The cost and duration of the US war in Afghanistan has renewed President Trump’s interest in a proposal by Blackwater founder Erik Prince to hand over the mission to private security companies.
“I know he’s frustrated,” Prince told the NBC news network, “He gave the Pentagon what they wanted … and they did not deliver [the expected result].”
According to a top government official, Trump’s renewed interest in Prince’s plan was fueled by a YouTube video in which Erik suggests the move would save money and US resources.
Prince, a former US Navy SEAL, founded the private security company Blackwater (now Academi) in 1997 and obtained major security contracts after the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. In 2007, Blackwater received world attention when a group of its employees was convicted of killing 14 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad. The following year, Prince announced organizational changes after severe criticism of its role in the war with the creation of a “private army.”
The businessman was never an advisor or part of Trump’s team, but his $250,000 donation to the Republican candidate during the 2016 election campaign earned him access to many members of Trump’s national security team. He is also the brother of Trump’s education secretary, Betsy Devos.
Prince has been trying to sell his idea about the privatization of the Afghan War since August when he proposed in an article in the New York Times that troops be replaced by private military personnel overseen by a special US envoy reporting directly to the president.
At that time, the main proponents of Prince’s plan included former strategist Steve Bannon and Trump’s son-in-law and counselor, Jared Kushner, according to The Independent newspaper. However, Lt. Gen. HR McMaster, then the White House national security adviser, rejected the idea and was backed by former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis.
Prince believes that Trump’s new advisor John Bolton and current Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will be more receptive to the proposal than his predecessors. However, a senior State Department official confided to NBC that Pompeo “hated the idea’, saying there was “no chance” of it being adopted.
Commenting on the news, a National Security Council spokesman said Trump is committed to the current strategy he signed after months of deliberations. “No proposal from Erik Prince is being considered,” The Hill said on Friday.
“It’s a ridiculous idea,” a former government official told NBC. “It would only make things worse, prolong the war and cause more deaths.”
The Afghan government also seems to reject the proposal. Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai has taken steps during his tenure to restrict the use of security companies, and if Prince’s plan is adopted, such policies would have to be undone, something unlikely under Ashraf Ghani’s rule.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Wednesday the president was “committed to finding a political solution to ending the conflict in Afghanistan.”
“As always, we will continue to analyze and analyze the best ways forward,” said Sanders, without explicitly denying whether or not Prince’s proposal will be considered.