Erik Prince’s Bad Plan

The New York Times has given Erik Prince, of Blackwater fame/infamy, the OpEd space to make a case for privatising America’s war in Afghanistan. Prince’s idea, presented as a third option between leaving and staying in Afghanistan long term, is to effectively privatise the war in Afghanistan: Leave 2000 US special ops and support personnel in country, and back that up with 6000 contractors, working alongside Afghan security forces at the sharp end.

Here’s two problems with Prince’s plan:

  • Like Donald Trump’s plan, there is no sense of a long term goal. There is a conceptual cliff edge after “Use X to fight instead of Y” and nothing that points to a workable path to peace. Prince’s theory of victory in war appears to hinge on tactical dominance, and gives no sense of what any political actor in Afghanistan actually wants to achieve with violence.
  • The plan requires American special forces, and contractors, to act as adjuncts to the Afghan army while operating “in strict conformity with Afghan rules of engagement” while also being subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice. There is a big problem here: What happens if the Afghan security forces happen to have a more relaxed attitude towards killing than their American counterparts? All that integration down to company-level operations won’t be much fun for professional soldiers being dragged into potentially illegal (under the UCMJ) operations over which they have little control.

Perhaps the only thing that could be said for Prince’s plan is that it would, upon failure, provide an easier way for America to exit Afghanistan instead of yet another dollop of American troops. One gets the feeling that after 16 years, all America wants/needs from Central Asia is to not be seen to lose. Maybe throwing tens of billions of dollars at Erik Prince might be just the fig-leaf Washington needs to exit stage left. At least that way we’d at least be saved the spectacle of endless OpEds reading the prospect of victory into tea leaves and half remembered anecdotes from Three Cups of Tea.

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