By Gary Anderson
August 8, 2017
Erik Prince, the owner of the former
Blackwater security company, has proposed that the U.S. military outsource the
air war in Afghanistan to him. Gen. John Nicholson, who currently commands the
NATO effort in the war, has apparently refused to give the Prince proposal an
airing. The president reportedly is not happy with the progress of the war and
wants to fire Gen. Nicholson, who would be the second American commander to be
sacked in the war’s nearly 16 years. If I were Gen. Nicholson, I’d give Mr.
Prince a fair hearing.
The Afghans are not doing well in the war
largely because their air force cannot support the army adequately of the
ground. After nearly two decades of American “advice and assistance,” the
Afghan Air Force is a mess. Instead of fixing the problem, the Americans have
shored the Afghans up with close air support and other patchwork fixes that
have failed. If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and
over and expecting a different result, the high command in Kabul is
Instead of dismissing Mr. Prince outright,
Gen. Nicholson should have requested a proposal that would require Mr. Prince
to come up with a plan that would make the Afghan Air Force self-sufficient in
a certain time frame if he desires to see a profit from his efforts. That would
not just mean providing the Afghan troops with close air support. It would
require Mr. Prince and his company to train the mechanics and air crews of the
Afghan Air Force to maintain the transport aircraft and helicopters needed to
provide resupply and medical evacuation to Afghan soldiers scattered over some
of the world’s most inhospitable terrain.
Mr. Prince’s profit-oriented approach is an
outside-the-box, commercial solution to a hard problem that has eluded the U.S.
military. It won’t win the war by itself, but it could provide a key solution
to the supply-and-support problem that has dogged Afghan forces since President
Obama prematurely tried to hand the war over to them on an arbitrary timeline.
Our generals have lacked the imagination to
tell the administration that something new and different from sending in more
uniformed advisers should be tried. We are in an Afghan war that is not be
going to won by merely defeating the enemy on the battlefield. The Taliban can
draw from a nearly limitless supply of tribal youth bent on revenge for the
deaths of relatives and friends.
The Afghan stalemate will only be broken
when the various factions that make up the Taliban realize two things. First,
that they are not strong enough to capture the major population centres of
Afghanistan as they did in the late ‘90s; and second, that they are losing
ground to a far more dangerous enemy in the form of ISIS than they face in the
Afghan government. Until the Afghan security forces stop losing ground, the
Taliban will continue to hope the government will crack. If its forces can
adequately hold and retake ground, the possibility exists that the government
and the local insurgents can make common cause to fight the real
foreign-inspired threat that ISIS represents. The Taliban don’t want to attack
the American homeland or Europe, but ISIS does.
Afghanistan should not be an American
“forever war.” Whatever its faults, the government of Afghanistan must
eventually become responsible for its internal security. The United States will
need to supplement its defence costs, but the Afghans eventually need to do
their own fighting with their own people. Our eventual military mission in
Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and elsewhere should be limited to counterterrorism
against al Qaeda, ISIS and other violent extremist groups that are plotting
against the American homeland. If Mr. Prince can come up with a plan to help us
do that and make a buck at the same time, good for him.
• Gary Anderson is a retired Marine Corps officer who served as a
Department of State civilian adviser in Iraq and Afghanistan and as a
contractor in Afghanistan.