Donald Trump’s administration is said to be considering radically changing the way it conducts war in Afghanistan, and may move away from the US military running the show in favour of laying that responsibility on private contractors.
The unprecedented proposal would put 5,500 private contractors in charge of advising the Afghan military in the 16-year-old war that Mr Trump has inherited from his two predecessors. Most of those contractors would be former Special Operations troops, though their private contractor status would likely mean they are not bound by the same rules of engagement as the US military. There are an estimated 8,400 US soldiers currently in Afghanistan.
Erik Prince, the founder and former CEO of private contracting company Blackwater USA, has put forward the plan. Speaking to USA Today, he said he had met frequently with administration officials to discuss his plan. However, with misgivings by Mr Trump’s National Security Adviser, H R McMaster, and Defence Secretary James Mattis, it is unclear whether there would be a way forward for such a plan, despite Mr Trump’s frustration at the lack of progress in the country. At least one senior official, chief strategist Steve Bannon, is said to be open to the use of private contractors.
Contractors working for Blackwater were involved in a deadly incident during the Iraq War, when they open-fired in Baghdad’s Nisour Square while escorting a US convoy in 2007, killing or injuring at least 31 Iraqi civilians. Those events led the State Department to revoke the company’s license to operate in the country. One of the contractors recently had a murder charge overturned and a new trial ordered over the incident, while three others who had been handed 30-year prison terms after being convicted of voluntary manslaughter will be re-sentenced after their prison terms were voided. Defence lawyers argued the convoy was under fire from insurgents, a claim prosecutors denied.
But – in addition to accountability concerns posed by giving broad agency to non-military, private contractors to conduct war – such a revised strategy in Afghanistan could send the wrong message in Afghanistan, Vanda Felbab-Brown, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, told The Independent.
International troops have been involved in Afghanistan for 16 years, following an invasion in October 2001. However, over the past year the Taliban have made gains and violent attacks have increased in a number of areas – leaving…