Bannon and Blackwater Want to Outsource Afghanistan War

Yves here. This Real News Network report is telling in so many ways…the lack of anything resembling investigative reporting into the war (at least in the MSM), the lack of any sensible strategy, the reliance on mercenaries, and the way profiteering dominates other considerations.

AARON MATE: It’s The Real News, I’m Aaron Mate. The never ending war in Afghanistan is as deadly as ever. At least two U.S. soldiers have been killed in a suicide attack in a NATO convoy near Kandahar. Hours before, a suicide bomber hit a Shiite mosque in the western city of Herat, killing 29 and wounding dozens more. This comes as a new report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan reconstruction says: “The conflict with the Taliban remains a stalemate.” Close to 1500 Afghan soldiers are dying each month, and civilian casualties are at a record high. Some 40 percent of the country is controlled by the Taliban, or other armed groups. The Pentagon is said to recommend a new strategy for Afghanistan in the coming days.

Some top White House officials are drawing up plans on their own. It’s recently emerged figures behind two private military firms: Erik Prince of Blackwater and Stephen Feinberg of DynCorp were asked to draw proposals to privatize the Afghan war even more than it already has been. Both, Prince and Feinberg, back the creation of a private military force to battle the Taliban. Matthew Hoh, is a former State Department official in Afghanistan, now a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy. Matthew, welcome.

MATTHEW HOH: Hi Aaron, thanks for having me on.

AARON MATE: Let’s start with this latest news, protests have erupted in Afghanistan following the suicide attack on this Shiite mosque in Herat, followed by this deadly attack on the NATO convoy in Kandahar. Violence there seems as high as ever.

MATTHEW HOH: And, it is. And, actually it’s higher than ever. Since records have been kept by the Afghan government, and by NATO which didn’t begin until about 2008. Casualties have just climbed every year. No matter what metric you look at, and there is this fallacy that runs around Washington D.C. that at some point after we surge troops into Afghanistan … At some point after General Chris Joniec, General Petraeus showed up with 100,000 more American and NATO troops … Things got better, actually that is a complete lie. Things never got better in Afghanistan, if you look at whatever metric you want to look at … Whatever statistic you want to look at, whether it’s the amount of IED’s that exploded, or the amount of American troops that got wounded or killed , the amount of civilians that have been wounded and killed … That’s probably the most important metric of all, right? The numbers have only ever gone up, and yeah this past week another announcement from the United Nations … Every six months we seem to have that, Aaron. That there has been a record number of civilian deaths, and yeah so again we see it.

I mean I was kinda surprised you called me, I thought maybe you can have … This is kind of gallows humor, I guess, but you can have the afternoon off … You can really just replay this episode from six months ago, or a year ago, or two years ago, because it is ad nauseam here the same news over and over again from Afghanistan. And, it’s horrid! It’s absolutely horrible what has occurred, and what continues to occur here and the only thing that seems to differ is that there seems to be some more splinter groups that maybe occur, some different types of extremist factions that maybe arise in different parts of the country. And, you know American corporations get richer off of the war and the people in Afghanistan suffer. That seems to be about the only thing that continues to remain consistent.

AARON MATE: Matthew, the only alternative in this case to redundant content is simply just to not cover it. But …

MATTHEW HOH: That’s true.

AARON MATE: For us … thats not an option

MATTHEW HOH: And, Aaron, thank you! Because before you had me come on, I checked it today, and I checked the LA Times, and I checked the New York Times, and I checked the USA Today, and I checked the Washington Post. And, as we are going to talk about SIGAR about the Special Inspector General Corp and everything else. It’s not being covered in those things. This is something that doesn’t get discussed to the level it should be. In terms of having a real conversation about what is occurring in Afghanistan, what has been occurring in Afghanistan, what the United States and the West has done in that country, what the people of that country of Afghanistan have been enduring … Look, the way we discuss Afghanistan … We discuss Afghanistan as a war, not as a country, not as a collection of millions of people, but as a war, as a verb, or as a thing. We don’t discuss it as an actual country, so thankfully you are … We are discussing this today, right?

Back to this here, yeah by any metric, by any standard, by any … Looking at events in Afghanistan over the last decade and a half it has just gotten progressively worse. And with no end in sight.

AARON MATE: So let’s look at how some very influential people are looking at that same situation, and coming up with their solution. I mentioned, White House officials, including Steve Bannon, recruiting Erik Prince of … Formerly of Blackwater … The founder of Blackwater, and Stephen Feinburg of another military firm.


