- Erik Prince, founder of the controversial firm Blackwater, is trying to convince President Donald Trump to privatize America’s war in Afghanistan.
- His pitch was rejected by senior administration officials, most notably Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, last year, but he has revived his pitch and is pushing for an audience.
- Prince believes the situation in Afghanistan can be resolved with a few thousand men and around $3.5 billion.
Billionaire Blackwater founder Erik Prince has a vision for America’s war in Afghanistan, one that the former Navy SEAL and businessman claims will turn around the conflict the US has been fighting for 17 years with no end in sight.
After Blackwater, a controversial security contractor that was investigated for its activities in Iraq, ceased to exist, Prince formed a new firm that trains Chinese security forces. Now, against the advice of the Pentagon, he’s pushing to present the president with a plan to privatize the war in Afghanistan.
Between 2001 and 2017, the US spent an estimated $714 billion on a war that many observers argue America is still far from winning, Task & Purpose reported last August. Prince intends to privatize the conflict to reduce US manpower in the country and ultimately reduce spending.
Prince’s plan would see troops replaced with private military contractors who work for a special envoy that reports directly to the president.
“Right now, there are 15,000 US troops and another 30,000 contractors. All I need is … my plan would say 2,000 special forces remain and about 6,000 contractors. That is by any stretch a severe reduction in manpower and spending,” Prince told MSNBC host Andrea Mitchell Friday, adding later that his whole plan would only cost around $3.5 billion, much less than the tens of billions of dollars the US spent in Afghanistan last year.
While highly critical of the Afghan war, which was become a multi-generational conflict, Prince insisted that the US needed to return to the immediate post-9/11 strategy. “What worked after 9/11 were a few CIA officers, a few special forces, some air support, and they decimated the Taliban in a matter of weeks,” he explained, condemning follow-on US strategy as being too conventional and reminiscent of the failed Soviet strategy.
“We have been losing ever since,” Prince said, stressing the need for a small, unconventional operation. Calling attention to the Taliban’s routing of Afghan forces in multiple locations across the country this past week, he asserted the US needs a new tactic to stand up the Afghan armed forces.
The plan is a tough sell, one that if accepted would require President Donald Trump to overrule Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis. “If we leave decisions on warfare solely to the Pentagon, we will be at war forever,” Prince said Friday. He revealed to NBC that he has yet to present his plan to the president.
Prince previously pitched his idea for the privatization of the Afghan war last August. Mattis “listened politely,” but ultimately rejected his proposal. He is now, according to NBC, planning an aggressive media campaign to get his message to the president, who he says is frustrated by the war.
“I know he’s frustrated,” he told reporters, referring to the president, “He gave the Pentagon what they wanted … and they haven’t delivered.” He suggested that the Pentagon’s efforts to highlight possible peace talks with the Pentagon are attempts to ease the president’s concerns.
Prince first revived his proposal to privatize the Afghan war in a YouTube video published online in July.
“No such proposal from Erik Prince is under consideration,” a National Security Council spokesman told NBC Friday, adding, “The president, like most Americans, would like to see more progress in Afghanistan. However, he also recognizes that withdrawing precipitously from Afghanistan would lead to the re-emergence of terrorist safe havens, putting American national security and lives in danger.”
Prince previously told Britain’s The Independent that Mattis “agreed with his analysis of the problems in Afghanistan but disagreed with his solution.” Both Mattis and Secretary of State Pompeo argue that progress is being made in Afghanistan.
“This is something out of Soldier of Fortune [magazine]. Something like this will raise all kinds of practical and logistical problems, as well as huge legal, moral and ethical ones,” a Department of Defense official told The Independent in July. “The military is not going to back this kind of freewheeling.”
Prince is reportedly interested in trying his proposal out on some of Trump’s new staff picks, specifically White House National Security Advisor John Bolton. It is unclear whether Prince’s pitch has made it to the president, but there are apparently concerns among some administration officials that Trump may choose to act on the proposal.
Noting that the president is “committed to finding a political solution to end the conflict in Afghanistan,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Wednesday, “As always, we’re going to continue to review and look at the best ways to move forward.”