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Exclusive: Bannon & Kushner Want to Outsource Afghanistan to Mercenaries

On July 10, the New York Times revealed [1] that the Trump White House had recruited Erik Prince, the founder of the notorious private security firm Blackwater, and wealthy Trump backer Steve Feinberg, the owner of the high-profile military contractor DynCorp International, to “devise alternatives to the Pentagon’s plan to send thousands of additional troops to Afghanistan.” The story suggested that the president and his top advisers were dissatisfied with the military’s thinking on the conflict, the subject of an intense series of a consultations between senior military officers and Trump’s national security team over the last several months.

While the recruitment of Prince and Feinberg, who are close friends, was intended to provide new options for winning the 16-year war, the administration has been hesitant to describe their role. Both men are controversial for their advocacy of the U.S. government contracting out the Afghan conflict to a private company that would build Afghan state capacity, provide logistical support to the Afghan army, and battle the Taliban. At the very least, the new arrangement would mean a lighter footprint for the U.S. military (or perhaps none at all); at the most it would mean that corporate America, and not the U.S. government, would be responsible for running an overseas war—a kind of “War Inc.”

“Dyncorp has its hands all over Afghanistan anyway, and I mean they’re just everywhere,” a high-level former intelligence officer who is privy to the administration’s thinking told me, “so [senior White House adviser Steve] Bannon and crew figure, ‘What the hell, let’s just turn the whole country over to them.’”

But the proposal has shocked the handful of senior Pentagon and CIA officials familiar with it, who point out the difficulty the United States has had in controlling private armies—and those who run them. This was particularly true of Blackwater, whose contractors gave the U.S. military fits in Iraq’s Anbar Province in the aftermath of Operation Iraqi Freedom, where both national security adviser H.R. McMaster and Defense Secretary James Mattis served in key command positions. Senior military officers blame Blackwater for destabilizing Fallujah in 2004 (forcing Mattis to send his Marines into the city in “Operation Vigilant Resolve”) and for the deaths of 20 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad (the “Nisour Square Massacre”) in 2007.

“That Trump’s people would even think that McMaster or Mattis would listen to Prince shows just how tone-deaf they are,” a senior military officer told me after the Times piece was published. “If there’s one name guaranteed to get H.R.’s back up it’s Erik Prince. How you can’t know that is beyond me.” Even so, Bannon and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner insisted that McMaster read a May 31 Wall Street Journal oped written by Prince entitled “The MacArthur Model for Afghanistan [2].” The president read the article and liked it, McMaster was told.

In fact, Prince’s op-ed read like a plea for new business for his Hong Kong-based Frontier Services Group (FSG), which would supplant the U.S. military in providing “reliable logistics and aviation support” to Afghan security forces, monitor a new effort to exploit Afghanistan’s vast mineral holdings, be charged with building Afghan state capacity and, not least, oversee an aggressive air campaign targeting the Taliban. Prince suggested that a “viceroy,” a Douglas MacArthur-like figure, be appointed to oversee the effort. In sum, Prince’s plan would turn Afghanistan over to an American version of Britain’s famed East India Company—which, as Prince wrote, “prevailed in the region” for 250 years by relying on private military units. It was a neat package: the Prince model would save the U.S. billions of dollars, help build Afghanistan’s economy, and settle the conflict by forcing the Taliban back to the negotiating table.

McMaster didn’t buy it, as he told Prince when they met at the White House soon after Prince’s Wall Street Journal article appeared. According to the McMaster colleague who spoke with TAC, “The meeting began well enough,” but soon devolved into a series of increasingly acrimonious exchanges. “It got ugly fast,” TAC was told. McMaster, who is notoriously short-fused, told Prince “in no uncertain terms” that the United States wasn’t going to replicate the British colonial empire in South Asia and wasn’t going to serve as an agent for FSG profits. (The details of this meeting remain uncertain, but the White House did not respond to requests for comment on this article.)

But, while the reaction to Prince’s ideas on Afghanistan was immediate and negative, the views of Feinberg proved less controversial, in part because the New York financier went out of his way to solicit outside opinions on the conflict and to sidle up to Washington insiders with strong ties to officials close to both McMaster and Mattis. Feinberg, who is close to Trump and was a major donor to his 2016 campaign, also had an in-depth discussion with the president on his ideas, we were told. “This isn’t Steve’s first time at the dance,” says a fellow business executive who has known him for years. “He knew that if he showed up at meetings on Afghanistan with dollar signs in his eyes this would be a non-starter.”


