Recent murmurs across the US media have indicated increased interest in “outsourcing” the war in Afghanistan to private military contractors. National Public Radio (NPR) interviewed Erik Prince, founder of controversial military contracting firm, Blackwater, who appears to be leading lobbying efforts toward this end.
In an interview titled, “Blackwater Founder Backs Outsourcing Afghan War-Fighting to Contractors,” Prince would defend his proposal for the creation of an “American viceroy” in Afghanistan, consolidating and overseeing all US operations in the country.
He would also suggest replacing US troops with private mercenaries who he claimed would operate inside Afghan units, noting that some 25,000 contractors are already present in Afghanistan. When asked if his current private military contracting company, Frontier Service Group (FSG), would be interested in bidding on contracts that might materialize out of his proposal, he responded by saying, “absolutely.”
Steve Inskeep, who conducted the interview, noted that Prince’s proposal for an “American viceroy” overseeing what is essentially a private army inside of Afghanistan resembled very closely Imperial Britain’s colonial administration of India, an administration that carved out personal fiefdoms for influential British businessmen and lords, and emptied out India’s wealth into British coffers.
Inskeep also noted that such a proposal, even before being implemented, most likely would create further resentment among Afghans.
Prince, for his part, attempted to defend the proposal, claiming that current efforts in Afghanistan have cost American taxpayers several trillions and the cost would only continue to rise. He noted that such efforts have resulted in little progress. The “progress” Prince was referring to was defeating “terrorism” and preventing the country from becoming a safe haven for organizations like Al Qaeda and the Islamic State.
Prince would claim:
There’s really three ways we can go in Afghanistan. We can pull out completely, in which case, the Afghan government would likely collapse in a matter of weeks and the terrorists would run the country. And for as hard as, you know, we may be pushing in Iraq or Syria and elsewhere to destroy the Islamic State, this would give them a victory.
Back in Reality…
Unfortunately for Prince and others attempting to propose the privatization of the Afghan war, Afghanistan already is a safe haven for terrorists. Al Qaeda had only a nascent presence there before the US invasion in 2001. The Islamic State, in its current form, did not even exist.
Both organizations flourish not because of a lack of US troops in Afghanistan, Syria or Iraq, but precisely because US foreign policy has turned its attention toward each nation and has intentionally used both terrorist organizations as proxies.
In Afghanistan, while Al Qaeda and the Islamic State are used as a pretext for both the continued presence of US troops there and now the proposed deployment of a private army headed by an “American viceroy,” the real battle has always been against the Taliban and in favor of an obedient client state headquartered in Kabul.
In pursuit of defeating the Taliban and the creation of a sustainable client state, the extensive use of private contractors in Afghanistan has not been part of any sort of coherent solution. Instead, private contractors are one of the most central reasons attempts at rebuilding Afghanistan have failed.
Private contractors seek to maximize profits and return home, and ultimately do not care what happens in Afghanistan. In many ways, shoddy work and continued chaos ensures continued contracts and immense profits. The estimated 2.4 trillion dollars spent on Afghanistan so far have not simply “disappeared.” This immense amount of wealth has been transferred from US taxpayers to, in part, private contractors and the defense industry.
The notion of creating an “American viceroy” leading a private army in Afghanistan would give people like Erik Prince and other ambitious heads of contracting firms an entire nation to preside over and a government-subsidized budget to do it with. With the nation’s immense narcotics industry and that industry’s apparent ability to export worldwide under the nose of the US military with impunity, contractors notorious for systemic impropriety would have additional sources of revenue to tap and develop.
Toward Narco-Terror Fiefdoms
Rather than stabilizing and rebuilding Afghanistan, contractors would ensure its perpetual slide into darkness. Instead of dealing with the Taliban, Afghans would face foreign contractors competing to carve out their own personal narco-terrorist fiefdoms. The US client regime in Kabul would have even less control over its military, with entire Afghan battalions dependent not on Kabul for support and leadership, but private contractors.
Prince and Blackwater have become synonymous with murder and mayhem for money and present yet another case study as to why dependence on mercenaries is always a dangerous liability. His proposal offers neither the American nor the Afghan people any benefits and is entertained only for the benefits it potentially offers military contractors and the immense armament industry that would provide them a steady stream of weaponry.
A look at the Late Roman Empire, and the manner in which mercenaries transformed into independent entities of their own, complete with their own territory and armies that answered only to themselves, serves as a cautionary reminder as to where Prince’s proposal ultimately leads. What this latest debate illustrates is the evolution of modern organized crime, a culmination of blood, money, guns and turf on a global scale, carried out not by states, but by corporations and private armies.
But if one is to dismiss Prince’s criminal conspiracy and take his proposal at face value, it should be remembered that if the US military with 2.4 trillion dollars and 16 years could not transform Afghanistan into an obedient client state, mercenaries certainly can’t and won’t.
Fighting Terror Starts in Ankara, Riyadh and Doha, Not Afghan Mountains
Prince’s claims that contractors, or even the US military itself have any role to play in combating “terrorism” by remaining in Afghanistan deserves further scrutiny.
Terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda and the Islamic State depend heavily on state sponsorship, particularly from nations like Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. In turn, each of these regimes depends heavily on US support to remain in power and to exercise that power beyond their respective borders.
The United States itself, ironically, played a central role in Afghanistan, creating, honing and expanding Al Qaeda’s fighting capacity there, before it spread worldwide.
Defeating organizations like Al Qaeda and the Islamic State must then, by necessity, revolve around exposing and dismantling centers of power in nations like Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar who are sponsoring both organizations as well as exposing and dismantling interests in the US propping up each of these sponsors in turn.
Al Qaeda and the Islamic State’s presence in Afghanistan is a symptom of this global web of terror sponsorship, not its source. The war in Afghanistan has dragged on for what seems an eternity, because attempting to defeat a problem by fighting its symptoms can only take an eternity.
For Prince, the US media who entertained him and the US government who will attempt to facilitate his and the defense industry’s ambitions, were they interested in truly combating terrorism, they would be raising armies outside of Riyadh, Ankara, Doha and perhaps even DC. That they seek to raise them in Afghanistan indicates that they seek not to fight terror, but to perpetually profit from it.
Ulson Gunnar, a New York-based geopolitical analyst and writer especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.