Erik Prince, founder of the private security firm Blackwater Worldwide, is still calling to replace U.S. troops in Afghanistan with private military contractors. In an interview on MSNBC on Tuesday, Prince pointed to the East India Company in India during British colonization as a source of emulation for U.S. policy in Afghanistan.
Prince has been advocating for the use of private military contractors in Afghanistan who would train local units, under the supervision of a federal official with fairly broad powers. This would replace the presence of U.S. troops in the country.
When asked by MSNBC’s Ali Velshi if he had ever seen such a plan work somewhere else, Prince responded, “Sure. I mean, I’ve mentioned in that article – and I say, the East India Company. Again, not that I’m advocating for a colonization of Afghanistan. Farthest from it.”
Still, he went on to point to virtues of the East India Company, saying, “We want to prevent terror sanctuary and leave. But when the East India Company operated for 200-plus years, they deployed with that model. One mentor to 20 local troops.”
Prince’s idea isn’t new — he first laid out this plan in a Wall Street Journal article in May, calling for the United States to delegate decision-making responsibilities to a “viceroy” and military efforts to private contractors like himself, who would remain in Afghanistan for an indeterminate amount of time. In the article, he extolled the successes of the East India Company, the infamous corporation that devastated India and played such a large role in British colonization.
The East India Company was a British company that took over India with a private army for monetary gain, destroying India’s local government and diverting huge quantities of resources to Great Britain, eventually leading India to rebel in 1857 and the British Crown to take direct control in India. The company is usually regarded as a disruptive colonialist power, not a military success.
Prince and DynCorp International’s owner Stephen Feinberg have been in talks with the White House about using private contractors instead of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, according to a New York Times report from last month. At the time, it was reported that the Defense Secretary James Mattis said he wasn’t interested in their plan, but that hasn’t stopped Prince from continuing to give public interviews about why it’s a good idea.
Private military contractors like Prince stand to profit immensely from the United States if their troops are used. But if the White House accepts his advice, there could be severe consequences. Private military contractors are often embroiled in scandals, and they’re not known for their accountability.
Blackwater, for example, which has since been renamed to Academi, was involved in the 2007 Nisour Square Massacre, in which several of its employees opened fire on a crowd of unarmed civilians, resulting in 17 deaths and 20 injuries.
Richard Painter, former chief White House ethics lawyer under George W. Bush, previously told ThinkProgress that seeking guidance from contractors like Prince and Feinberg is “an awful idea.”
“There are lots of ethical problems once you get into military contractors,” he added.
That hasn’t deterred Prince, who has been on a publicity tour of sorts for the past month, giving interviews on NPR, various radio shows, and now MSNBC. His main argument is that his plan will save the U.S. a considerable amount of money. “Look, from a spending side, $45 billion versus $10 billion, that’s good math,” he continued in the MSNBC interview.
Velshi responded that his proposal was just “a really big discount for no potential end to the problem.”