Contracting seasoned operators for war is not a new idea for the former CEO of Blackwater Erik Prince.
New documents obtained by the Financial Times reveal Prince wants to do it again — this time in Afghanistan with his firm Academi — the third iteration of Blackwater.
Prince, who the Financial Times says was once a golden boy for the Department of Defense, and his former company Blackwater became steeped in controversy for killing 14 unarmed Iraqi civilians by the company’s operatives at a Baghdad traffic circle in 2007.
The 48 year old and former Navy Seal has discussed his ideas with White House officials on several occasions and proposes putting Afghanistan “through a bankruptcy” and appointing a trustee akin to a viceroy from the days of the British empire.
Prince also claims he can turn the country around for billions less than what it costs the government arguing 5,000 global guns for hire and less than 100 aircraft, will bring the total cost of the U.S. effort to turn round a failing war to less than $10bn a year.
“We’re spending too much in Afghanistan, and it’s making the insurgency worse, through corruption and leakage to the Taliban,” the self-proclaimed disruptor tells the Financial Times. On current spending, Prince says, the Afghan campaign would cost the US $45bn this year and $50bn next.
“I then heard about a big troop surge (proposal), and I thought that was a dumb idea — I’m going to contract everything; I’m going to get down to some spending sanity.”
Prince’s schematic is not designed to replace operators with contractors, rather to augment the U.S.-led NATO advisory mission to the 350,000-strong Afghan national security forces, he tells the Financial Times.
He’s also addressing rotation times and experience levels for those he plans to place theater.
Arguing U.S. soldiers sent into Afghanistan are regularly young, inexperienced and serve only a single short tour, Prince tells the Financial Times his band of experienced sergeants would serve alongside Afghan soldiers on the front line for the long haul, embedding into more than 91 battalions.
Prince also contends manpower will would rotate in for 90 days at a time, returning to the same battalions after 60 days’ leave. He also says manpower would be drawn not solely from the U.S. but also from the UK, Germany, France, Sweden, South Africa and Australia at a rate of $500-$600 a day.
Although the president is looking for more efficient and economical solutions to America’s longest running conflict, the Financial Times reports Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis is unlikely to support a contracted military.
“He’s done his homework but there are a lot of loopholes — he’s looking at this totally from a business perspective and nobody should be looking at a war that way,” a person who has seen the plan and tells the Financial Times Prince’s numbers are highly exaggerated.
“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.”
Naysayers believe a contracted military is a juice that’s just not worth the squeeze.
While Afghan officials appreciate the prospect of a boost to their air power, the Financial Times reports the prospect of a hired army would play into the hands of Taliban recruiters who would frame the war as one against mercenary invaders.
Prince says his men would be embedded with Afghan counterparts, and planes emblazoned with Afghan insignia, so would not be “mercenaries” according to the UN definition but rather part of the Afghan army.
The Afghani government, while waiting for Washington’s decision on a course ahead, says America’s policy pause is stalling the opposition’s defeat and is hampering efforts to bring peace to the country.
“Any lack of clarity about the level of commitment of Afghanistan’s partners tends to embolden our common enemies and delays their defeat,” said Afghan ambassador Hamdullah Mohib, according to the Financial Times.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters Monday the National Security Council had met three times without deciding which course to take.
“The president is asking, I think, some very, very pointed questions, and they are good questions,” he said. He added that the NSC would “take the time to do — a fully integrated analysis from the Intel community to the military planners to the diplomatic channels as to how does this all play out and where does this go.”
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