14 February 2019

Are the wars in Syria and Afghanistan about to be privatized?

Ştefan Oprea

Image source: Mediafax

Even if President Trump manifests his love for the private sector, sending a private army to fight on behalf of the United States in a foreign country is easier said than done.

Under the terms of the security agreement signed between Afghanistan and the United States in 2014, the Kabul Government could mess this plan before it begins.

In a previous article, I was saying that James Mattis’s resignation as secretary of defense will affect Trump’s presidency. Because his views were no longer in line with President Trump's, Mattis resorted to this gesture so that the president could find a leader for the Defense Department's leadership whose views would better align with president’s ones. One of the aspects of the resignation letter referred to the President's lack of support for the US alliances in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

An announcement of the withdrawal of US forces in Syria one day before resignation is succeeding on the day of the announcement of halving the number of militaries in Afghanistan.

Like the withdrawal from Syria, the rapid decrease of US forces in Afghanistan represents a steep change in previous policies. In addition, both Republicans and Democrats criticized this decision, saying the president ignored advice from military and intelligence leaders, and the decision would be a “costly mistake”. Both critics and supporters of this decision have one thing in common: I share the hypothesis that Washington will actually withdraw from Syria and Afghanistan.

In all this controversy, an outlook was increasingly discussed: the replacement of American troops with private military contractors.

Such a similar failed proposal about the privatization of the fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan has been previously circulated in 2017 after presidential counselor, Steve Bannon, had asked the founder and former CEO of Blackwater, Erik Prince, for alternative proposals to decrease the troops in theaters of operations.

But why Prince, and what are his proposals arguments?

A short hindsight reveals his contacts with president Trump’s campaign team and his support for the electoral campaign.

Even if the proposal to use private military companies was refused by the White House and criticized by Mattis, who considered that it would mean the transfer of the national objectives regarding national security to contractors, the idea emerged again. As Mattis has resigned (a decision which astonished a main part of the Pentagon), such idea could be implemented, this being the perfect timing.

President Trump's decision to withdraw the US from Syria and reduce its forces in Afghanistan has proven to be a highly controversial move that surprised and shook its Middle East, NATO and many US allies.

But, when the American Blackwater mercenaries’ group, said, through its founder, “WE ARE COMING”, the idea of a privatized war became really clear.

How is it thought that behind this story would be the private military industry, Erik Prince, the founder of the private military company Blackwater Worldwide, and Stephen A. Feinberg, a billionaire holding the giant military contractor DynCorp International, the situation could become even more complicated. According to Prince’s plan, the private force group would be conducted by a person who would have authority over the entire operations theatre and will directly report to the president. Its mission: do everything possible to pacify Afghanistan. The American experience in Japan, but also the English one in colonies, are showing that such an approach will lead to abuse of power. Because the activity of the private security companies, in the conflict areas, are full of incidents with serious consequences, juridical unsolved until now, such a leadership would cause major concerns.

From a military perspective, there are a lot of concerns related to responsibility, morality culture, people’s reaction and so on.

Such an initiative is feasible for a small force, in certain conditions and with an adequate supervision, but it is completely different from what Erik Prince had in mind for the Afghan war. However, the privatization is in process in many areas, and denial is not a management and settlement strategy for this increasing problem.

As a business man, president Trump’s agreement on the effectiveness of governmental services privatization, from this point of view, reveals that these private contractors would represent a force economy and financial resources to assist the allies in the region in the post-conflict operations. Furthermore, this process would be a pilot-project to measure the effectiveness of privatization for such operation.

Who are the contractors and what do they do in theaters of operations?

The Pentagon defines a defense contractor as “any individual, firm, corporation, partnership, or other legal non-federal entity that enters into a contract directly with the DOD to furnish services, supplies, or construction.” Most civilian contractors work in all imaginable areas to fulfill these roles to help manage and improve conditions in conflict and post-conflict areas.

The numerical evolution of these service providers oscillated, depending on the size of the military troops' participation in the theater of operations, on achieving the strategic objectives or even changing the strategic interest for the theater of operations concerned.

The war and reconstruction of Iraq has generated another opportunity, the development of the private security industry, which has turned out to have transformed the battlefield. Immediately, private security firms (PSFs) also included the theater of operations in Afghanistan taking on increasingly important military functions not only for security services but also for strategic planning, combat training, translation service, interrogation, operational support, etc. These entities with legally controversial status and activities appear to be increasingly used precisely because of their main advantage: the cost.

