Blackwater founder: It's time to replace U.S. troops with military contractors in Afghanistan

I’m curious to see a poll on this. Under normal circumstances I’d bet public opinion would run heavily opposed to replacing American soldiers with guns for hire. After 16 years in Afghanistan, though, with no end in sight and the vast majority of voters long since having lost the plot, we’re probably at the “we’ll try anything” stage. Democrats will oppose it just because Trump is considering it, but Republicans and indies? Like I say, I want to see that poll. If we’re going to lose Afghanistan to the Taliban, why not lose more cheaply?

Blackwater’s founder, by the way, is Erik Prince, a.k.a. Betsy DeVos’s brother, a.k.a. the man allegedly tapped by the Trump campaign to open a back channel to Russia before Trump was sworn in.

Under the proposal, 5,500 private contractors, primarily former Special Operations troops, would advise Afghan combat forces. The plan also includes a 90-plane private air force that would provide air support in the nearly 16-year-old war against Taliban insurgents, Erik Prince, founder of the Blackwater security firm, told USA TODAY…

Under his proposal, private advisers would work directly with Afghanistan combat battalions throughout the country, and the air force would be used for medical evacuation, fire support and ferrying troops.

Prince said the contractors would be “adjuncts” of the Afghan military and would wear that nation’s military uniforms. Pilots would only drop ordnance with Afghan government approval, he said.

Prince says he can field that 5,500-man force and air cover for $10 billion a year. The Pentagon has budgeted $40 billion for Afghanistan. Some U.S. troops would remain in the country for counterterrorism operations but Prince’s force would embed with the Afghan military as advisors for day-to-day counterinsurgency operations. (Because they’d technically be part of the native army, Prince insists they wouldn’t qualify as “mercenaries” under international law.) And what happens if his private force shoots a bunch of civilians or commits other crimes? Well, that’s not entirely clear:

“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,” said a person who has seen the plan and says his 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.”

Prince should package this with some sort of exclusive option for the Trump Organization to exploit mineral rights in territory controlled by the Blackwater army. That’s the art of the deal, baby. The weirdest thing about it is that few presidents have surrounded themselves with as many high-ranking military officers as Trump has. His defense secretary is a former general, as is his chief of staff; his first NSA was a retired general while his second is active-duty. The idea of replacing the U.S. military with hired guns must sit poorly with Mattis and McMaster, not just as a matter of pride but because of the precedent it would set for outsourcing U.S. national security obligations to private contractors. Prince notes in the clip that McMaster is opposed to his idea but that his nemesis, Steve Bannon, is supportive. The question is, if Trump opted for Prince’s plan, would McMaster and/or Mattis object so vehemently that they’d resign over it? It would be beyond bizarre to see Trump’s array of three- and four-star generals preside over a handover of Afghanistan from the United States to a private firm.

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