By: Zeerak Youosfi
Recent reports that have surfaced to the media suggest that a number of senior officials in the White House may be considering plans to outsource the U.S. mission in Afghanistan to private security companies. Privatisation of America’s longest war has become a source of serious debate and discussions among top U.S. strategists and politicians after General John W. Nicholson, the current top U.S. commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan, told the law makers back in February 2017 that “we are in a stalemate and to break this stalemate, we need a few thousand more troops on the ground”. In addition to General Nicholson’s congressional hearing, some other factors such as events in Afghanistan such as, increase in the level of Taliban’s attacks and seizing more ground from the Afghan government, increase in military and civilian casualties and lack of clarity of the U.S. engagement in Afghanistan as well as questions about know-how of the involvement of Trump administration and its approach towards this tiring conundrum, eventually led to a decision of devising a new strategy for Afghanistan. Defense Secretary James Mattis was tasked to come up with a new winning strategy by mid-July. The strategy is, however, yet to be announced due to difference of opinions within inner circle of Trump’s top security advisors.
A number of contentious issues such as questions about the need and objective for the U.S. troops to stay in this part of the world, number of troops to be sent, strategies for winning the war and cost of the war, not only caused delays in announcement of the strategy, but also brought the topic of the privatisation into top-level discussions. Senior Trump aides Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner are said to be principal advocates of contracting the Afghan war out to Blackwater. They have reportedly had meetings with the owners of Blackwater and DynCorp International, Erick Prince and Stephen A. Feinberg to present their proposals. The aids also tried to encourage Pentagon officials to agree with a plan of privatization back in June.
Though it is generally believed that contracting private security companies to fight the war on behalf of the U.S. government may in short-term reduce cost and save billions of dollars, and at the same time will decrease casualties of the US army personnel, but it will undoubtedly have dire consequences for Afghanistan.
Efforts will be made in this article to focus merely on effects that the privatisation of war may have on the Afghan people and the government as far as the current conflict is concerned and some valid arguments will be put forth to demonstrate that why it is a bad idea from the Afghans point of view:
First, Afghans have a limited amount of knowledge about American security companies and the way they operate. Among them is only the Blackwater that people are acquainted with its name in Afghanistan. The only image they have in mind of Blackwater is its scandalous notoriety it has been through during Iraq and Afghan war. The Naisour incident in Iraq in 2007 where more than 14 Iraqi civilians were killed in Blackwater shooting and the ensuing legal proceedings that have largely been broadcasted by national and international media was the cause behind this acquaintance. Deploying this company under whatever name will cause a huge public outrage and dissatisfaction if coupled with negative and exaggerated propaganda of the Afghan armed opposition groups and their regional backers. The armed oppositions including Taliban and Haqani Network as well other newly emerged groups such as regional offshoots of ISIS will intensify disseminating and spreading wrong messages to manipulating people’s religious and patriotic sentiments. Looking to the Taliban’s communication and media outlets, they have already started doing so. One of the arguments that has been circulating in the Afghan social media is that Afghan government is not seen as an equal partner to the U.S government and that is why they are handing it over to a private security company to deal with.
Second, there is a general view held by different security and defence analysts that fighters of the private security companies are not as accountable as army troops are in case they commit war crimes or human rights abuses and this will create a fear among the Afghan civilians and will further undermine the legitimacy of current war fought under the banner of anti-terrorism efforts.
Third, citing previous scandals and civilian fatalities during Blackwater operations in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as some reports of alleged clandestine operations in Pakistan and the Middle East, the armed opposition groups in remote areas of Afghanistan could manipulate public perception and the presence of private contractors might be used as a communication tool for accelerating recruitment, intensification of violence and longevity of war in the country.
Fourth, the Afghan government and its international supporters have always made utmost efforts to strengthen legitimacy of the presence of international troops as supporters of democracy, security and stability, economic development and reconstruction of the country, but deployment of a private security company will be considered as a diversion of focus from everything else to only militarisation which will further deal a blow to the trust building processes and legitimacy of the continuation of the presence of the international forces.
Lastly, past experience of the operations of private security companies in Afghanistan, albeit lower in number, has indicated that employing local companies and partnering with private sector agencies owned by strongmen in and out of the government of Afghanistan has in many cases resulted in high level corrupt practices, tax evasions, illegal trade and formation of illegal armed groups. Assignment of these local companies with enough resources and capabilities will provide ground for them to gather more wealth and continue challenging the rule of law in the country.
In conclusion, if U.S. really wants to win the war in Afghanistan and win it in a dignified way, and to preserve its image as a real partner with the Afghan government and the people, instead of privatising the war, it should focus on strengthening and developing the capacity and capabilities of the Afghanistan National Security and Defense Forces (ANSDF) including fully supporting the Afghan government’s 4-year security plan, assist the Afghan government in fulfilling its desire for a political solution with armed opposition groups through supporting peace efforts in Afghanistan, and put further pressure on the regional countries to give up on supporting and exporting terrorism. This will be, in terms of treasury, blood and time, a highly cost-effective and sustainable win for the U.S., the entire international community involved in Afghanistan and the Afghan government.
The writer (twitter:@ayubi987) is an independent analyst with focus on international political affairs as well as peace and security in Afghanistan. He writes both in English and local languages Pashto/Dari.