Small Wars Journal

I Was a Mercenary. Trust Me: Erik Prince’s Plan Is Garbage.

I Was a Mercenary. Trust Me: Erik Prince’s Plan Is Garbage. By Sean McFate - Politico

For the past year, Erik Prince has been peddling an idea that should alarm anyone who has followed his career: We should replace U.S. troops in Afghanistan with mercenaries, preferably his.

For those who do not know Prince, he was a founder of Blackwater International, the private military contractor that became so toxic, he had to change the company’s name. Under his management, Blackwater committed perhaps the worst war crime of the Iraq war: A squad of armed contractors killed 17 civilians at the Nisour traffic circle in Baghdad. The incident sparked a political uproar in Iraq, vastly complicated the mission of the State Department diplomats the contractors were ostensibly there to protect, and set off multiple probes into Blackwater’s conduct. A FBI inquiry later found that 14 of the 17 deaths were unjustified. For Americans, the “Nisour Incident” was a stain on their country’s moral character. For Iraqis, Blackwater’s reckless behavior and callous disregard for Iraqi lives seemed emblematic of America’s handling of the war as a whole, and helped to hasten our exit.

Now Prince wants to privatize the Afghanistan war. And Afghans thought the worst we could do was bomb them.

The generals laughed at Prince, and thankfully the president went with the non-mercenary option. But Prince refuses to disappear, excoriating the generals in a recent op-ed for The New York Times, and pushing again for mercenaries, suggesting “it is not too late to alter the course.”

As a former military contractor, I cannot imagine a worse outcome for Afghanistan or the U.S. than handing everything over to mercenaries…

Read on.


J Harlan

Mon, 09/04/2017 - 7:32pm

US citizens being paid by the US government to execute US policy wouldn't legally be mercenaries. Ditto for the citizens from other NATO states, Georgia, Australia etc. In any event the US Gov has had armed non-military people deployed into Afghanistan from at least 2002 so the difference is one of scale more than anything else.

The South Africans, El Salvadoreans and Colombians etc who would be inevitably hired would be unless their countries joined the fight.

If Prince's people were contracted to the CIA would they be any different from the contractors the agency has already used? And why would the CIA need a middleman like Prince to hire more people?

J Harlan

Mon, 09/04/2017 - 12:44am

Prince's plan was unlikely to work for a number of reasons but I'll stick to HR.

To put three people in each battalion and company would take about 4,000 competent, healthy, fit, retired officers who respected Afghans and would sign up to live in ANSF compounds for three years.I can think of no one in a western army that would sign on for that unless the pay was so over the top that they couldn't resist it.

My guess is a retired Lt Col would cost $ 1500 per day before retention bonuses. Even if Prince filled his quota he'd be stuck with how to keep them on the job so tack on another years salary for sticking it out. Add on selection, training costs, equipment, travel, insurance etc and before the "Black Water" markup you're looking at about $ 3 billion annually- without an air force. Triple or perhaps quadruple the cost when the planes arrive.

My estimate above is based on three men assigned to each HQ with two in country and one on leave. All would be paid as mid to upper management plus the highest risk and hardship allowances used by State to calculate contractor pay. It doesn't include people in schools, at brigade or higher or the aviation component.

The right people wouldn't be available in nearly enough number. The best active duty senior officers are still in the run for promotions so you'd get reservists, the guys from the left side of the active duty merit bell curve or you'd have ex NCOs doing captains and majors jobs. When they ran out you'd get people from dodgy outfits like NZ SAS and then third world guys for whom the pay check would bring unimaginable wealth (unless they had worked for a Cartel).

All of that before you tackled the question of language ability. Since they'd be contractors and not military do you dare send them to DLI first? It'd be a good idea, perhaps essential to be able to talk with the Afghans but are you prepared to pay for a year of schooling to have them back out or become too ill to go? You'd have a Pashtu speaker with a top secret clearance and presumably the right to jump ship to a much safer NGO or Dev Corp job.

From our article above:

"Crazy as all this sounds, it is a marked improvement over Prince’s earlier op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, in which he advocates neocolonialism—a deeply un-American idea. He urged an American “viceroy” be installed to rule Afghanistan like a colonial overlord, backed by a mercenary army modeled on the old British East India Co."

So: Does Prince's concept not (correctly?) take us back to C.E. Callwell's time -- and his "Small Wars: Their Principles and Practices" -- which, indeed, might need to be looked at again?

This, given that our idealist views and expectations of the current era -- as being different from back then (think "universal western values," "the overwhelming appeal of our way of life/our way of governance," and the Western version of "the end of history," etc.) -- these such idealist views and expectations would now seem to have all been disproved?

In this regard, consider the following:

BEGIN QUOTE FROM "INTERNATIONAL LAW STUDIES" -- Volume 85 -- NAVAL WAR COLLEGE -- 2009 -- AUTHOR: SIR ADAM ROBERTS (See Part I: The War in Afghanistan in Context)

The Nineteenth Century and After

Many modern wars, including that in Afghanistan, fit quite well the general description of colonial conflicts offered by Major C.E. Callwell of the Royal Artillery in 1899 in his justly famous manual Small Wars. Callwell himself had served during the closing stages of the Second Anglo-Afghan War, when he marched through the Khyber Pass to join the Kabul field force. 1 It was on the basis of experience that he wrote two decades later:

Small wars are a heritage of extended empire, a certain epilogue to encroachments into lands beyond the confines of existing civilization, and this has been so from early ages to the present time. Conquerors of old penetrating into the unknown encountered races with strange and unconventional military methods and trod them down, seizing their territory; revolts and insurrections followed, disputes and quarrels with tribes on the borders of the districts overcome supervened, out of the original campaign of conquest sprang further wars, and all were vexatious, desultory, and harassing. And the history of those small wars repeats itself in the small wars of to-day. 2



If "the history of those small wars repeats itself in the small wars of to-day,"

Then might not a valid and reasonable argument be made; this, that the manner in which these such wars (a) might be viewed (see Callwell above) and, thus, (b) might need to be pursued (see Prince above); these, indeed, might warrant further consideration?

Bottom Line Question -- Based on the Above:

Thus, while "neo-colonialism" may, indeed, be "a very un-American idea," is it actually the failure of American ideas which has, in fact, taken us back (a) to the 19th and early 20th Centuries, (b) to the familiar "conflict paradigm" thereof and, thus, (c) to the actual (and equally familiar) ways that we might have to deal with/operate in same ???

Erik Prince may have personal ties to the Trump administration, but I do not believe he is being considered to head a mercenary war in Afghanistan. That this person does not dispute events in Iraq and Price's subsequent refugee status in Qatar? is no proof Prince's plan would not work. That our General's laugh at it, of course they are protecting their war they don't want intrusive outsiders not directly under their control on their turf.
Prince claimed the Islamic State could have been defeated the first year by forming a Brigade of contractors, most of them would be American vets and some ex pats and supporting artillery and air assets, supply etc.,. That is the size force now on the ground in Syria and Iraq while still employing but not only Obama's assassination emphasis.
Also, note that Michelle Obama presumably with her husband's blessing claimed we would get the girl's back that were seized by Boko Haram and enslaved in rape marriages. She never got one of them back, or possible two. Executive Decisions former employees on contract have done more to eliminate that threat. President Obama's and the Clinton's hatred and paranoia relative to the US military preference being placed on arming and involving the mercenaries wearing blue helmets lead to constipation rather than action.
of the over 300 rape brides of the Islamic Revolution in Nigeria, half are dead, and perhaps 1/4 have finally found their way home.
Erik Prince is not the man to lead a contracting force but let's address the plan instead of the man please.