AARON MATE: DynCorp … Meeting … Bannon met with these two to talk about sending even more private contractors to Afghanistan … No, already I should say I believe the ratio of private contractors to soldiers in Afghanistan is 3 to 1 currently. So, when we talk about this plan to privatize the war it should be stressed this is privatizing it even more than it already is. And, both Prince and Feinburg are trying to sell the White House on this plan to basically come up with a private army to take on the Taliban directly. Prince wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal that apparently President Trump read and liked called: “The MacArthur Model for Afghanistan.” And, the subhead was: “Consolidate authority into one person: an American viceroy who’d lead all coalition efforts.” Including a private army, Matthew.

MATTHEW HOH: Yeah, correct, and actually you know he originally went on to FOX News … Prince, and spoke about this on Hannity’s program, because he knows that President Trump watches that and made his appeal there. And, in that case rather than using the example of General MacArthur as the post World War II … Ruler … You know post World War II viceroy in Japan, he used to example of the British in India. And, how for a couple centuries the British ruled India via the East India Company. Utilizing, basically, a private enterprise to maintain their colonial possession there. Backed up, of course by the authority of the crown and the crown’s army, and the crown’s treasury. He also pointed to Winston Churchill as well, neglecting to mention the millions and millions of Indians who perished under … You know, and suffered under such rule.

But, he uses the example, and this of course attracted the attention of President Trump and the White House. Enough so that this plan was presented to General Mattis … Was brought into the Pentagon as a serious proposal. The President’s son-in-law, entertained the proposal along with these two … You know, these two men from private industry from Blackwater and from DynCorp, and it was presented to the Secretary of Defense as a real option.

AARON MATE: I should say that Mattis declined to include their suggestions in his policy recommendation to the White House that is expected in the coming days. But, it … The fact that these two were recruited by Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner means that it very well still might be on the table. Certainly, President Trump will be hearing about it as he has likely been already. In the last minute we have on that, let me ask you more about this Special Inspector General report that came out this week. Because, it includes a recommendation that a report on sexual abuse … Child sexual abuse by the Afghan military be declassified. What’s going on there?

MATTHEW HOH: Well this is something we’ve known for a while in Afghanistan. This goes back to the warlords that we put back into power. As many people are familiar with Afghanistan, when we came into Afghanistan in 2001 we put the warlords back into power that the Taliban had removed from the Civil War in the 1990’s. Many of these men take part of a practice involving in what is called Dancing Boys. Basically it comes down to raping children, raping young boys, teenage boys. The American military has known about this practice … They have refused to do anything to stop this practice. It is a clear human rights violation, and it has gone on with the complicit knowledge and observation of the American military for the last 15 years.

When I was there we knew about it, we knew who was doing it, I have spoken to other people … Guys still talk about it, you hear stories about it all the time, and this past year the United States Congress authorized the Special Inspector General to look into it. As well as, the Congress is also maybe applying the Leahy Amendment which says that the United States won’t sell weapons to any nation that is … Any nation that’s engaging in human rights violations. So…

AARON MATE: And, what is the calculus there behind overlooking child sexual abuse? Is it simply that we need these guys to fight against the Taliban? So, we have to let it fly.

MATTHEW HOH: Yeah, absolutely! It’s an embarrassment to us, that these are our allies. Cause we’re in bed with these warlords with these … So it’s an embarrassment to us, but also we need them because just like the drug lords that we’re complicit with that we need to have as allies. We also need these warlords to be our allies, so we can’t burn our relationship with them because we need them. Because, they are the militia commanders or they are the Afghan generals, or you know they are the people we need to maintain our position there. But, also two it’ll be an embarrassment to us that we have gone on for so long knowing this, and allowing it to go on. But this is nothing new, we do this in Iraq as well. I mean in terms of knowingly allow the Iraqi government to violate certain laws. We know … Each year … I mean what we’ve done in Iraq is that … Iraq has child soldiers in its militias, and so what we do is we give Iraq a waiver on its violations of having child soldiers in militias. Which then allows us to continue to sell weapons to the Iraqi government.

Other nations don’t receive such waivers, but because Iraq is an ally and Iraq purchases billions and billions of dollars of our weapons they receive a waiver. So, this is nothing new … This is par … This is the standard of American hypocrisy in our foreign policy, and our defense policy. This is how our empire works, right? We don’t have a moral standard that we abide by. We just have platitudes that we choose to ignore when it’s appropriate for us to do so for our own purposes.

