Jared Kushner has been busy, and not only with the Russians. This week, amid the hoopla surrounding his meeting with a Moscow lawyer about the 2016 election, the The New York Times published an intriguing story about his role in a plan to privatize the war in Afghanistan.
Last Saturday, Trump adviser in chief Stephen Bannon, with Kushner’s backing, went to the Pentagon to arrange a discussion between Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and “two businessmen who profited from military contracting,” the Times reported. These weren’t ordinary contractors: They were Erik Prince, the notorious founder of Blackwater, the all-purpose mercenary army, and Stephen Feinberg, a New York financier who owns and controls DynCorp International, the largest US contractor in Afghanistan.
At the meeting (which neither Prince and Feinberg would confirm), they urged the Pentagon to turn the war over to what they call “private military units” who would fight for profit as an alternative to the Pentagon’s recent proposal to send thousands more US military troops to Afghanistan to fight the Taliban. To their apparent disappointment, Mattis, the Times reported, “listened politely” to their audacious proposal, but “declined to include the outside strategies” in a review of Afghanistan policy that is being led in the White House by Trump’s national-security adviser, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster.
The Times story screamed conflict of interest. Prince, as most Americans know, cut his mercenary teeth sending his private army into Afghanistan with the CIA shortly after 9/11. He then became persona non grata in the US government after contractors under his command killed dozens of civilians in Iraq. But after selling his company and moving on to organize a private army for the United Arab Emirates, he became a key adviser to Trump on military issues. In an interview with Bannon’s Brietbart News a day after his Pentagon meeting, he spelled out his proposals.
To be sure, the war in Afghanistan, particularly logistics and surveillance operations, is already heavily contracted, as I’ve documented here over the years. But under Prince’s approach, the actual fighting would be done by mercenaries, presumably in his employ. The United States “would see CIA, special operators, and contractors working with Afghan forces to target terrorists,” he told Breitbart. “I say go back to the model that worked, for a couple hundred years in the region, by the East India company, which used professional Western soldiers who were contracted and lived with trained with and when necessary fought with their local counterparts.”