Sun, Aug 13, 2017 - Page 5 News List

Blackwater founder promotes new plan for Afghanistan

SYMPATHETIC EAR:The proposal to privatize the US’ engagement in Afghanistan has been met with skepticism by the Pentagon, but might strike a chord with the Trump White House

AFP, WASHINGTON

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

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

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

US troops, aside from a handful of special forces, would be replaced by a private army of about 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 of this would cost less than US$10 billion a year, as opposed to the US$45 billion the US is expected to spend this year 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 with US officials and made television appearances promoting his plan.

Prince, whose sister is US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, says he has received a sympathetic hearing from White House 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 about 8,400 US soldiers and 5,000 NATO troops are assisting the Afghan security forces in battling an emboldened Taliban.

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 the US first deployed there in the weeks after the Sept. 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,” Trump said, 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 US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis authority to set troop levels in Afghanistan and the retired general is said to be leaning toward boosting US forces there by about 4,000 troops.

Prince, in an interview with CNN, said he has not met with Trump to discuss his plan and acknowledged that Trump's national security adviser, Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster was not keen on the proposal.

“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 said.

“But I think to the president he’s got to say, ‘after 16 years when do we to try something different?’” Prince added.

Retired generals McMaster and Mattis are not the only skeptics when it comes to Prince’s plan.

“It’s something that would come from a bad soldier of fortune novel,” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham told the Washington Post. “I trust our generals. I don’t trust contractors to make our national security policy decisions.”

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