Small Wars Journal

Private Military Contractors Aren’t Going To Do A Better Job In Afghanistan. Here’s Why.

Private Military Contractors Aren’t Going To Do A Better Job In Afghanistan. Here’s Why. By Deborah Avant - Washington Post

The New York Times reported July 10 on meetings between President Trump, his top advisers and private military and security company (PMSC) magnates, Erik Prince (founder of Blackwater) and Stephen A. Feinberg (owner of DynCorp International) to discuss plans for having contractors take over U.S. operations in Afghanistan. The plans are said to hew closely to the Wall Street Journal op-ed Erik Prince published in June proposing a “MacArthur solution” to Afghanistan. Like the historical analogy it borrows from, the plan proposes a U.S. viceroy, but unlike MacArthur, the viceroy would carry out his plans with the help of a private army.

Could such a plan actually improve counterinsurgency, leading to the success that has thus eluded the U.S. (and NATO)? In a word: no. And the plan is much more than a different strategy; it reformulates (one might say privatizes) U.S. goals.

General studies of PMSCs (though not focused on counterinsurgency, per se) begin to shed light on their overall impact on war. Looking at civil wars in Africa, only when there is competition among companies do PMSCs working for government and rebels have a positive effect on civil war termination. This suggests that we may not want the unified effort Prince envisions.

Data from Iraq show that competition is not enough. Only when there is competition joined by contracts with particular performance incentives do PMSCs reduce violence in an area. And using the Private Security Database (PSD) to focus on contracts between governments and PMSCs in failed or failing states — notably applicable for Afghanistan — is shown to increase conflict severity.

More detailed studies show that PMSCs work differently than military forces and should increase our skepticism of their counterinsurgency value. Different recruitment, motivation, rules, training and flexibility all contribute to a number of well-known concerns over misbehavior by individuals, PMSCs and the governments (and other clients) that contract with them. The International Code of Conduct (ICoC), Private Security Standards and other transnational regulatory efforts the U.S. has supported all limit PMSC behavior in ways that address these concerns by drawing PMSCs closer to common rules for public forces. (It is worth mentioning that a PMSC could not do some of what Prince calls for, like fighting alongside Afghan forces, without violating these regulations — and the regulations are now required for private security providers working for the Pentagon in contingency operations abroad.)…

Read on.