So yeah, but this is something that … So what happened in this report with Special Inspector General is they have asked the Defense Department to release the report on the child sexual abuse by the Afghan security forces, which as we know from reports from our own soldiers. From our own experiences there is widespread, but the official report from our Defense Department has been … From the American Defense Department has been classified, and the American Defense Department says it’s classified for security reasons. But, you know, I mean security reasons and I go back to what Neil Shahin who wrote one of the best books about the Vietnam War, and also to by extension one of the best books about these wars as well. Because, the truth just carries over … You know a bright, shining lie when Neil Shahin said about secrets is that secrets aren’t meant to protect the public from dangers of other governments. They’re there to protect the public from the embarrassments and the screw ups, and the true knowledge of their own government.

You know, I mean, that’s what we are dealing with here that the American government knows that they are in bed with rapists. You know, these warlords in Afghanistan have been for a decade and a half, and to officially acknowledge those undermines so much of what they’ve been saying about Afghanistan, about it being the good war. So, that’s why they don’t want to release it.

AARON MATE: Well, Matthew speaking of warlords … Let’s see as the Trump Administration weighs in the coming days or weeks on its supposed new Afghan strategy. Whether that entails going into business with these private U.S. warlords behind Blackwater and DynCorp. Matthew Hoh, former State Department official in Afghanistan. Now a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy. Matthew, thank you.

MATTHEW HOH: Thank you, Aaron.

AARON MATE: And, thank you for joining us on The Real News.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


    1. Ox

      Once they outsource ONE war, WTO rules (GATS Article I:3) will REQUIRE that they ALL be outsourced to the lowest bidding firm/country! (MFN rules may require equal access to all WTO members! Or maybe not, but, the WTO not us, would decide whether that rule applied.)

      I think its about jobs.

      They would rather hire foreign firms owned by their very wealthy overseas buddies, than provide jobs of last resort to our own young people.

      They are doing similar things with trade deals and outsourcing IT and healthcare.

      Of course they know how destructive this will be.

      They are trying to do _something_, anybody have any idea what that is?

      (besides totally destroying the somewhat stable social contract we grew up with.)

  1. Disturbed Voter

    The CIA and China already profit from Afghanistan at the expense of the Afghan people. Guess the more profiteers the merrier ;-(

    1. Ox

      You may well not be able to pick which wars get outsourced/offshored (or to who) and which don’t.

      A truly bizarre potential situation
      which was hinted at in Joseph Heller’s novel, Catch 22.

  2. RenoDino

    “This is how our empire works, right?”

    Might as well say all empires work this way.

    Why the outrage over tactics or the whining about the sexual proclivities of the locals? We are in the whatever works stage. So far nothing has, but we not about giving up because we are never, ever leaving.

    Maybe the Mother of All Bombs was the Pentagon’s way of saying look at us, we can do this. Sorry, but the facts on the ground say otherwise. We need a work around. Take the corporate mercenaries off the leach. That might get the locals attention.

    And stop calling it a war. It’s an occupation or a bad marriage that never ends.

    1. PKMKII

      Might as well say all empires work this way.

      A proper, old school empire would just flat out colonize the place and be done with it. America plays this weird triangulation game where we both try to be a global empire but also try to satisfy our underlying isolationist sociology. So we end up with messes like this.

        1. Ox

          If you read history, I am pretty sure all empires end that way. You cant farm out the core work – If you do, it doesn’t take long before it catastrophically “discorporates”.

          BTW, corporations are trying to rig the entire world’s “system” by creating a supranational system that uses treaties concluded in back rooms to rig up new corporate rights to sell people everything they need without government interference and if they cant pay, deny it to them. this has the effect of changing the default ownership of everything of imortance from “people” to “corporations and their investors”. Its by definition impossible because even corporations are made up of people. And people are outgrowing this insanely twisted and greedy/broken system.

          They cant write themselves end runs around democracies and get away with it. Their backroom deals will collapse.

          Rights that conflict with human expectations of government, media, NGOs, etc, all around the world will be struck down.

          They already caused the 2008 crash. Now they want to destroy our nation and throw in a match as they are going out. “Torching it for the insurance”.

          Their agenda is a recipe for disaster. Literally.

  3. Vatch

    Just a small reminder (and many of you don’t need this reminder), Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater, is the brother of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. Arrogant exploitation seems to run in the family.

  4. DH

    I think the fundamental question has to be asked: Can Afghanistan actually be a functioning country with a central government?