Over the last three weeks, Feinberg has quietly held a series of high-level meetings on the conflict, which included a recent dinner at Washington, D.C.’s Trump International Hotel. Included in the confab, TAC was told, was then-Dyncorp CEO Lewis Von Thaer and Ambassador Michael Gfoeller, a now retired 26-year veteran of the U.S. diplomatic service and close associate of retired Gen. David Petraeus. Since that dinner, Von Thaer’s place as a Feinberg sidekick has been filled by George Krivo, brought on to bring added credibility to Feinberg’s Afghanistan initiative. Krivo is a 20-year Army veteran, served in Bosnia and Iraq, and was once a policy adviser to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Additionally, as TAC has been reliably told, Von Thaer (who has moved on to become the head of Battelle, a well-heeled Ohio-based research firm), “was never entirely comfortable with the whole Dyncorp hired gun thing.”

That is certainly not true for career diplomat Gfoeller, a smooth foreign-policy intellectual. Gfoeller was Petraeus’s senior political adviser from 2008 to 2010, before heading off to Exxon Mobil, where he served as the corporate giant’s head of Middle East and North African affairs in its office of government relations. Not surprisingly, Gfoeller’s stint at Exxon Mobil also put him inside the orbit of Rex Tillerson, a not inconsiderable ally in any effort to reshape the U.S. approach to Afghanistan.

“Sitting down with Gfoeller was the smartest thing Steve could do,” a Middle East hand says. “When you get to Mike, you get to Petraeus, when you get to Petraeus you get to Mattis. You have to remember, Mattis and Petraeus worked together on the counterinsurgency manual and they remain in close touch. Gfoeller is a known quantity in the Mattis Pentagon.” Indeed over the last weeks Feinberg and Gfoeller have become nearly inseparable, a tag team intent on selling the Feinberg-Prince initiative in official Washington. “It’s an unbeatable constellation—you have the money man [Feinberg], the public intellectual who adds heft [Gfoeller], and the can-do adventurer, Erik Prince,” the high level former intelligence officer told me. “You add Krivo to that mix, with his JCS contacts, and suddenly this looks sellable. But Gfoeller is the key.”

Indeed, Gfoeller might well be the most important under-the-radar official in Washington, with ties not only to Petraeus at global investment powerhouse KKR but also to the Washington, D.C.-based Chertoff Group (a security firm headed by former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff) and the U.S. intelligence community. This latter is the result of his work as coordinator of U.S. counterterrorism policy while serving as deputy chief of mission in Saudi Arabia. Gfoeller’s intelligence community ties are crucial because a large segment of that community loathes military contractors. “The key here is [CIA Director] Mike Pompeo and [National Intelligence Director] Dan Coats. They will be asked to sign off on this and their opposition would probably kill it. That’s why Gfoeller is important. He’s the guy who would sell this across the river [at the CIA headquarters in Langley].” Under the Feinberg initiative, TAC has been told Dyncorp would not answer up a military chain, but be under the supervision of the CIA.

Feinberg also solicited the views of a number of well-known development hands with experience in South Asia, including economists tasked with building Afghanistan’s economic capacity during the Bush and Obama years. That effort, initially headed up by former Rumsfeld trouble-shooter Marty Hoffman and labeled the “Afghan Reachback” program, identified extensive mineral deposits that could be used to attract international business investments. Additionally, Gfoeller promoted the establishment of a “New Silk Road” that would link the Afghan economy more tightly with its neighbors during the Obama years—a high profile effort that brought him into close contact with the corporate side of the Afghanistan conflict.

“I have to admit, watching this guy Feinberg work is pretty impressive,” says the high level former intelligence officer interviewed by TAC. “He’s checked all the boxes, conferred with all the right people and gotten Bannon on his side. Forget a MacArthur-like viceroy for Afghanistan. Right now it looks like that viceroy will be Feinberg.”

Yet when Steve Bannon suggested that Defense Secretary Mattis meet with Feinberg, Mattis politely but firmly declined. Mattis’s “no” was, in large part, the result of having to subdue Fallujah after four Blackwater contractors died there in 2004 (“he’s convinced that his Marines died for Blackwater,” I was told, “and he hasn’t forgotten that”). For Mattis, the issue with the Feinberg initiative is accountability. “The problem is that mercenaries don’t come under the Uniform Code of Military Justice,” a senior Pentagon officer says. “If they were under a UCMJ structure there could be confidence in command and control and there would be accountability. But they’re not; which means their behavior is impossible to control. Young testosterone filled men carrying weapons and operating outside the law is a recipe for disaster. That scared the hell out of Mattis in 2004, and it scares the hell out of him now.”

