By Adian Dion
When Donald Trump became president, he made it clear that he wanted a change in the policy in Afghanistan, something liberals and conservatives both wanted. We are no closer to the creation of a democratic and terror-free Afghanistan than we were ten years ago. Now, President Trump’s demand for a new plan has attracted the attention of a former Navy Seal turned entrepreneur.
Erik Prince founded a private military corporation that received many contracts during the war in Iraq, subsequently running thousands of missions a year. He believes that the use of private military contractors would achieve the U.S. goal of peace, save over $10 billion a year, and use far fewer boots on the ground.
At first this sounds like a crazy idea. The U.S. public does not have a taste for “mercenaries” and the liability for them is beyond the realm of possibility. Prince wrote about his plan in the Wall Street Journal and New York Times, and has done numerous interviews where he lays out details. I can honestly say that I like aspects of his plan. I think if executed perfectly with some minor changes, this is the answer the U.S. is looking for.
However, I also find it to have a razor thin margin of error that makes it too risky to be brought into practice. Prince does do a very good job identifying problems and offering legitimate solutions. Although his plan may be far-fetched, I urge everyone to read his articles and listen to his strategy, however impractical it may sound.
Prince raises many issues concerning the current effectiveness with which the U.S. fights its wars and conducts its policies. His main point – that how the military spends money can be improved – can be agreed on by any political party. Individual soldiers and sailors see little of the benefits of a massive defense budget. Waste and graft eat up funds and rarely trickle down to the individual. Whether we admit it or not, private contractors could do the same job as the military but at a much cheaper cost.
For long-term sustainability, Prince suggests training Afghan nationals to a fighting status to enforce the new government. In the current model, these commanders are sent to advise are on nine month deployments. When the advisor leaves, he takes his experience and knowledge of the area with him. This new plan would keep a team of contractors working alongside Afghan commanders for 2-3 years at time, providing a stable relationship. A “viceroy” would be put in charge of the whole country, small teams of contractors would be used at the battalion level, and deployments would be over a year. This is a total overhaul of the current strategy.
Erik Prince has been called a monster, war profiteer, and criminal. Whatever your thoughts are on his morality, it’s hard to deny that he points out severe shortcomings we face in Afghanistan and subsequently Iraq. He has reasonable solutions to many of these problems that I believe should open up a greater dialogue among the American people. However, I do not agree with his methods of implementing these solutions.
President Trump has chosen to continue using U.S. soldiers to complete the mission on the same platform as before. Troop size and duration continues to depend on information from the ground as it is received. It looks like some of us, or even our children, may one day have our heels in Kandahr chasing Taliban.