US defense secretary downplays private military involvement in Afghanistan

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KABUL (TCA) — U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis rebuffed suggestions that private military forces could join the fight in Afghanistan, and possibly replace regular U.S. troops in the country, RFE/RL reported.

Mattis made the comments at a Pentagon press briefing on August 28, where he was asked about such proposals that have been floated in Washington, D.C. and elsewhere.

“When Americans put their nation’s credibility on the line, privatizing it is probably not a wise idea,” Mattis said.

The main proponent of the idea has been Erik Prince, the former head of a controversial private military contractor once known as Blackwater.

A longtime Republican supporter and brother of President Donald Trump’s education secretary, Prince has argued that using private mercenaries would help decrease the US military presence in Afghanistan after 17 years of war.

In recent weeks, Prince has engaged in a public relations campaign, including publishing online videos, to press his arguments.

Prince said earlier this month that one year after the launch of the Pentagon’s new strategy for South Asia, the Afghan war “remains a total failure”, Afghan broadcaster TOLOnews reported.

He said in a statement: “The plan announced by President (Donald) Trump, devised by his generals this time last year, reinforced a strategy which has been and continues to be, a failure.

“The president gave his generals a chance, but the current approach has never worked and never will. It needlessly costs thousands of lives and billions of dollars that America continues to pay.”

Prince said his proposal was not an attempt to “privatize the war” as has been reported in the media, but it is a “reduction in the number of private contractors engaged in Afghanistan.”

“For the last 17 years, the Pentagon has deployed units that spend a few months acclimating, and when finally productive are again rotated back home, never to return to the same area. Each new unit must deploy, embed, forge relationships and learn the terrain. This failed rotation process has been repeated nearly 30 times now.

“This can never work. There is never enough time for the troops to make real progress! We shouldn’t wait another 17 years for a change in course,” he said.

Instead, Prince suggests the Trump-Afghanistan approach should utilize the right balance of foreign contracted veterans and Special Forces to attach a mentor team to every Afghan Battalion, to provide blanket air coverage, and ensure process controls to prevent corruption in Afghan supply and personnel systems.

He suggests the total manpower requirements would drop by 85 percent of what is currently in the country and that such an approach would immediately reduce US spending on Afghanistan from a current $62 billion per year to $10 billion a year.

About 14,000 U.S. troops are in Afghanistan, providing the largest contingent of NATO’s mission and helping lead increasingly tense offensive operations against Taliban fighters.

Sergey Kwan

TCA