As crucially, TAC has been told, Mattis doesn’t believe that Prince or Feinberg understand the conflict. Indeed, according to a senior Pentagon officer, both Mattis and McMaster believe the real challenge for the Trump administration isn’t Afghanistan but Pakistan—which is what former CIA officer Bruce Riedel told Barack Obama aboard Air Force One after his own 90-day deep dive into the Afghanistan problem back in 2009. The Taliban are making gains in Afghanistan, Riedel said, because Pakistan is allowing them to.

That’s true now, eight years later. The one who knows this best is McMaster. During the first week of April, he appointed Lisa Curtis, a South Asia expert at the Heritage Foundation, to head up the NSC’s South Asia desk. The Curtis appointment signaled McMaster’s acceptance of Curtis’s view that to succeed in Afghanistan the U.S. needed to be tougher with Islamabad. Curtis made this point prior to her appointment in a widely circulated paper that she wrote with Husain Haqqani, an official of the Hudson Institute.

In “A New U.S. Approach to Pakistan: Enforcing Aid Conditions without Cutting Ties,” Curtis and Haqqani proposed the adoption of a new get-tough approach to Pakistan as a necessary centerpiece for resolving the Afghanistan war. The United States, the two wrote, should “no longer sacrifice its anti-terrorism principles in the region for the sake of pursuing an ‘even-handed’ South Asia policy, but rather should levy costs on Pakistan for policies that help perpetuate terrorism in the region.” It won’t be enough for the Trump White House to somehow “coax” a change in views in Pakistan, as was done during the Obama years. What will be needed is for the United States to enforce its principles, even if that means losing an ally.

This means that while Trump advisers Bannon and Kushner promote what they tout as the administration’s new thinking and foster the plans of men whom they consider “out of the box” thinkers—such as Prince, Feinberg, Gfoeller and Krivo—the powerhouse figures of Mattis, McMaster, and Curtis have yet to weigh in. Then too, highly respected former CIA officers who served in South Asia, are known to be upset by the Feinberg proposal, and are expected to weigh in against it with Pompeo. The key, ultimately, will be Trump. He will decide whether America’s wars should continue to be fought by Americans or whether they will be contracted out to an out-of-uniform army of guns for hire who will be allowed to kill in the name of America.

Mark Perry is a foreign policy analyst and the author of  The Most Dangerous Man in America: The Making of Douglas MacArthur. His next book, The Pentagon’s Wars, will be released in October. He tweets @markperrydc [3]

46 Comments (Open | Close)

46 Comments To "Exclusive: Bannon & Kushner Want to Outsource Afghanistan to Mercenaries"

#1 Comment By john On July 17, 2017 @ 10:32 pm

If we outsource this to a bunch of pirates, how will our coalition partners react? How will the rest of the world react?

#2 Comment By Omar On July 17, 2017 @ 10:58 pm

How would private contractors succeed where the US military didn’t? I guess that’s not even important in the calculations of Kushner and Bannon. What do they really want? To save some billions. When the Treasury can just print money, who cares?
The only reason I can see for private contractors is for them and their associates to make money. I think Trump can understand that language.
And how is the US supposed to “get tough” with Pakistan when China is waving tens of billions of dollars at them. They don’t need American money.

#3 Comment By Mercy Mercy Me On July 17, 2017 @ 11:03 pm

Fine with me. Let Prince play “Man Who Would Be King” if he wants to – most people couldn’t care less if mercenaries get killed, regardless of where they come from. Just bring all the actual US troops home, make it very clear to Prince et al that they’re completely on their own, and lift their passports.

#4 Comment By Dan A. Davis On July 17, 2017 @ 11:24 pm

Out of control?
No accountability?
Trump’s home court!
He will love it.
America will be a curse word for the rest of this planet.
Thanks, Steve. Thanks, Jared. (Where was your military service? I forgot.)

#5 Comment By MEOW On July 17, 2017 @ 11:28 pm

Kushner is no fool. He helps a friend get even richer, avoids the military having to publish U.S. casualties, and he becomes the poster boy for those armchair heroes who want others to do the fighting and dying and desperately fear continual wars might prevail on the U.S. to create an equal opportunity draft.

#6 Comment By William Dalton On July 18, 2017 @ 1:45 am

After hearing the remarks of their U.N. ambassador today I am convinced no party has more of an interest and desire in defeating the Taliban than does the Islamic Republic of Iran. Ditto for ISIS and Al Qaeda. If the U.S. is going to outsource our misbegotten wars against these Islamic terrorists, why don’t we outsource them to Iran. If will cost us no more American lives, and probably no American dollars. All we need to do is lift the sanctions we presently impose on Iran and the war on Islamic terrorism is one they will gladly take up with no further remuneration.

