A Private War

President Trump’s plan to privatize the war in Afghanistan would enrich three of Trump’s key financial donors and plays into Russia’s military objectives.

With reporting by Tracie McElroy.

In September 2007, Blackwater armed military personnel, guarding State Department officials, drove into Baghdad’s Nisour Square and opened fire, killing 17 people and injuring 20 others. Blackwater worked for the US as a “contracted” private army (there were as many as 160,000 contracted personnel operating during the Iraq war). Blackwater guards worked outside the normal military command of the military and the House Oversight Committee would later reveal the firm was engaged in over 195 unprovoked attacks in a 9 month period in 2014.

As a result of the Nisour Square massacre, Iraq terminated Blackwater’s license to operate within its borders. Four Blackwater employees were tried and convicted in U.S. federal court; one for murder, and the other three of manslaughter and firearms charges.

Peter Singer, a former Brookings Analyst would later write, “When we evaluate the facts, the use of private military contractors appears to have harmed, rather than helped, the counterinsurgency efforts of the U.S. mission in Iraq, going against our best doctrine and undermining critical efforts of our troops.”

President Trump's plan to privatize the war in Afghanistan would enrich three of Trump's key financial donors and plays into Russia's military objectives.
Vice President Mike Pence, president Donald J. Trump and Palantir co-founder Peter Thiel.

Mercenary Erik Prince wants to command a private army to fight the war in Afghanistan.

10 years after the Nisour Square Massacre, Blackwater CEO Erik Prince, the same man who helmed the company in 2007, is proposing that a private army should fight another U.S. war in Afghanistan.

Prince, brother of Education Secretary Betsy Devos, is a staunch supporter of the Trump administration with close ties to Vice President Mike Pence, Trump backers Robert and Rebekah Mercer and former White House strategist Stephen Bannon. Prince, as you may recall, was the Trump adviser who held secret talks with Russia in the Seychelles in December 2016. Now, he wants to privatize the 16- year-old war in Afghanistan.

“We aren’t winning,” President Trump recently chastised his Generals at a meeting on Afghanistan. “We are losing.” The Generals reminded the President that the U.S. isn’t winning the war because he’d delayed signing off on a strategy for months. It’s in that vacuum that Prince and the White House have floated an idea to pay Blackwater $10 billion to hire 5,500 private contractors to run the war in Afghanistan.

Prince is not the only private citizen to set to benefit from this deployment. Silicon Valley mogul Peter Thiel, who helped found PayPal and Facebook donated $1.25 million to Trump’s campaign and was even given an important prime-time speaking role at the Republican National Convention in July 2016. He is close to Erik Prince. Thiel showed New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, “a picture on his phone of him posing with Erik Prince, who founded the private military company Blackwater, and Mr. Trump but joke[d] that it was ’N.S.F.I.’ (Not Safe for the Internet).”

Thiel is the co-founder of Palantir, a controversial yet effective data mining software company which provides clients, including many branches of the U.S. military, a real-time view of what is going on in an operational theatre (weather conditions, cell-phone and social media tracking, and other real-time data). Palantir’s software is believed to have been used in the raid that killed Osama Bin-Laden and has been effectively deployed elsewhere.

Critics say Palantir doesn’t have the right security and privacy mechanisms and as a private company, the vast data set that it owns, often classified, is in the hands of a private company and can easily pass into the wrong hands. The system has has also been vulnerable to significant malware attacks.

President Trump's plan to privatize the war in Afghanistan would enrich three of Trump's key financial donors and plays into Russia's military objectives.
Former National Security Adviser, Lt-General Michael Flynn, supported adoption of the Palantir platform. He was later exposed as being compromised by Russian intelligence.

Former National Security Adviser, Lt-Gen Michael Flynn, exposed as “compromised” by Russia, has ties to mercenary Erik Prince and Peter Thiel’s company Palantir.

Palantir has many supporters in the military ranks, including three of General Jim Mattis’ deputies who have lobbied on behalf of Thiel’s company. Condoleezza Rice and former CIA director George Tenet advise the company. Perhaps Palantir’s most ardent supporter is Lt-General Michael Flynn, Trump’s former National Security adviser, who was working for Turkey and who Justice officials say was compromised by the Russians. Back in 2010, when he was the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Flynn pushed the military to adopt Palantir software. “Intelligence analysts in theater currently do not have the tools required to fully analyze the tremendous amounts of information currently available,” Flynn wrote.

Flynn also played a behind the scenes role connecting Palantir to partners. Steven Brill speculates in Fortune magazine that with Trump in office, Thiel can get Palantir approval across U.S. agencies, something his key lobbyist (and compromised Russian operative) Michael Flynn would wholeheartedly endorse.

Flynn served under Mike Pence as the vice chairman of Trump’s transition team. In December, he met with Russian Ambassador Kislyak. The same month Flynn, Erik Prince, Jared Kushner and Stephen Bannon met Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan in a secret meeting in New York. Zayed had met with Putin twice in 2016. A few weeks after the New York meeting, Zayed arranged for Erik Prince to meet a representative of Vladimir Putin in the Seychelles in order to explore Russia’s willingness to isolate Iran in exchange for closer U.S. relations and dropping of sanctions.

Another top Trump supporter Stephen A. Feinberg is working with Prince to support the privatization of the war in Afghanistan. Feinberg is the billionaire financier who owns the giant military contractor DynCorp International. Bannon and Kushner tapped Prince and Feinberg to come up with the plan to privatize the conflict in Afghanistan. Feinberg is also close to Thiel.

President Trump's plan to privatize the war in Afghanistan would enrich three of Trump's key financial donors and plays into Russia's military objectives.
Russia’s global strategy is to gain access to warm water ports. They supply weapons to the Taliban to fight the Afghanistan army which is supported by the U.S.

Russia supplies weapons to the Taliban while working with the Trump administration to co-operate in the fight against it.

Afghanistan has been a quagmire for the United States for 16 years, and part of the reason it is bogged down there is Russia. The head of U.S. forces there, Gen. John Nicholson confirmed Moscow is supplying weapons to the Taliban. “We continue to get reports of this assistance,” Nicholson said, speaking to reporters alongside Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. “We support anyone who wants to help us advance the reconciliation process, but anyone who arms belligerents who perpetuate attacks like the one we saw two days ago in Mazar-e Sharif is not the best way forward to a peaceful reconciliation.”

It’s easy to see why Russia has a strategic goal in Afghanistan. Russia’s foreign policy is guided by a drive to access warm water ports. This is true in Syria, North Korea, Turkey, Iran and the “stan” countries – particularly Afghanistan and Pakistan. In addition to the efforts to prop up the Taliban, Russia has supported ISIS, Hezbollah through Iran and despots like Bashar al-Assad.

Putin likes to wage war between two forces he controls so any move by the Trump administration to “privatize” the war in Afghanistan should be viewed in this light. Without real U.S. military involvement, a private army run by Erik Prince and cooperation from Russia in taming the Taliban it supports, joint Russian and U.S. control over Afghanistan would bring a cold peace to the region, but it also gives Russia a strategic foothold at the expense of the U.S. It would certainly enrich three of Trump’s biggest supporters: Erik Prince, Peter Thiel and Stephen Feinberg.

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