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US hires business tycoons for advice on Afghan war

US hires business tycoons for advice on Afghan war

Jul 12, 2017 - 11:31

KABULinfo-icon (Pajhwok): With Washington’s new US policy still undefined, President Donald Trump’s advisers have hired two business tycoons who profited from military contracting to devise alternatives to the Pentagon’s plan to send additional troops to Afghanistaninfo-icon.

A prestigious US newspaper reported on Tuesday the move reflected the Trump administration’s struggle to evolve a strategy for dealing with the longest war in America’s history a conflict that has become increasingly messy.

Erik Prince, a founder of the controversial private security firm Blackwater Worldwide, and Stephen Feinberg, a billionaire who owns the giant military contractor DynCorp International, have developed proposals to rely on contractors instead of American troops in Afghanistan.

The businessmen have been recruited at the behest of Stephen Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist, and Jared Kushner, his senior adviser and son-in-law, according to The New York Times, which cited people briefed on the conversations.

Bannon sought out Defence Secretary Jim Mattis at the Pentagon on in a bid to get a hearing for their ideas. The secretary listened politely but declined to include outside strategies in a review of Afghanistan policy that he is leading along with National Security Adviser Lt Gen HR 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 businesspeople for help with diplomatic and military problems.”

Feinberg, whose name had previously been floated to conduct a review of the nation’s intelligence agencies, met the president on Afghanistan, the newspaper said. Prince has also briefed several White House officials, including McMaster.

“If Trump opted to use more contractors and fewer troops, it could also enrich DynCorp, which has already been paid $2.5 billion by the State Department for its work in the country, mainly training the Afghan police force,” the Times said.

Feinberg, another official, put more emphasis than Prince on working with Afghanistan’s central government. But his strategy would also give CIA control over operations by paramilitary units and hence subject to less oversight than the military.

 “The conflict of interest in this is transparent,” said Sean McFate, a professor at Georgetown University who authored a book on the growth of private armies, The Modern Mercenary. “Most of these contractors are not even American, so there is also a lot of moral hazard.”

Despite Bannon’s apparent failure to convince Mattis, Defense Department officials said they did not underestimate his influence as a link to, and an advocate for,. Trump’s populist political base. Bannon has told colleagues that sending more troops to Afghanistan was a slippery slope to the nation building that Trump ran against during the campaign.

Mattis believes Prince’s concept of relying on private armies in Afghanistan goes too far, he supported using contractors for limited, specific tasks when he was the four-star commander of the Central Command.

The Pentagon has developed options to send 3,000 to 5,000 more troops, including hundreds of Special Operations forces, with a consensus settling on about 4,000 additional soldiers. NATOinfo-icon countries would also contribute a few thousand additional forces.

PANinfo-icon Monitor/mud


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