#7 Comment By William Dalton On July 18, 2017 @ 1:46 am

After hearing the remarks of their U.N. ambassador today I am convinced no party has more of an interest and desire in defeating the Taliban than does the Islamic Republic of Iran. Ditto for ISIS and Al Qaeda. If the U.S. is going to outsource our misbegotten wars against these Islamic terrorists, why don’t we outsource them to Iran? It will cost us no more American lives, and probably no American dollars. All we need to do is lift the sanctions we presently impose on Iran and the war on Islamic terrorism is one they will gladly take up with no further remuneration.

#8 Comment By Centralist On July 18, 2017 @ 6:57 am

This is a horrible idea and alienate the majority(almost all) of our allies. The second issues is it feeds the narrative that the United States is out to create an empire on the back of Islam, which is apart of what the radicals always claim.

#9 Comment By Dan Stewart On July 18, 2017 @ 7:06 am

Afghanistan is not a sandbox to play in. The meta takeaway from this article is that none of the people in it, including the author, have America’s best interest at heart. They’re too deep in, too invested, too self-interested, too conflicted, to be honest or even objective.

The reality is we have no real strategic interest in Afghanistan, therefore we have no goals there. Hence, we can’t ever win in any conventional meaning of the word. Afghanistan is the graveyard of empires. What makes anyone think things will be any different for America there. Left to its own devices, America’s military involvement in Afghanistan will look the same in two decades as it does today. And everyone knows it. But, after all the blood and treasure, there will be lots of mortgages paid and careers made.

The obvious solution is to cut a deal with the Taliban and leave. Let them know that if they are problem for America we’ll be back. Manage any temporal American needs or wants in Afghanistan through Pakistan. Problem solved.

#10 Comment By Fred Bowman On July 18, 2017 @ 7:42 am

At this point America needs to leave Afganistan. To even consider using mercenaries to fight this war is a “fool’s folly”. Of course the same thing could be said about continuing the “SSDD” approach for over 16 years that has mired the US in Afganistan.

#11 Comment By Scott On July 18, 2017 @ 8:40 am

Yes, this will end well for sure

#12 Comment By Conewago On July 18, 2017 @ 8:45 am

Good thing the decision will be made by a man who has never, ever acted in accordance with the wishes of selfish New York financiers.

#13 Comment By Janwaar Bibi On July 18, 2017 @ 10:32 am

At first, we will be told that these mercenaries will never be deployed in the US. At some point, they will be. The US seems determined to go down the same path as Rome, as another article on this website says.

#14 Comment By Jon S On July 18, 2017 @ 11:17 am

The Taliban never did anything to the American people prior to our invasion of their country. We are just there to practice killing people.

#15 Comment By Sami On July 18, 2017 @ 11:40 am

Lol…. USA & EU should stop giving billions of dollars in Aid to Afghanistan & all these terrorist organisations will vanish automatically

#16 Comment By Qaqa Jan On July 18, 2017 @ 11:42 am

Get out! Get out completely. Our presence there, welcomed in 2002, has degenerated to tolerated or worse. The terrorists you seek to eliminate, I must assume, are the ISIS-K imports and their followers. I have to assume that, because the Taliban are essentially partisans fighting a civil war.
Left alone, the Afghans themselves will fix it as they have some many times through out history. But we have to get out for that to happen.

#17 Comment By Mark On July 18, 2017 @ 12:30 pm

Let’s make America great again by prosecuting war profiteers as we did in WWII.
It should be noted that Kushner’s friend, Feinberg named his “lnvestment” firm Cerberus.
Cerberus is a mythical three headed beast guarding the damned from leaving the gates of hell. The hound of Hades.

#18 Comment By Michael Kenny On July 18, 2017 @ 12:50 pm

None of this changes the fact that state parties always lose guerilla wars. Even if they defeat one band of gureillas, another springs up. The White House strategy could well be to put in the contractors and then blame them for the loss. Another possibility might be to test the “contractor” option with a view to using it against Putin in Syria. Until now, the US has held back from attacking Russian forces directly. Private contractors, not directly employed by the US government, could attack Russian forces without Putin being able to retaliate against the US. A similar tactic might even be used in Ukraine. Indeed, Putin himself used it to grab Crimea.

#19 Comment By Adriana I Pena On July 18, 2017 @ 1:22 pm

I do not know if this will be a farce or a tragedy.

#20 Comment By Wilfred On July 18, 2017 @ 1:24 pm

Sounds like “letters of marque and reprisal”.

Ultimate outcome too unpredictable.

