In a bizarre turn of events, the latest strategy for Afghanistan being shopped around entails pulling out American troops and handing over Afghanistan to a mercenary army. Erik D Prince, the founder of the infamous private security firm Blackwater, and Stephen Feinberg, the owner of the military contractor DynCorp, have come up with proposals to use a mercenary army instead of American troops in Afghanistan. These ideas are supported by Donald Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, and Jared Kushner, the president’s senior adviser and son-in-law.
For-profit military service, contractors have plenty to gain by this move. Between 2002 and 2013, DynCorp received $2.8 billion from the US State Department to set up the Afghan National Police. Prince laid out his plan in an article for The Wall Street Journal, a private fighting force led by an American viceroy who would report directly to Trump. The viceroy would have the power to do whatever it takes to pacify Afghanistan, an approach fashioned after General Douglas MacArthur’s rule of Japan after WWII. Prince also referred to the East India Company (EIC) in the article, a private British company that became a colonial power and plundered India for centuries. The company was similarly led by a viceroy who had supreme power and a private army to rule with force. Perhaps, Prince envisions himself as the viceroy, hence, profiteer of a giant mercenary army in Afghanistan.
However, Prince fails to mention that the British EIC was brutal in its quest for profits and exploitation of India. Eventually, the British government had to seize control of the company after the Indian rebellion of 1857. Also, the MacArthur plan might have worked well for a country that had surrendered, but it certainly isn’t the solution for a region that has proven unruly since Alexander the Great passed through in 330 BC.
Prince’s vision of creating a giant mercenary army in Afghanistan puts his prior work with Blackwater to shame, even though his company earned $1 billion in contracts during the Iraq war. In an interview on the Fox News with Tucker Carlson he stated, “We’ve fought for the last 15 years with the 1st Infantry Division model, we should fight with an East India Company model, and do it much cheaper.” He added that “if you look back in history, the way the English operated India for 250 years, they had an army that was largely run by companies — and no English soldiers. So cheap, very low cost.”
Also, what’s troubling is that we’ve seen the Blackwater mercenary army at work in Iraq and Afghanistan, as they stumbled from one bloody blunder to another. Noticeably, the Baghdad shootings in 2007, a group of Blackwater employees were convicted of killing 17 Iraqi civilians. Eventually the company became so toxic that its name was changed to Xe Services in 2009 and then finally to Academi in 2011 when it was sold to private investors. After casting off Blackwater, Prince created an army for hire in the UAE. More recently, he has developed close ties to the president. His sister, Betsy DeVos is currently Trump’s education secretary.
Trump recently authorised 4,000 additional American troops in Afghanistan but his administration continues to struggle with an effective plan to tackle the situation in the war-torn country. Ideally, this administration would like to wash its hands off Afghanistan instead of getting bogged down by the conflict like the previous administrations of George W Bush and Barack Obama. Bannon, however, has been unable to persuade the US Defence Secretary General James Mattis of his plan. Mattis is leading a review of the Afghanistan policy along with the national security advisor, General H R McMaster. The stubbornness of Mattis and McMaster is hopefully strong enough to fend off this greed fuelled proposal. Turning over the reins to a private company and pulling out their forces is not the way that either of them would willingly end their careers.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 22nd, 2017.
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