According to current and former senior administration officials, President Donald Trump is expressing renewed interest in Blackwater founder Erik Prince’s proposal to privatize the war in Afghanistan amid his frustrations with the current U.S. strategy.
Prince’s proposal was first introduced last year and would consist of replacing current troops with private military contractors who work for a special U.S. envoy for the war. These military contractors would directly report to Trump. This proposal has raised concerns from senior military officials, lawmakers and even Trump’s own national security team. Their concerns include the impact to security and the overall ethics of the plan.
In an interview with NBC, Prince commented on Trump’s frustrations. “I know he’s frustrated,” he said. “He gave the Pentagon what they wanted. ... And they haven’t delivered.” Prince recently released a video claiming that his plan would save the U.S. money. According to a senior administration official, this video caught the attention of Trump. Prince also announced his plans to launch an aggressive media “air campaign” over the next few days in an attempt to give Trump a final push toward his plan.
However, a spokesperson for the National Security Council said:
No such proposal from Erik Prince is under consideration. The president, like most Americans, would like to see more progress in Afghanistan. However, he also recognizes that withdrawing precipitously from Afghanistan would lead to the re-emergence of terrorist safe havens, putting American national security and lives in danger.
Last year, Trump announced the current U.S. strategy in Afghanistan that increased U.S. troop presence. However, Jarrett Blanc, who is a former Obama-era special representative on Afghanistan and Pakistan at the State Department, said the new strategy is simply “a dressed-up version of the status quo.” The aforementioned NSC spokesperson said Trump is still committed to that current strategy.
The spokesperson also ensured that Trump receives regular briefings on Afghanistan and that those briefings cover “both positive improvements and problematic actions.” However, one senior official familiar with the briefs said, “The president hears about Afghan military and political progress, and the possibility of reconciliation during his briefings, but he rarely gets the full picture of security on the ground.”
A defense official warned, “The current effort will show results, but it could be another year or more before the new advising mission makes a real, widespread difference on the ground.” This slow payoff may increase Trump’s interest in Prince’s plan to privatize the war. The defense official also reported that Prince’s plan hasn’t made it to the Pentagon yet, but could if Trump pushes for it. Meanwhile, a senior State Department official reported that Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo both oppose the plan. He went on to claim there’s “not a chance” the plan will be put into action.