#21 Comment By observeandreport On July 18, 2017 @ 1:39 pm

Whether we fight with mercenaries or uniformed soldiers, as long as Pashtun Taliban, the Haqqannis, and other militants carrying out attacks in Afghanistan can recover and regroup in Pakistan, especially in cities like Quetta, where they cannot be isolated, they cannot be defeated. A military officer that tells civil leadership otherwise makes a mockery of basic strategy and is derelict of duty. This is why Mattis and McMaster say this. It’s not a belief. It’s the truth.

“Sun Tzu said: The good fighters of old first put themselves beyond the possibility of defeat, and then waited for an opportunity of defeating the enemy.”

#22 Comment By Mark Thomason On July 18, 2017 @ 1:45 pm

It would be more expensive. They get paid more, and there is a profit margin on that.

We’d still pay for it.

Many of the same guys would do it, leaving the military for private employment.

It still would not work. Either way, we lose a war.

It would still generate the same blowback. Maybe more, as the less disciplined and controlled mercenaries do more outrageous stuff.

This is just a way to say we are not doing exactly what we are doing.

#23 Comment By hooly On July 18, 2017 @ 1:51 pm

wow, America is turning into ancient Carthage with its crack army of highly trained and battle hardened mercenary army. It managed to defeat the Roman Republic in many battles under Hannibal. But then again, look what eventually befell Carthage. America is not Rome I guess, but rather Carthage.

#24 Comment By Sophistry On July 18, 2017 @ 1:55 pm

I like the idea.

It would bring a level of rationality to the war.

Right now, the war goes on due to inertia and loss aversion. No president wants to admit defeat. He takes a blow to his image, he “invalidates” the sacrifice of lives and money. Thus, we often do throw good money after bad for illogical and irrational systemic reasons.

Hand the war over to Blackwater, and for starters they don’t have to deal with cumbersome government technology or protocols. I’m talking really basic stuff, like the tools they use.

But more importantly, the war can end when congress decides to defund “private mercenary” Blackwater. And this can be done without having to deal with the sentimentality of American casualties.

#25 Comment By Chris Chuba On July 18, 2017 @ 3:31 pm

Winning the hearts and minds of the locals. This will be known as The Poppy Surge.

It’s time to leave and work with the Russians and Iranians on helping the current govt negotiate a fusion govt with the Taliban. Reality bites but it always wins in the end. Our only quarrel w/the Taliban was that they sheltered Al Qaeda, we can bribe them like we do Pakistan and with about the same results.

#26 Comment By Baba Tim On July 18, 2017 @ 3:47 pm

I don’t believe this article is 100% true, Secretary Mattis knows enough history to not dismiss the idea out of hand. What is ironic is the contention that contractors would not be covered by the UCMJ after noting the Blackwater Nisor Square incident. American (and NATO) troops shot and killed thousands of Afghans for getting too close to their convoys and were never held to account because they were under the UCMJ. Just last month an SF team killed a father and his two sons because they happened to be driving down the only road in Khogyani district right after the SF guys hit an IED. I had vehicles shot out from under me twice in Kabul – once by the Brits and once by the Americans. I also contend that we have proved the concept had merit when a bunch of former soldiers and Marines went into the contested provinces for two years without lavish security, compounds, or armored vehicles and complete every project assigned (and they were major) on time and on budget. The only press we got is here:


The rest of the story is here.

With the right guys and the right backing we a hybrid East India Company could work. We’ve already proved the concept.

#27 Comment By hooly On July 18, 2017 @ 6:16 pm

Another thought, what would the Founding Fathers have thought of this scheme? With their experience of the Hessians in British service during the Revolutionary War and all? Turning over in their graves right now no doubt? For shame!

#28 Comment By Hexexis On July 18, 2017 @ 9:36 pm

Outstanding article on just how, under a Trump presy., the swamp’s not been drained but widened. & Pakistan will always subsidize an al-Qaeda or Taliban, because they’ll be helpful in any skirmish w/ India.

‘T’will be a fine effort to privatize duplicity.

#29 Comment By Edward Chang On July 18, 2017 @ 11:12 pm

“Young testosterone filled men carrying weapons and operating outside the law is a recipe for disaster.”

The vast majority of private military contractors are battle-hardened, seasoned men in their thirties or older. Being that many of them have special operations experience, they’ve put in at least eight years of service into the military. The “young testosterone filled men” characterization isn’t anywhere near accurate.

