As President Donald Trump vents his frustration with the United States' "losing" strategy in Afghanistan, the "notorious mercenary" and Blackwater founder Erik Prince has seized the moment to offer his favored alternative: privatize the war.
"A private air force and a bombing app! From the people who brought you Blackwater; an even more disturbing idea."
—Cal Perry, NBC News
According to a report by Katrina Manson of the Financial Times on Monday, Prince has drafted a proposal—dated August 2017—that would hand the longest war in American history over to a private "band of experienced sergeants," who would fight alongside U.S.-trained Afghan forces.
Prince, Manson writes, "proposes a two-year plan for fewer than 5,000 global guns for hire and under 100 aircraft, bringing the total cost of the U.S. effort to turn round a failing war to less than $10 billion a year."
Prince, the brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, argues that Trump should "restructure" the war—a process he suggests would resemble "bankruptcy reorganization"—by "aligning U.S. efforts under a presidential envoy," which in a previous op-ed he called a "viceroy."
Following the publication of his most recent piece, Prince appeared on CNN and noted that Steven Bannon, "some folks" at the National Security Council, and "quite a few" members of Congress have been receptive to his plan to privatize the war. The Financial Times further noted that "Central Intelligence Agency director Mike Pompeo visited Afghanistan last week to assess U.S. strategy and in part to consider how Prince's proposal might fit into it."
Critics have warned that while Prince's plan may save money, it will potentially open the door to deadly abuses by unaccountable forces, like those seen in Iraq.
"If contractors are replacing soldiers and they are on the frontline they could kill or be killed, there could be kidnaps or insider attacks—what happens if they commit a crime or bodies have to be sent back; there would be a large number of legal complications," one official told the Financial Times.
"There's a bad record of contractors and human rights abuses."
—Ronald Neumann, former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan
Ronald Neumann, who served as the U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan from 2005 to 2007, echoed these concerns in an interview with the Navy Times.
"There's a bad record of contractors and human rights abuses," Neumann said. "There's no legal structure to govern this."
Others have offered a more scathing assessment of Prince's proposals, likening them to "literal colonialism" and arguing that the plan is primarily driven by his desire to profit from the 16-year conflict.
As Common Dreams reported last week, Trump recently fumed in a meeting with generals and high-ranking national security officials that the U.S. is not "winning" the war. He also complained that businesses are not working quickly enough to secure a share of Afghanistan's vast mineral wealth, which has been valued at around $1 trillion.
Prince appears eager to capitalize on the strategic conflict within the administration, and his recent moves indicate that he sees a significant business opportunity in Afghanistan.
Last week, the Military Times reported that Prince submitted a "business proposal" to the Afghan government, which included a plan to supplement the country's military capacities with a "private air force."
"The aircraft offered in the proposal includes fixed-wing planes, attack helicopters, and drones capable of providing close-air support to maneuvering ground forces," the Military Times reported after viewing a draft of the plan.
Prince's plan also reportedly includes the use of "an iPhone application called Safe Strike," which is presented as a "tool for air tactical controllers to safely and accurately call in precision airstrikes or indirect fire."
A private air force and bombing app! From the people who brought you Blackwater; an even more disturbing idea. https://t.co/iotWnoKiYA— Cal Perry (@CalNBC) August 3, 2017