Small Wars Journal

Trump Aides Recruited Businessmen to Devise Options for Afghanistan

Trump Aides Recruited Businessmen to Devise Options for Afghanistan by Mark Landler, Eric Schmitt and Michael R. Gordon - New York Times

President Trump’s advisers recruited two businessmen who profited from military contracting to devise alternatives to the Pentagon’s plan to send thousands of additional troops to Afghanistan, reflecting the Trump administration’s struggle to define its strategy for dealing with a war now 16 years old.

Erik D. Prince, a founder of the private security firm Blackwater Worldwide, and Stephen A. Feinberg, a billionaire financier who owns the giant military contractor DynCorp International, have developed proposals to rely on contractors instead of American troops in Afghanistan at the behest of Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s chief strategist, and Jared Kushner, his senior adviser and son-in-law, according to people briefed on the conversations.

On Saturday morning, Mr. Bannon sought out Defense Secretary Jim Mattis at the Pentagon to try to get a hearing for their ideas, an American official said. Mr. Mattis listened politely but declined to include the outside strategies in a review of Afghanistan policy that he is leading along with the national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster.

The highly unusual meeting dramatizes the divide between Mr. Trump’s generals and his political staff over Afghanistan, the lengths to which his aides will go to give their boss more options for dealing with it and the readiness of this White House to turn to business people for help with diplomatic and military problems.

Soliciting the views of Mr. Prince and Mr. Feinberg certainly qualifies as out-of-the-box thinking in a process dominated by military leaders in the Pentagon and the National Security Council. But it also raises a host of ethical issues, not least that both men could profit from their recommendations…

Read on.


From our article above:


The strategy has been called “the Laos option,” after America’s shadowy involvement in Laos during the war in neighboring Vietnam. C.I.A. contractors trained Laotian soldiers to fight Communist insurgents and their North Vietnamese allies until 1975, leaving the country under Communist control ...


Our activities in Laos during the Old Cold War were undertaken as per a "containing communism" strategy. This (containing communism) was done -- given our Laotian example/model above -- using and supporting, for example, minority population groups such as the Hmong. Yes?

Our activities in Afghanistan today; these have been undertaken as per a completely different/an exact opposite strategy, to wit: that of "advancing market-democracy."

The question then becomes: Given our completely different/exact opposite strategy noted above, can this (advancing market-democracy) likewise be done using (a) civilian contractors and/or (b) as per the "Laotian option?"

(In both instances, the appeal of civilian contractors/the "Laotian option" relating -- not to any greater likelihood that either "containment" or "advancement" can be actually be achieved -- but, rather, that the endless, and thus politically volatile, nature of these such projects can be [a] better kept under wraps and, thus, be [b] better sustained?)

Bill M.

Wed, 07/12/2017 - 1:46pm

In reply to by Morgan

This is where I intended to place my, sad, very sad comment. While contractors have always played a role in conflicts that the U.S. has been involved in. When they are used in a large scale manner you end up hiring a lot of dudes that are poorly supervised. The fiascos we experienced with Blackwater and others in Iraq exposed that they can be more problematic than helpful if supervision is not in place and standards are not maintained. I don't want to cast this net to wide, because there were some incredibly professional and value added contractors.

Back to Afghanistan, simply replacing military members with contractors doesn't change the ways and ends, it just replaces the means (1 for 1 possibly), so where is the real change in the strategy to reverse the failing strategy?

I think the proposal is sad, because it is just another situation where we see the President's uninformed White House advisors undermining his knowledgeable Secretaries of State and Defense. How many times have we seen the Secretary of State or the Secretary of Defense made a public policy statement only to be undermined by a tweet based on bad advise from his son and the other advisor (Kushner?). Makes it hard for our Secretaries to be effective on the international stage.

I can see why people would be leery of replacing most or all US military forces in Afghanistan with contractors: a private military would be incentivized to prolong the fight in order to make money. In fact, while I worked as a “dirty, nasty contractor” advising Afghan forces, my team leader, a retired Special Forces sergeant, told us that we should “avoid the term Full Operational Capability" (with regard to the Afghan unit we advised) because then we would be out of work. I was pretty surprised.

That said, I think a contractor army might work depending on how it was set up and paid for. First, fielding such a private force under a Letter of Marque, which is allowed under our Constitution, would subject said army to government rules and accountabilities, sort of like the UCMJ. Second, using a firm fixed price contract would place maximum risk on the company for mission success or failure, incentivizing them to finish their job (win the war, or whatever end-state the government identifies).

We don’t have Executive Outcomes anymore. Maybe Dyncorps, Engility, or Constellis, with ABCANZ contractor personnel only, are the way to go…?