As bad of an idea as privatizing the Afghanistan war may seem, what exactly has the D.C. defense/foreign policy establishment proposed? The problem with Mattis and McMaster is that they seem to be offering proposals that’ll ensure the war continues to no end. If they wanted to be really constructive, then they’d be talking about how the U.S. can extricate itself from the conflict, but instead, they insist on continuing to find ways to “win” the war.

We’re not going to win the war. The only winning move is to no longer play. Unfortunately, there’s not a single person in D.C. who’s brave enough to contemplate that move.

#30 Comment By Doug Brooks On July 19, 2017 @ 3:16 am

First of all, the folks who should be doing the security in Afghanistan are Afghans, be they police, military or even private security as we use extensively here in the West.

And no, there is nothing wrong with foreign experts training and helping to lead them. 99% of private security is ‘protecting a noun’ – a person place or thing. Using private security chase after bad guys might be pushing the envelope, but maybe we simply have the private experts in the field advising the police or military?

The U.S. military is second to none, but a recently retired military guy is not less ethical or less professional than he was a few months earlier. And much of what private security is contracted to do (protecting multinational firms, newly rebuilt sewage plants or whatever) really makes more sense than using soldiers to do it.

U.S. citizens working as private contractors are indeed under UCMJ (despite what the article says), but more often the government uses the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (MEJA) which, while not perfect, is a better fit than UCMJ (and can be applied to any nationality except locals).

And finally, private security companies can also be required to be a part of the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Providers Association ICOCA, which is supported and monitored by governments, NGOs and the industry itself.

The viceroy question may be a bridge too far, but instead of MacArthur, maybe look at Robert ‘Blowtorch’ Komer in Vietnam to see how it might be done effectively to unify Western military and civilian efforts while not affronting the sovereignty of the Afghans.

-Doug Brooks

#31 Comment By Furbo On July 19, 2017 @ 5:10 am

Chaos in Afghanistan is in Pakistan’s national interest. They have the same wild Pashtun tribesmen in their N mtns and AFG has in the South and its best if they stay focused North. The Taliban/Pashtun goal is a reestablishment of Pashtunistan which would encompass S. AFG, and a great deal of Pakistan from Quetta S. to Karachi. The Pashtuns aren’t particularly interested in governing the Hazzara/Nuristani/Uzbeck/Tajik peoples. My take – disassemble AFG, its currently ungovernable. Let the Pashtuns have their spot, and let the Pakistani’s deal with them.

#32 Comment By rebecca On July 19, 2017 @ 11:38 am

“If they wanted to be really constructive, then they’d be talking about how the U.S. can extricate itself from the conflict, but instead, they insist on continuing to find ways to “win” the war.”

Extricating sounds good, but would it allow us to accomplish our REAL objective? That is, getting “our” (actually Feinberg and company’s) hands on all those lovely minerals buried in the ground. Not to mention all that nice topsoil that grows acres of poppies.

#33 Comment By Pat On July 19, 2017 @ 11:46 am

What is the exact difference between our”professional” army, and Prince’s mercenary army?
From my vantage point the only difference is Prince’s army will be better paid.
“Whom God abandoned they defended and saved the sum of things for pay ”
Houseman’s little poem makes an essential point about mercenary armies, if the cause is just well you get the point.
Mercenary or Professional our cause isn’t just. Get out now!!

#34 Comment By out of the graveyard On July 19, 2017 @ 12:09 pm

@Edward Chang – “We’re not going to win the war. The only winning move is to no longer play. Unfortunately, there’s not a single person in D.C. who’s brave enough to contemplate that move.”


And our job as voters is to dump the cowards and replace them with people who have the guts and sense to get us out of there.

#35 Comment By Charlie On July 19, 2017 @ 1:03 pm

Good comments. I have always wondered as whether the Taliban are basically Pashtun Nationalists. I have spoken to Pashtun who consider Pakistan as basically run by Punjabis and Sindhis for their benefit. Baluchistan tried to be separate after 1947 but we coerced by Punjabis to join Pakistan.

The major problem for the period of 1000 to 1900 AD were muslim turkic invaders plundering the Northern Indian Plains. Pashtuns were still raiding in the late 19C. As Pashtuns are no longer raiding the plains , is there any point in the Afghanistan /Pakistan border apart from keeping the Punjabi/ Sindhi ruling class in power ? As the Punjabi/Sindhi ruling class has been happy to support Sunni terrorism against the West, why should we be concerned if Pakistan breaks into 3-4 regions – Baluchistan , Pushtunstan and lowland Punjabi/Sindh Province ?

