Blackwater boss resurfaces with $10bn business plan for war in Afghanistan

Erik Prince, founder of the private security company Blackwater, has resurfaced as President Donald Trump mulls over what to do about the Afghanistan conflict, which consumes billions of taxpayer dollars. (Reuters)
Updated 13 August 2017

Blackwater boss resurfaces with $10bn business plan for war in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON: Nearly 16 years after US forces entered Afghanistan, a shadowy figure from the past is making the rounds in Washington with a plan to end America’s longest war.
Erik Prince, founder of the private security company Blackwater, has resurfaced as President Donald Trump mulls over what to do about a conflict that bedeviled his two predecessors in the White House.
Prince’s plan for Afghanistan would start with the naming of an all-powerful American “viceroy” who would report to the president and play a role like that of Gen. Douglas MacArthur in post-World War II Japan.
American troops, aside from a handful of special forces, would be replaced by a private army of around 5,500 contractors who would train Afghan soldiers and join them in the fight against the Taliban. They would be backed by a 90-aircraft private air force. And all at a cost of less than $10 billion a year, as opposed to the $45 billion the US is expected to spend in 2017 on its military presence in Afghanistan.
Prince, a 48-year-old former US Navy SEAL, has kept a low profile since selling Blackwater in 2010 — three years after some of his employees hired to protect US diplomats killed 14 unarmed Iraqi civilians in Baghdad and wounded another 17.
He first outlined his Afghan proposal in an article for The Wall Street Journal in May. Since then, Prince, who currently heads Frontier Services Group, a Hong Kong-based security company, has met with US officials here and made television appearances promoting his plan.
Prince, whose sister Betsy DeVos is Trump’s education secretary, says he has received a sympathetic hearing from the president’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, and some members of the Congress but a chilly reception from the Pentagon.
After taking office in January, Trump ordered a strategic review of the situation in Afghanistan, where some 8,400 US soldiers and 5,000 NATO troops are assisting the Afghan security forces in battling an emboldened Taliban.
Trump said Thursday that he was “very close” to revealing his decision on how to proceed in the war-torn nation, where 2,000 US troops have died since Americans were first deployed there in the weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.
“We’re getting very close. It’s a very big decision for me. I took over a mess, and we’re going to make it a lot less messy,” said Trump, whose frustration with the stalemate in Afghanistan reportedly led him last month to suggest firing the US commander there, Gen. John Nicholson.
Trump has given Defense Secretary Jim Mattis authority to set troop levels in Afghanistan and the retired general is said to be leaning toward boosting US forces there by about 4,000 troops.
Prince, in an interview with CNN, said he has not met with Trump to discuss his plan and acknowledged that National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, like Mattis, a former general, was not keen on the proposal. “I would say Gen. McMaster does not like this idea because he is a three-star conventional army general and he is wedded to the idea that the US Army is going to solve this,” Prince said.
McMaster and Mattis are not the only skeptics when it comes to Prince’s plan. “It’s something that would come from a bad soldier of fortune novel,” Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham told The Washington Post. “I trust our generals. I don’t trust contractors to make our national security policy decisions.”
Sean McFate, a former military contractor in Africa and author of a book about the private security industry, “The Modern Mercenary,” said he considers Prince’s proposal to be “supremely dangerous and foolish.”
“There’s been no discussion about oversight, regulation, safety, accountability, control,” McFate told AFP.
He said private contractors in Afghanistan would inevitably be involved in a horrific event like the September 2007 killing of Iraqi civilians by the Blackwater contractors in Baghdad.
“The first time there’s a massacre we’re going to have to go in there with the Marine Corps and rescue them,” he said.
“Ultimately you get what you pay for,” McFate said. “It’s like having cheap contractors fix your house. At the end of the day it takes twice as long and is four times as expensive.”
Stephen Biddle, a political science professor at George Washington University, said he considered Prince’s plan “pretty dreadful” but is not surprised it is getting a hearing in a White House looking for a new approach.
“The president isn’t very happy with the options that he’s got and is predisposed to like things that are new,” Biddle told AFP. “And Republicans in general tend to like privatization.”
“But not all new ideas are good ideas,” Biddle said.


Oil up after drone attack on Saudi field, but OPEC report caps gains

Updated 27 min 37 sec ago

Oil up after drone attack on Saudi field, but OPEC report caps gains

LONDON: Crude oil prices rose on Monday following a weekend attack on a Saudi oil facility by Yemen’s Houthi militia and as traders looked for signs of progress in US-China trade negotiations.
Price gains were, however, capped to some degree by an unusually downbeat OPEC report that stoked concerns about growth in oil demand.
Brent crude, the international benchmark for oil prices, was up 85 cents, or about 1.4%, at $59.49 a barrel at 1225 GMT.
US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were up $1.01, or 1.8%, at $55.88 a barrel.
A drone attack by the Iran-backed Houthi militia on an oilfield in eastern Saudi Arabia on Saturday caused a fire at a gas plant, adding to Middle East tensions, but state-run Saudi Aramco said oil production was not affected.
“The oil market seems to be pricing in again a geopolitical risk premium following the weekend drone attacks on Saudi Arabia, but the premium might not sustain if it does not result in any supply disruptions,” said Giovanni Staunovo, oil analyst for UBS.
Iran-related tensions appeared to ease after Gibraltar released an Iranian tanker it seized in July, though Tehran warned the United States against any new attempt to seize the tanker in open seas.
Concerns about a recession also limited crude price gains.
Meanwhile, China’s announcement of key interest rate reforms over the weekend has fueled expectations of an imminent reduction in corporate borrowing costs in the struggling economy, boosting share prices on Monday.
US energy firms this week increased the number of oil rigs operating for the first time in seven weeks despite plans by most producers to cut spending on new drilling this year.
“WTI in recent weeks has performed relatively better than Brent... Pipeline start ups in the United States have been supportive for WTI, while the ongoing trade war has had more of an impact on Brent,” said Warren Patterson, head of commodities strategy at Dutch bank ING.
The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) cut its forecast for global oil demand growth in 2019 by 40,000 barrels per day (bpd) to 1.10 million bpd and indicated the market would be in slight surplus in 2020.
It is rare for OPEC to give a bearish forward view on the market outlook.
“Such a bearish prognosis will heap more pressure on OPEC to take further measures to support the market,” said Stephen Brennock of oil broker PVM.