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.


Saudi defense contractor to invest up to $16 million to further localize services

Updated 18 November 2019

Saudi defense contractor to invest up to $16 million to further localize services

DUBAI: Saudi-based defense contractor Middle East Propulsion Company (MEPC) plans to invest between $13 million and $16 million over the next two years to build test cells for aircraft engines and establish new production lines.
These expansion activities should complement the company’s objective to localize high-tech repairs and combine them in one roof for the Saudi defense ministry, which is a major customer, CEO Abdullah Al-Omari told Arab News.
Instead of sending aircraft engines and engines modules overseas for further servicing, thus take up more time before military assets return to actual service, localization not only cuts the turn-around period but also reduces Saudi government spending for the repairs.
“We have accomplished more than 1,600 engine and engine modules [since 2001, they] have been maintained totally in Saudi Arabia,” Al-Omari said at the sidelines of the Dubai Airshow. “The engines consume 45 percent of what you spend on aircraft.”
The company works on 150 to 160 engines and engine modules every year.
MEPC is the first specialized MRO (maintenance, repair and overhaul) company operating in the Middle East, according to its website. It has invested over $26 million during the previous two years for the localization of its MRO services.
“We used to send these parts to outside, it takes 6 months to 24 months sometimes … in case of the Apache engines, minimum turn around is 24 months,” Al-Omari said, but their localization efforts have greatly improved their capability by cutting the turn-around period to only 150 days.
The speed at which MEPC is able to repair engines and modules, boosts the readiness of Saudi military, Al-Omari added.
The company is in talks with major defense contractors, including Honeywell for the Abrams talks and GE T700 engines, for possible tie-ups to further improve their capability, he said.
“Currently there is a potential with the Kuwait army to provide them with similar services [being delivered to the Saudi defense ministry],” Al-Omari said, and expects that cooperation would start “within the next two years or so.”