Pakistan supported the Taliban because they are scared of India and want to secure their rear. China wants train/pipeline /road access to the Arabian Sea and the oilfields.
Allowing India, China, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran to be drawn into never ending conflicts may be a good policy for the West.
Keep the price of oil down and allow Iran to squander resources in fights on it’s western borders. The oil industry in the Middle East needs trillions of dollars of investment to keep going as much infrastructure built in the 1970s is in poor state.

What allowed the Arab conquest to succeed was that the Roman and Persian Empires had been fighting for hundreds of years combined with conflicts between Christian groups, Greeks and Jews which meant that they incredibly weak and easy to topple.

After Iran has been very successful in turning Iraq into a quagmire for the USA. Perhaps it is time for the USA to learn from history and repay the compliment?

#36 Comment By Patrick D On July 19, 2017 @ 9:28 pm

“After Iran has been very successful in turning Iraq into a quagmire for the USA. Perhaps it is time for the USA to learn from history and repay the compliment?”

You mean like when the USA turned Afghanistan into a quagmire for the Soviet Union by fueling fundamentalist Sunni jihadis directly where they could and indirectly through Saudi Arabia where they could not? That worked out well, didn’t it?

Sounds like another interventionist way to piss away money on things irrelevant to the vital national interests of the U.S. and encourage blowback which, of course, would invite more intervention. A gift that keeps on giving…

#37 Comment By Major Dundee On July 19, 2017 @ 10:52 pm

“After Iran has been very successful in turning Iraq into a quagmire for the USA. Perhaps it is time for the USA to learn from history and repay the compliment?”

You give too much credit to Iran. Israel was rooting for us to invade Iraq long before the Iranians capitalized on the fact that we did so.

#38 Comment By CDW On July 20, 2017 @ 11:34 am

According to the article regarding Pakistan, “What will be needed is for the United States to enforce its principles, even if that means losing an ally.”

What’s not stated and seems overlooked is that Pakistan is a nuclear power (despite its abject poverty and corruption within the military and government). Pakistan continues in armed conflict (stupidly) with India. Sadly, this country can’t simply be dismissive of Pakistan due to its nuclear arsenal.

#39 Comment By Charlie On July 20, 2017 @ 11:57 am

Patrick D
Sunni political power has been growing since 1920s and founding of the Muslim Bretheren: it expands after the 1973 Yom Kippur War and finds inspiration from Khomeini. Western diplomats have been blind to the rise of sunni fundamentalism

Sunni fundamentalism occurred in Afghanistan because of the influx of Wahabis , MB and other similar groups which were funded by oil money. The two groups who were effective against the USSR, were Abdul Haq the Pushtun in the south and Shah Masood, the Tajik in the North:both were anti sunni fundamentalism. AH warned about the threat from sunni arab fighters not only to Afghanistan but also to the West in the mid 1980s but was ignored. Both were murdered, AH by the Taliban and SM by Al Queda. The Arabs who turned up in Afghanistan were fairly ineffective because they lacked tribal support: what they did achieve was a thirst for violence. Bin Laden left Afghanistan in the early 1990s. Once, the Taliban took over in he mid1990s, the West could have paid them to keep the foreigners out of Afghanistan. Many Pushtun turned against the foreign Muslim fighters. Pushtun do not like foreigners in their land, even if they are muslim. The Taleban are largely Pushtun nationalists but once they had given their oath to protect Bin Laden in the late 1990s, they would protect him unto death- code of honour.
I spoke to some Pushtun’s and suggested that G Bush should have fought Bin Laden in single combat. They agreed this was honourable and if Bin Laden refused he would be considered a coward and perhaps not worth protecting. The Pushtuns consider bombing cowardly but single combat honourable.

Westerners fail to understand the ME because they do not consider religion a matter of life and death and do not have mindset which pre-dates at least 1349 and The Black Death. I would suggest that to appreciate the ME one may have to travel further back in time, perhaps pre 850AD and the creation of nation states, when loyalty was to the leader of a war band.

Major Dundee
Iran learnt how to use the invasion to suit their purposes very quickly. What I am suggesting is to encourage Sunni and anti Iranian forces on it’s borders- the arabs in the south west, Kurds to north west and Pushtuns/Balochis on eastern border and within Yemen. Hezbollah must need plenty of support and Alawite Syrians appear happy to let Iranians do the fighting which is using up their goodwill. Let Iran be embroiled in many small conflicts on it’s borders because it will stop then causing problems elsewhere. It is large mountainous country and logistics will make fighting difficult.

The West needs to ensure Iran is degraded by it becoming embroiled in many conflicts which will also reduce Putins influence. At the same time clamp down on Sunni Fundamentalism.

