The founder of the Blackwater private security firm and brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is pitching a risky plan to “privatize” the war in Afghanistan, and officials are increasingly worried that POTUS Donald Trump will embrace the plan.
After 17-odd years, and following surges and withdrawals — and surges and withdrawals — of U.S. troops through the years, Blackwater founder Erik Prince says the president is “frustrated” by the lack of progress to date, even as he’s given the Pentagon what it has requested to ‘win’ the war there.
As such, he has been shopping a new operation to use some 5,500 contractors who would replace U.S. troops and embed within Afghan security and military forces in their ongoing battle to stabilize the failed state.
NBC News reports, citing the original story in the Atlantic:
President Donald Trump is increasingly venting frustration to his national security team about the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan and showing renewed interest in a proposal by Blackwater founder Erik Prince to privatize the war, current and former senior administration officials said.
Prince’s idea, which first surfaced last year during the president’s Afghanistan strategy review, envisions replacing troops with private military contractors who would work for a special U.S. envoy for the war who would report directly to the president.
It has raised ethical and security concerns among senior military officials, key lawmakers and members of Trump’s national security team. A year after Trump’s strategy announcement, his advisers are worried his impatience with the Afghanistan conflict will cause him to seriously consider proposals like Prince’s or abruptly order a complete U.S. withdrawal, officials said.
Prince’s plan calls for a “viceroy” to lead the privatize contractor force who would then answer to the president.
In an interview with NBC News, Prince noted that he believes those Trump advisers opposed to his plan are painting “as rosy a picture as they can” of the situation in Afghanistan, including that “peace is around the corner” thanks to recent U.S. efforts for talks with the Taliban.
He also said he thinks Trump’s advisers “over-emphasize the fluff and flare of these so-called peace talks.”
“I know he’s frustrated,” Prince said of the president. “He gave the Pentagon what they wanted. …And they haven’t delivered.”
NBC News reported that a spokesperson for the National Security Council said the president remains committed to the Afghan strategy he signed off on about four months ago.
Analysis: While Prince’s plan isn’t going to win much support, there is another option that has been proposed by others: The creation of an American Foreign Legion. Unconventional force structure using conventional and asymmetric military tactics outside of the ‘traditional’ military branches but still under the command and control of the sponsoring nation, much like France’s foreign legion.
In May 2016, former 82nd Airborne Division soldier and military contractor Sean McFate, writing in the Washington Post, voiced his disapproval of contractor/mercenary models and support for an American Foreign Legion built on the French model.
He wrote: “An American Foreign Legion would solve many problems that have plagued us in the past decade of war. First, it would provide a publicly acceptable, truly volunteer force for long-term operations in the Middle East. Second, training and vetting standards could be maintained in a transparent manner, unlike with today’s contractors. Third, legionnaires could be held accountable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Today, when contractors do something wrong, such as commit murder, they typically get sent home with minimal punishment. As Prince put it, they get a choice: “window or aisle.” Fourth, it solves the loyalty problem.
“The American Foreign Legion would be a path to citizenship in exchange for service to our cause. This is not a radical idea; we do this to a limited extent in our military. Fifth, a long-term Foreign Legion would be cheaper than contracting. In fiscal 2014, the Pentagon spent $131 billion on contractors — more than twice Britain’s entire defense budget. Lastly, it would help stem the growth of the mercenary industry worldwide. The United States is the biggest consumer of private military services, but we have limited control. When we no longer wish to pay military contractors, they will find someone who will.”
However, after creating a new Space Force, which still isn’t funded, it’s unlikely that the president’s national security team would favor the creation of yet another new military force. So this means that Prince’s plan could get some consideration from the Oval Office, if for no other reason than he’s right about one thing: What we’ve been doing now for nearly two decades isn’t working.