Afghan officials and lawmakers have warned of catastrophic consequences if Washington agrees to privatize its war effort in Afghanistan by contracting security operations to private firms.
Senior Afghan leaders have criticized a proposed plan by the founder of Blackwater that would see U.S. troops replaced by private contractors working under an envoy directly reporting to the U.S. president.
Blackwater became one of the largest U.S. military contractors by deploying thousands of former soldiers to Iran and Afghanistan in the years following the attacks of 9/11. Some of its operatives were accused of committing grave rights abuses.
“No foreign mercenary can do the work that sons of this soil can do; therefore, we will never allow foreign mercenaries to operate on our soil,” Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said on October 1.
U.S. media reports say Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater, is still lobbying to privatize the war in Afghanistan a year after his plan was dumped in favor of President Donald Trump’s current strategy, which emphasized increasing support for Afghan forces and an eventual negotiated settlement between the Taliban and the Afghan government.
“I try to address three fundamental problem areas. One is a lack of continuity, two is a lack of air power, and three is governance support,” Prince told Afghanistan’s Tolo News TV recently. “I would use contracted veteran mentors from the U.S. and NATO, the same countries that are here.”
In a New York Times oped last year outlining his rationale, Prince offered a new approach to ending the longest war in American history.
“My proposal is for a sustainable footprint of 2,000 American Special Operations and support personnel, as well as a contractor force of less than 6,000 (far less than the 26,000 in country now),” he wrote. “This team would provide a support structure for the Afghans, allowing the United States’ conventional forces to return home.”
Prince, now the executive director at the Frontier Services Group, says his troops would operate under Afghan law and international conventions.
But his proposal was met with strong disapproval in Afghanistan and was opposed by Western pundits and officials. In Kabul, the opposition is still strong.
“[Implementing this plan] will prove catastrophic for the Afghan people. This new painful debate [about privatizing the war in Afghanistan] is not acceptable to us,” Fazilhadi Muslimyar, chairman of Meshrano Jirga, the upper house of the Afghan Parliament, told lawmakers on September 10.
Muslimyar says international troops currently operate in Afghanistan because of bilateral and international agreements. “We have concluded agreements with the United States and NATO, not their private companies,” he noted. “Privatizing the war will not benefit Afghanistan, the U.S., or this region.”
Ghafoor Javed, a spokesman for the Afghan Defense Ministry, says the new approach is unacceptable.
“Privatizing the war in Afghanistan is against the interests of the Afghan people and their government. It is also a violation of our laws,” he told Radio Free Afghanistan. “This is why our people will not accept privatizing the war in Afghanistan.”
In Kabul, military expert Aziz Ahmad Wardak says Blackwater’s previous role in the Afghan and Iraqi wars, where it was accused of abuses, overshadows Prince’s proposal.
“They [private security contractors] were here before and had little to show as their achievement,” he noted. “They didn’t follow any laws.”