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Blackwater founder Erik Prince proposes privatizing Afghanistan war

Blackwater founder on Afghanistan
Blackwater founder says contractors in Afghanistan wouldn't be mercenaries 07:41

President Trump has held off so far on approving strategy recommendations for the nearly 16-year war in Afghanistan. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said this week, "To just say we're going to keep doing what we've been doing, the president is not willing to accept that."

The Trump administration is, however, considering a plan proposed by Blackwater founder Erik Prince to privatize a large portion of the U.S. effort in Afghanistan. Prince's plan would send about 5,000 private military contractors to replace U.S. troops helping the Afghan army. Now executive director and chairman of Frontier Services Group, Prince said his plan would cut the annual cost of the war from an estimated $45 billion to less than $10 billion.

Erik Prince CBS News

There are currently about 8,400 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, and the Pentagon has proposed sending several thousand more to increase the number of trainers, advisers and special operations forces.

Asked Tuesday on "CBS This Morning" whether his role at Frontier Services Group, which offers global security services, could be a conflict of interest if his proposal were to be approved, Prince said, "Look, if it comes to a bid or whatever, if someone's able to come up with a solution that saves taxpayers $40 billion, I think anyone should compete and do that."

"But you would be profiting from the war?" CBS News' Vladimir Duthiers asked.

"Well, we're not there now. But any vendor, again, that solves the solution, that's capitalism. That's what it's about," Prince responded. 

He also addressed whether he should be excluded from bidding since his sister, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, serves in the Trump administration, saying, "Of course not."

Prince's plan for Afghanistan calls for "unity of command."

"The interagency process, you've had 17 different commanders in 15 years. That's not even counting ambassadors or CIA station chiefs," Prince said. "So you have to have one person that is clearly in charge of U.S. policy, spending, rules of engagement of the effort there."

He also said his plan would "attach" the contracted forces to the Afghan army because "the U.S. is not doing any training or mentoring, really, at the battalion level, where the rubber really meets the road."

Prince asserts the contractors would not be mercenaries.

"The way the United Nations defines mercenaries, by being attached to the Afghan army, they would not be mercenaries," Prince said. "So they would be contracted people, professionals, former special operations veterans that have experience in that theater to go do that work."

While senior advisers Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon are said to be supportive of the plan, other members of the Trump administration, including Defense Secretary James Mattis and National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster, in addition to Afghan officials, are said to be skeptical.

"[Mattis] likes the analysis of the problem, but he doesn't necessarily like the idea that you'd send contractors," Prince said. But he added, "Contractors are there in a big way now. This is a slight alteration of how they would be used."

CBS News' Margaret Brennan pointed out the contractors would be put "into combat-like situations."

"Sure, but it's not a private army. They're attaching to the Afghan army," Prince said. "They're basically, imagine them as skeletal support on which each Afghan battalion is built around. The Afghan special forces are functional. They do well. They conduct 70, 80 percent of the offensive missions. They are mentored in exactly this way by U.S. Special Forces. The problem is the U.S. Army does not have enough sergeants. They can't send 4,000 sergeants and above to go do this mission."

Prince said his plan would "complete" the U.S. strategy of having the Afghans fight the war themselves.

"Look, there are still Americans dying there. Like I said, any American – left, right or center – wants to figure out a way to cauterize this wound. Sixteen years is enough. We have another trillion dollars in health care costs that we're going to owe for the Afghan war, so let's bring it to a close," Prince said. "People might not like the idea of using contractors for that. Let's get used to that idea. It's better than having American soldiers there endlessly. Are we going to be having this conversation in another 10 years?"

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