According to recent reports in the mainstream western media, the US president Donald Trump is considering to ‘privatize’ the Afghan war, probably coming round to the ideas of Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater agency of mercenaries, that it is the ‘contractors’ not the troops that will ‘save’ the US in Afghanistan. If nothing else, the strategy of ‘privatizing’ Afghanistan war does not only contradict various American officials’ recent upbeat assessments about the success of president Trump’s new “regional strategy” for Afghanistan, but also signifies a drastic failure of the entire 17 years of war that the US has fought, rather imposed, on Afghanistan. Simply put, after failing to snub Afghanistan into obedience, the US is now on the edge of introducing an army of mercenaries to spell disaster in a country that has already suffered enough to even defy a reasonable calculation of the loss of material and non-material resources. The US, therefore, will be privatizing the war not into stability, but into a lot bigger disaster than has been the case so far. What sort of a military superpower the US is then? It is certainly a power that is at home in spelling disaster after disaster in a country after country.
How will Balckwater behave in Afghanistan? If history is any guide to future, the mercenary army’s performance in Iraq should be enough to tell us what it will do in this war-torn country. For instance, it operatives were accused of indiscriminately killing 17 civilians for no apparent reason and seriously injuring 20 more in Iraq. Three of its operatives were charged in a US court with manslaughter. The charges and instance of indiscriminate killings were serious enough to force the company change its name to the Academi. Yet the company continues to survive in a powerfully enough way to now bid for handing Afghanistan to them to ensure a victory.
Erik Prince’ s own plan of victory is, as can be expected, a recipe of mass killings and unaccounted assassinations of those who oppose the US (the Taliban) and those who are suspected of it as well. Part of Prince’s plan is to reintroduce the CIA’s notorious phoenix program that it ran in Vietnam between 1965 and 1972 and ended up killing and assassinating 80,000 suspected Vietcong operatives. According to safe estimates, almost 26,000 to 40,000 of these were assassinated. Yet, this operation didn’t bring the US the desired victory.
But the US president, out of his frustration to deliver the promised victory in Afghanistan to his people, is seriously considering Prince’s proposal. Officials from within the Trump administration have expressed the fear that Trump might allow this for one simple reason: it is cheap and will considerably lessen the financial burden of war on the US.
The proposal becomes even more appealing in the current global scenario where the US has opened up a number of fronts in economic warfare against China, Russia, Turley and Iran and where counterproposals of ditching the US dollar for trade in local currencies have begun to attract serious attention from the contenders. The US, in this context, needs money not troops to fight this war and Prince’s idea can certainly save the US billions of dollars.
The idea becomes especially appealing for the US president Trump when one takes into account an official recognition in a recent report, presented to the US Congress, of Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) that “between 2001 and 2017, US government efforts to stabilize insecure and contested areas in Afghanistan mostly failed.”
So, can Erik Prince bring the much sought after success? His Iraq experience tells otherwise; his plan to reintroduce Phoenix program negates the prospect of success; and his own strategy for Afghanistan tells the same as well. For instance, other than the fact that his private army will virtually be operating beyond the scope of law, part of his plan to save American money is to literally plunder Afghanistan’s natural resources in the province of Helmand.
According to this plan, an affordable way for the US to fight and win the war would consist of relying on Afghanistan’s own sources. Prince’s spokesperson confirmed that this plan also involves the use of Frontier Services Group, the China-focused private military corp that Prince has been standing up since at least February 2017, and that “would provide logistics support to the extractive firms with secure transportation and camp support.”
In nutshell, Prince’s plan, were it to be accepted by the US president, would not only inflict a lot more damage on Afghanistan but also brutalize the war in a significant way. In the long run, the security situation in Afghanistan would likely only become worse simply because his strategy appears designed only to benefit himself as he intends to make money both by managing the war and by plundering resources.
Not only would privatization of war make an already murky situation murkier, the disaster that would ensue would also mean that the US handed over the already disastrous war to a man who was undoubtedly least able to fix it. If the US president really wants to end his frustration and fix the war, he must draw a strategy of exit rather than a strategy of plunder and brutality, one that should end the war than prolong it.
Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.