After his meeting with President Donald Trump apparently failed to gain traction, Eric Prince took his ideas for the Afghanistan War to YouTube.
In a July video, Mr. Prince accused the DoD of “squandering” resources in the 12-year war. Private contractors could do a better job for “a fraction” of the cost, he claims. In fact, just 6,000 private contractors would have the same impact as 45,000 regular servicemembers, he added. Mr. Prince does not propose complete privatization. Instead, his plan envisions DoD oversight in the form of an empresario. “President Trump should appoint a special presidential envoy and empower them to wage an unconventional war against Taliban and Daesh forces, to hold the corrupt officials accountable and to negotiate with their Afghan counterparts and the Afghan Taliban that are willing to reconcile with Kabul. As the skeletal support of mentors, airpower and governance stand up, the conventional DoD and NATO forces can go home, leaving a much, much smaller footprint,” Mr. Prince concluded.
Mr. Prince may hope to capitalize on some administration turnover which has occurred since the August 2017 meeting. “[Defense Secretary James] Mattis agreed with his analysis of the problems in Afghanistan but disagreed with his solution,” according to a British newspaper.
The Afghanistan War: A Brief History
Like so many other conflicts in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region, the ongoing Afghanistan war is not just another theater of operations in the Global War on Terror. The conflict has rather deep roots. The more we know about these roots, the easier the conflict is to understand.
In 1979, when Cold War tensions were particularly acute, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan to prop up a very shaky pro-Soviet regime. The official United States response was rather weak, as Washington did not want to move the world closer to a nuclear war. Some argue that President Jimmy Carter’s decision to boycott the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow almost brought the Olympic Movement to an end, but that is the subject of another blog.
Since the U.S. did not want the Russian Bear extending its influence, CIA agents instituted a not-so-secret war against the Red Army, essentially using Muslim rebels as proxies. For most of the 1980s, the mujahedin fought a mostly-losing battle against vastly superior Soviet forces. Around 1987, the CIA began providing shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles to the Afghan rebels. Some people say the Stingers made essentially no difference; other sources, mostly from the Soviet Union, say the missiles were a turning point. Regardless of how much the missiles did or did not mean, the rebels took Kabul in 1992.
Much like his son would do in Iraq a little over 10 years later, President George H.W. Bush used the military success as a platform to declare victory. But unlike his son did in Iraq, “George Bush Classic” essentially abandoned Afghanistan. With no common enemy left and no directions to follow, rebel groups vied with one another for control of the country. One of these bands later became the Taliban. A few years later, this ultra-conservative group later gave aid and comfort to Saudi dissident Osama Bin Laden.
The 2007 film Charlie Wilson’s War dramatized many of these political events. When the Soviets are on the edge of defeat, shadowy CIA operative Gust Avrakotos (the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman) tells a story about a Zen master in a remote village. A teenage boy gets a horse. The villagers exclaim “how wonderful” and the Zen master says “we’ll see.” Later, the boy falls off the horse and breaks his legs. The villagers exclaim “how terrible” and the Zen master says “we’ll see.” Even later, a war breaks out and all the young men go to fight, except the boy with the lame legs. The villagers exclaim “how wonderful” and the Zen master, once again, says “we’ll see.”
Contractors in Afghanistan
The ultimate outcome of the boy and the horse may not be known for several decades. The Afghanistan War’s ultimate outcome may not be known for several decades, either. But it is certain that American military contractors play a significant role in conflicts like this one.
As Mr. Prince pointed out, contractors give American military planners additional flexibility. Sending a battalion-sized unit of regular servicemembers to Afghanistan or any other conflict is basically a three-year commitment. The unit must spend a year training, a year in-country, and another year recovering. However, a battalion-sized unit of military contractors can be in-country almost literally overnight. Once their deployment ends, the DoD sends these individuals home. No other commitments are necessary.
That last point also involves the financial aspect of military contractors. During their deployments, contractors earn much more than regular servicemembers. However, as most American freelancers know, military contractors receive no benefits during their periods of service. Furthermore, there is no additional financial commitment and no additional benefits to pay. That is not the case with regular servicemembers. So, in the long term, contractors are much cheaper.
Many contractors also possess skill sets that regular servicemembers do not have. Anti-insurgency campaigns frustrate some servicemembers. This problem goes all the way back to the Vietnam War of the 1960s and early 1970s. Contractors, on the other hand, have no problem behaving more like police officers than soldiers. Moreover, many contractors serve as translators and in other support capacities. Regular servicemembers simply cannot fill these jobs.
Finally, contractors allow the U.S. to maintain a lower profile both at home and abroad. Contractor troop and casualty figures do not count in the official tallies. Overseas politicians can use the same approach to make the U.S. presence seem smaller than it really is.
When they are overseas, contractors face the exact same risks as regular servicemembers. The Veterans Administration cares for injured servicemembers, and the Defense Base Act helps care for injured contractors. The DBA pays for both lost wages and medical bills while victims recover from deployment-related injuries.
To learn more about the compensation available under the DBA, contact Barnett, Lerner, Karsen & Frankel, P.A.