Blackwater founder has controversial plan to end America’s longest war

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 August, 2017, 6:00pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 August, 2017, 8:34pm

Nearly 16 years after United States forces entered ­Afghanistan, a shadowy figure from the past is making the rounds in Washington with a plan to end America’s longest war.

Erik Prince, founder of the private security company Blackwater, has resurfaced as President Donald Trump mulls over what to do about a conflict that bedevilled his two predecessors in the White House.

Prince’s plan for Afghanistan would start with the naming of an all-powerful American “viceroy” who would report to the president and play a role like that of General Douglas MacArthur in post-second world war Japan.

American troops, aside from a handful of special forces, would be replaced by a private army of around 5,500 contractors who would train Afghan soldiers and join them in the fight against the Taliban. They would be backed by a 90-aircraft private air force. And all at a cost of less than US$10 billion a year, as opposed to the US$45 billion the United States is expected to spend in 2017 on its military presence in Afghanistan.

Prince, a 48-year-old former US Navy SEAL, has kept a low profile since selling Blackwater in 2010 – three years after some of his employees hired to protect US diplomats killed 14 unarmed Iraqi civilians in Baghdad and wounded another 17.

He first outlined his Afghan proposal in an article for The Wall Street Journal in May. Since then, Prince, who currently heads Frontier Services Group, a Hong Kong-based security company, has met US officials in Washington and made television appearances promoting his plan.

Prince, whose sister Betsy DeVos is Trump’s education secretary, says he has received a sympathetic hearing from the president’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, and some members of Congress but a chilly reception from the Pentagon.

After taking office in January, Trump ordered a strategic review of the situation in Afghanistan, where some 8,400 US soldiers and 5,000 Nato troops are assisting the Afghan security forces in battling an emboldened Taliban.

Blackwater case provides crucial lessons on keeping private security firms in check

Trump said on Thursday that he was “very close” to revealing his decision on how to proceed in the war-torn nation, where 2,000 US troops have died since Americans first deployed there in the weeks after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks.

“We’re getting very close. It’s a very big decision for me. I took over a mess, and we’re going to make it a lot less messy,” said Trump, whose frustration with the stalemate in Afghanistan reportedly led him last month to suggest firing the US commander there, General John Nicholson.

Trump has given Defence Secretary Jim Mattis authority to set troop levels in Afghanistan and the retired general is said to be leaning towards boosting US forces there by about 4,000 troops.

Prince has acknowledged that National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, like Mattis, a former general, was not keen on the proposal.

Blackwater founder Erik Prince to help Chinese firms set up shop in Africa

“I would say General McMaster does not like this idea because he is a three-star conventional army general and he is wedded to the idea that the US Army is going to solve this,” Prince told CNN. “But I think to the president he’s got to say, ‘after 16 years when do we to try something different?’”

Sean McFate, a former military contractor in Africa and author of a book about the private security industry, The Modern Mercenary, said he considers Prince’s proposal to be “supremely dangerous and foolish”. He said private contractors in Afghanistan would inevitably be involved in a horrific event like the September 2007 killing of Iraqi civilians by the Blackwater contractors in Baghdad.

“The first time there’s a massacre we’re going to have to go in there with the Marine Corps and rescue them,” McFate said. “It’s like having cheap contractors fix your house. At the end of the day it takes twice as long and is four times as expensive.”