#40 Comment By Unhappy On July 20, 2017 @ 12:47 pm

Interesting proposition …. use mercenaries to whom the normal rules of war do not apply to fight people the US has dubbed as “foreign combatants” or “enemy fighters” to justify not applying rules of war!
So, put armies of mercenaries against armies/groups that we do not consider worthy of normal treatment … do I hear the words massacre and field executions?

#41 Comment By Patrick D On July 20, 2017 @ 6:39 pm


You strike me as someone who believes that if one understands MENA enough (a huge conceit, btw) then one can take action to manipulate the present and produce predictable outcomes for the future. Your suggestions also demonstrate your lack of understanding of “the West” in general and the U.S. in particular.

There was a time when I was also suffered from this affliction so let me save you some time.

The most insightful summary of the screwing around with the Greater Middle East: Leon Hadar’s explanation citing Brown in Hadar’s Sandstorm: Policy Failure in the Middle East is evergreen. Bolding is mine.

As Middle Eastern historian L. Carl Brown proposed, “just as with the tilt of the kaleidoscope the many tiny pieces of colored glass all move to form a new configuration, so any diplomatic initiative in the Middle East sets a realignment of the players.”[1]

The Middle East and its peripheries, or the Greater Middle East, which stretches from the Balkans to the borders of China, is described by political scientists as the most “penetrated” area of the world-in which numerous tribal, religious, ethnic, national, regional, and extra regional political players combine and divide in shifting pattern of alliances. … Chaos and instability have, indeed, been the rule and not the exception since the fall of the Ottoman Empire. Outsiders who want to play the Middle East game should expect to become part of the chaotic system-not vehicles to stabilize it.

The role foreign powers play in the Middle East remains critically important for the outsiders as well as for the locals. The politics of a thoroughly penetrated system such as the Middle East is not adequately explained, even at the local level, “without reference to the influence of the intrusive outside system.”[2] Yet, as American and Soviet experience in the region suggests, and as the current American involvement there has dramatized, the outside actor can rarely control the politics of such a system and frequently becomes involved in issues that have nothing to do with its original interests in the region. A major power’s ability to impose policies on local players or exclude other major powers is limited. Even a superpower can sometimes fall hostage to the machinations and ridicule of local powers.

[1] L. Carl Brown, International Politics and the Middle East: Old Rules, Dangerous Games (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1984), pg. 171.
[2] Ibid., pg 16.

Regarding the West/U.S.: I am familiar with all you say about Afghanistan. So were the old American spooks with security clearance, long distinguished service records, hands-on experience in Afghanistan in the 1980s, and personal relationships with many of the local chieftain types. Those people were ignored when the U.S. decided what to do in Afghanistan after 9/11. Colonel Pat Lang has a mind-boggling wealth of knowledge and experience in the Middle East. He and others like him were excluded from the decision-making processes and shut out of the public square as much as possible.

FWIW, the Soviets had diplomats, spies, and military personnel with careers’ worth of language skills and knowledge about Afghanistan and the rest of Central. I am willing to bet they were ignored by the Soviet decision makers as well.

Bottom line: a lot of countries have no choice but to deal with the kaleidoscope. Blessedly, the United States is not one of them. It should leave it alone and let the others bleed.

#42 Comment By Wonderland On July 21, 2017 @ 12:44 am

Trump-Kushner’s intentions became clear, the moment Betsy DeVos was appointed to head the Education!!

[DeVos is Erik Prince’s sister.]

#43 Comment By Sam McGowan On July 22, 2017 @ 11:31 pm

Good idea. Let for-profit soldiers fight proxy wars and the military actually defend the United States instead trying to build nations – without success.

#44 Comment By James Kennedy On July 24, 2017 @ 12:47 pm

the SR Pentagon official is wrong. Contractors are subject too the UCMJ in accordance with the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act. However, bringing a case against the contractor would need Dept of Justice approval and would need to be for a significant crime like murder and not stealing a meal at the dining facility.

#45 Comment By EliteCommInc. On July 24, 2017 @ 6:01 pm

Uhhhhh, nope.

Shunting aside the ethical and strategic implication of the idea for the moment.

The comparison between India and Afghanistan. just don’t measure up to warrant the gambit. Absolutely not. Throw in Gen MacArthur and it becomes even less a viable endeavour.

#46 Comment By Jon Rudd On August 4, 2017 @ 9:14 am

The East India Company analogy shows definite signs of historical illiteracy. For one thing, the EIC was a major financial entity in its own right and the proposed “War Inc.” promises to be nothing more than a permanent rathole for American taxpayers. Or is the idea to be financially self-sufficient via the opium trade? Well, I suspect the folks in southern West Virginia will swallow anything, so to speak.