the Pentagon is budgeting for the war in Afghanistan. Prince's plan would see his personnel work directly with Afghan combat battalions as advisers, while his air force would be used for medical evacuation, fire support, and moving troops. His employees would be "adjuncts" of the Afghan military. One wonders if Prince has contacted the Afghan government to see what they think of that status for foreigners.
Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State, admitted that the White House is looking for a new strategy to end the Afghan war. He said recently in Manila: “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.” The war is now in its sixteenth year with no end in sight and the Taliban gaining ground. Prince rejects criticism that he and others would profit from his plan, pointing out that there would be a huge saving to US taxpayers and that innovation and risk such as his plan involves is part of the American way. It is not clear however, how the plan could end the stalemate and turn the tide against the Taliban. When the US had many more troops who played a combat role they still were unable to defeat the Taliban. Why would one expect Prince's hired hands to turn the tide? The debate over Prince's plan is also happening on Twitter. One tweet says: "Bannon is leading PR campaign to fire McMaster because donor Devos bro Eric Prince want war in Afghanistan fought by his private company". Bannon is a main advisor to Trump.
A US appeals court has just recently thrown out the first-degree murder charge against a Blackwater Security guard who was sentenced to life. The verdict resulted from the 2007 massacre of 14 unarmed Iraqis at a Baghdad traffic circle. The appeals court also ordered re-sentencing for three other guards convicted in the incident. 17 people were also wounded in the incident. The employees were immune from the application of Iraqi law to their cases. The original sentences at least showed that the US was willing to punish its own citizens for their actions in Iraq but with the decision of the appeals court there will be even more resentment in Iraq against Americans.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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