Growing impatient with the conflict in Afghanistan as it stretches into its 17th year, President Trump is becoming more receptive to appeals to privatize the war, advisers to the president told NBC News.
The privatization proposal would involve replacing soldiers with mercenaries who report to a special U.S. envoy, who would in turn report directly to the president. The idea is the brainchild of Blackwater founder Erik Prince, who claims the scheme will save billions of dollars and help quickly resolve the conflict.
Military experts disagree, disputing the purported savings and raising alarm about the ethical dilemmas, most notably the potential lack of accountability, sparked by relying on private contractors to fight U.S. wars.
Last summer, Prince pitched his idea to hand over Afghanistan to mercenaries in a PowerPoint presentation to Trump advisers as the White House mulled its next move in the region. The administration ultimately decided to authorize a troop surge instead. Now, in a move that coincides with the one-year anniversary of the Trump administration’s troop surge announcement, Prince told NBC News he’s launching an “aggressive” media campaign to convince Trump to reconsider his proposal.
“I know he’s frustrated,” Prince, referring to the president, told NBC News in a report published on Friday. “He gave the Pentagon what they wanted. …And they haven’t delivered.”
Prince kicked off the effort last month with a YouTube video arguing for privatization. He’s since made the rounds on cable news shows.
Trump is famously susceptible to cable news programming, often designing his talking points around what’s airing on the Fox News shows he watches every morning. According to NBC News, this policy area is no exception: in recent days, Trump’s renewed interest in Prince’s Afghanistan proposal was reportedly sparked by watching the above video produced by Prince.
Prince is no stranger to spearheading this type of media strategy. Last summer, he embarked on a similar tour to push his privatization proposal, placing op-eds in the New York Times, USA Today, and the Wall Street Journal.
Given the Trump administration’s erratic policymaking moves, some of which come in direct contrast to the president’s rhetoric, it’s often difficult to get a clear sense of the direction the White House is headed.
A spokesperson for the National Security Council, in a statement to reporters on Friday, flatly denied that the White House is considering Prince’s proposal.
“No such proposal from Erik Prince is under consideration. The president adopted the South Asia strategy after months of deliberation among his key national security advisors,” the spokesperson said, adding that the president “would like to see more progress in Afghanistan” but has no plans to withdraw troops “precipitously.”
But previous reporting from the Atlantic and USA Today indicates that Trump has been receptive to the idea in the past. Former Trump strategist Steve Bannon was a fan of Prince’s proposal and spent some time pushing it at the White House. Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner is also reportedly supportive of the scheme.
Prince, who is the brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, told NBC News he is confident he’ll be able to schedule time to speak more with Trump officials about his ideas in the coming days.