Do you know what PMSC’s are? Private Military and Security Companies. Like Blackwater USA, which was sold by founder Erik Prince to an unnamed group of investors and is now called Academi. And while Blackwater was founded in the late 90’s, private armies have been around for ages, literally. But since the end of the Cold War they have played an increasing role in military conflicts around the world, sometimes providing logistics and support, sometimes providing more than just logistics.

In the early years of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, there were apparently over a quarter million private contracted security personnel in use by the Bush 43 administration. And now we have Erik Prince himself, talking up on CNN no less, a proposal to privatize much of America’s commitment in Afghanistan. That would include everything from a private air force of dozens of aircraft to logistics to embedded contractors working with local Afghani troops.

What does this mean?

Apparently it means big savings: $10 billion a year versus $50 billion a year according to the Pentagon’s annual budget for Afghanistan. But it also means something else: freeing up American forces who may very soon be needed on or near the Korean peninsula should war break out with the DPRK.

If you believe former counsel to the DOD (in the last year of the Obama administration) Laura Dickinson, a surge in private contractor personnel in Afghanistan brings legal risks. The International Criminal Court has a prosecutor looking into America’s role in Afghanistan, but this is more a nuisance than a grave concern given the instability present in various parts of the globe. Dickinson also worries about blowback to American military forces if private contractors get involved in another shootout like in 2007’s Nisour Square massacre in Baghdad. It’s a reasonable possibility given that chains of command in private security forces are not as clearcut as those in the military.

But that brings us to Erik Prince’s point from the CNN interview. There have been yearly rotations of not just troops but top command since 2002 in Afghanistan. As Ben Domenech writing in The Transom puts it:

Afghanistan is not one war over sixteen years for us. It is sixteen one-year wars.


That may be a little over the top, but it hits home with the point that there has not been a consistent or perhaps even continuous strategy for U.S. Forces in that troubled tribal land. And while Erik Prince talking about a viceroy may be a little too Kipling-like, the comment can also be taken as a call for a steady hand over many years in order to bring order to Afghanistan. So he makes his point, when compared to the failed set of scrabbled policies America’s forces have pursued up to now in Afghanistan.

The problem with all this is that American foreign policy is prey to partisan politics. And thus subject to sudden policy twists and turns. How well will this play? How will this poll? Annoying perhaps, but in a democracy civilians run the military. Not vice versa. And beyond that, voters are weary of this long-running seemingly endless war, with no end in sight. Just as another war may be just over the horizon. Can Prince – who has close ties to Trump’s administration – convince enough Americans of his grand scheme for Afghanistan?

Comments