Because the security contractors operate outside the military command chain, as well as most legal jurisdictions, they were characterized as mercenaries. Soldiers serve their country, while contractors serve their managers and shareholders. When soldiers violate the law, they can be sent to court. When contractors violate the law, they can be fired.

From this point of view, the use of PSFs as force multipliers helps to overcome the constraints imposed by legislation and Congress pressure and, because the contractors' losses are not officially counted, they also hide the human cost of the war. As a conclusion, the use of PSFs gives the Government the opportunity to solve certain problems without getting involved directly.

Returning to the situation in Afghanistan, significant progress has been made throughout this period, and the Afghan Public Protection Forces (APPF) led by govern are today performing most of the security tasks. Nevertheless, insecurity remains a major problem, and the continued presence of NATO troops in this country, as well as the security demand for foreign embassies, military bases, organizations and NGOs, diplomats or businessmen, impose an increased presence of forces capable of fulfilling these missions.

As a result of scandals against such a private security company, they were forbidden to activate, and in 2010, by presidential decree, the Afghan Public Protection Forces was created to replace their work.

However, the international community in Afghanistan has expressed concern about the capacity of the new government security plan. Under these circumstances, foreign diplomatic structures, international organizations with diplomatic status and military bases have managed to keep their own security firms. Companies have also been authorized to re-register as risk management companies. To conclude, these foreign security companies have manifested, with few syncope’s, and are still present in Afghanistan today, not only in the field of security but also in training and advising Afghan national security forces.

Moreover, the existence of parent companies, subcontractors and joint ventures as well as the difficulty, for security reasons, to access real data about the records and responsibilities of employees of these companies make it almost impossible to know the exact size and complexity of this “industries”. What is known, with sufficient accuracy, is that 16% of the personnel are used in security services.

Blackwater is coming back

Against the background of the announcement of the withdrawal of US forces in Syria and their decrease in Afghanistan, the Blackwater security contractors company, regardless of the current name, through its founder, announced its return.

All of this data, as well as the profound involvement of these contractors in security and country reconstruction issues, has justified Erik Prince to declare that entrepreneurs are the key to ending the long-standing war in Afghanistan.

Through strong media coverage, Prince has pledged to support the privatization of military action. His main argument is that the current logistical and financial tire has reached several trillion dollars, a burdensome effort for the American nation. Additionally, the new South Asian Strategy, outlined by President Trump, together with Mattis, has already reached a year without tangible results.

The founder of Blackwater introduces in this discussion the solution to the replacement of American troops in Syria. Moreover, it resumes the Afghanistan issue and offers a solution to replace NATO's existing military force in Afghanistan (about 16,000 soldiers), with a force of around 8,000 people at a cost of about $ 5 billion a year. From a financial point of view, the plan was not bad, since, since 2001, the sums spent have reached astronomical figures.

Prince motivates the viability of the solution by the fact that the necessary logistics to support the US effort in Afghanistan and Syria, now worth of billions of dollars, becoming too burdensome.

Also, the use of contractors would allow President Trump to keep his campaign promise to put an end to “wars forever”, leaving behind some protection.



Blackwater was founded in 1997, by Al Clark and Erik Prince, both Navy SEAL instructors, to offer assistance for the military organizations. In 2001, the company becomes Blackwater Security Company (BSC), and in 2007 Blackwater Worldwide. After only two years, in February 2009, Blackwater announced that it will change its name again, in “Xe Services LLC”, as part of a restructuration plan. At the same time, Erik Prince announced his resignation from the CEO position, remaining in the company only as the president of the administration council, but without actually being involved in the current operations. In 2010, the company sells a formation center to a group of investors which is creating a new company called “Academi”. From that moment on, no one talked about the old company anymore.

However, in the administration council of Academi enters the ex-general attorney, John Ashcroft, ex-White House counsellor, Jack Quinn, Bobby Ray Inman, a retired admiral with an important experience gained in DIA, NSA and CIA, as well as the business man McCombs. We must mention that John Ashcroft and Jack Quinn are directors without being affiliated to the company. In 2012, the retired brigade general Craig Nixon was assigned as Academi’s new CEO.  The general came to Academi from the Mc Chrystal group, where he was the coordinator of leaders’ development program. The last position he had in the army was deputy director of the operations of US’s Central Command. Triple Canopy and Academi Training Center, along with other companies which were part of the Constellis Group package, are reunited and will go under Constellis Holdings Inc umbrella, a designation that still exists.

In the last period, Erik Prince has built a new mercenary empire in China, called Frontier Services Group (FSG), whose companies are tied with the Chinese authorities. It seems that success followed him this time also with security and logistic contracts in China and Africa.