Erik Prince, brother of President Donald Trump’s secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, and founder of the notorious private security/mercenary firm Academi (formerly Blackwater), has an idea for the war in Afghanistan: he would like to replace U.S. troops with private military contractors who would work for a special U.S. envoy. That envoy would report directly to Trump, who has expressed frustration over U.S. strategy in Afghanistan—and some security officials fear that Trump might actually consider Prince’s proposal.
In a recent video, Prince argued that using private contractors instead of U.S. troops in Afghanistan would save the government money. But senior military officials and members of Trump’s security team have expressed strong misgivings about Prince’s proposal to privatize the Afghan War, which they believe raises ethical concerns. And Prince has asserted that Trump advisors who oppose his proposal are being unrealistic about the situation in Afghanistan, where peace talks—Prince has asserted—are not going well.
The U.S. has been at war in Afghanistan for 17 years. The Afghan War started under President George W. Bush’s administration not long after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, continued throughout Barack Obama’s presidency and has continued under Trump’s presidency.
An anonymous spokesperson for the National Security Council told NBC News that Trump is not taking Prince’s proposal seriously.
“No such proposal from Erik Prince is under consideration,” NBC News quoted the spokesperson as saying. “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.”
Critics of Prince (a former U.S. Navy SEAL) often use terms like “mercenary” and “soldier of fortune” to describe him. Founded by Prince in North Carolina in 1997, Blackwater—which was renamed Xe Services in 2009 and Academi in 2011—gained notoriety for its activities during the Iraq War under the Bush administration, including the horrific Nisour Square Massacre of September 16, 2007.
That day, Blackwater employees opened fire on a crowd of Iraqi civilians in Baghdad’s Nisour Square while escorting a U.S. embassy convoy; 17 of those civilians were killed, while many others were injured. And in 2014, four former Blackwater employees were tried and convicted in federal court in the U.S. for their role in the Nisour Square Massacre: Nicholas A. Slatten was convicted of first-degree murder, while Evan S. Liberty, Dustin L. Heard and Paul A. Slough were convicted of voluntary manslaughter.
Slatten was sentenced to life in prison, but in August 2017, his conviction was thrown out by a federal appeals court on the grounds that there was insufficient evidence that he fired the opening shots in Nisour Square—and a new trial commenced on June 18 of this year.
Despite the fact that some security officials have been critical of Prince’s proposal to privatize the Afghan War, the Blackwater co-founder is hoping to discuss it with some National Security Council members. So far, Prince has not met with neocon John Bolton, Trump’s national security advisor.