    Yugoslavia was held together through the Cold War through the personal attributes of Tito. Once he was gone, the entire place fell apart into civil war. After a very bloody, hateful decade it has now reached a reasonable level of peace by splitting into multiple countries, each centered around their own ethnicities/religions.

    India and Pakistan were one under the British, but ended up split with a Cold War type of peace between them. The northern regions of Pakistan are probably more aligned with parts of Afghanistan than the government of Pakistan, especially since the Russian invasion cause millions of Afghan refugees to end up there.

    The most stable structure for Afghanistan may be logical divisions largely structured around natural topographic boundaries, each controlled by their regional tribes, instead of some attempt at a corrupt, ineffectual central government. Maybe Kabul would be governed like Washington, DC by a council of the surrounding tribes where no one tribe has possession.

    I think we had our shot in Afghanistan in 2002-2003 but the blunder of Iraq meant that we dissipated that chance. We are now simply watching it replay as a unvegetated Vietnam.

    1. Jeremy Grimm

      “I think the fundamental question has to be asked: Can Afghanistan actually be a functioning country with a central government?”

      How and why is this a fundamental question? The Empire does not require that Afghanistan be a functioning country. I think a more important question to ask is what Imperial interests keep the US in Afghanistan? As a purely practical — Realpolitik question — what does the Empire hope to gain and is that gain possible, probable, and worth the cost? Et cui buono? I believe our Emperors and Praetors — who long ago stopped serving the populous — no longer serve the Empire.

  5. DJG

    Thanks for this rather circuitous article. And as Vatch writes, let’s keep in mind who Erik Prince is.

    Hoh’s high dudgeon is somewhat misplaced. Yes, there are dancing boys. They have been part of Turkish and Persian civilization for a long time. I’m reminded of the (failed) argument that we are in Afghanistan so that women won’t have to wear burqas. So accusing our allies and enemies of sexual misconduct gets us nowhere.

    The U.S. simply shouldn’t be in Afghanistan. I have read some essays recently about how it is time to bring back the good old antiwar stance: The U.S. should not be involved in foreign wars. The empire is eating us alive. And the endless war has already come home in the form of bathetic obligatory patriotism, damaged veterans, the politicization of the military, and violence.

  6. Bunk McNulty

    I thought we had this scenario all worked out: Let Erik take it over. After a decent interval, start cutting the budget. In response, he’ll replace his expensive American mercenaries with cheaper third-world ones. Ideally, a scandal involving misuse of funds by mercenaries would be presented, along with some incident that we can point to that says “These people are unworthy of our efforts to bring them Democracy!” By then, there will be no Americans to pull out. Trump (or his successor) can shrug his shoulders and say “Not my fault!” And suddenly, it will be over. A fella can dream, right?

  7. Bobby Gladd

    Read Steve Coll’s “Ghost Wars.” Watch “Charlie Wilson’s War.” Watch “Restrepo.” We have learned nothing.

  8. marym

    Related news today:

    Murder conviction in Blackwater case thrown out, other sentences overturned

    The four security guards opened fire on the Iraqis, including women and children, at Nisour Square.

    In overturning the 30-year terms, U.S. circuit judges Karen LeCraft Henderson and Janice Rogers Brown wrote “we by no means intend to minimize the carnage attributable to Slough, Heard and Liberty’s actions. Their poor judgments resulted in the deaths of many innocent people,” the judges wrote. But instead of using a “sledgehammer,” they said the sentencing judge — U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth of the District — should instead tailor more “nuanced” penalties based on each defendant’s wrongdoing.

    U.S. Circuit Judge Judith W. Rogers disagreed, saying the claim “lacks any merit whatsoever,” calling the 30-year terms “appropriate” for the crime and that other security guards chose not to fire their weapons at all that day.
    The guards said that they acted in self-defense after coming under AK-47 gunfire as they cleared a path back to the nearby Green Zone for another Blackwater team that was evacuating a U.S. official from a nearby car bombing.

    During the 10-week trial in 2014, no witness testified they saw the guards come under fire, nor was evidence found that AK-47 rifles carried by Iraqi insurgents were used at the time.

  9. Chauncey Gardiner

    What a mess!… thousands of lost and shattered lives, hundreds of billions of dollars, and 17+ years later! Trump spoke truth this week when he said that we are failing in Afghanistan.

    Segment on PBS Newshour yesterday evening mentioned Afghanistan’s mineral wealth as one of the key reasons why US military and mercenary forces remain engaged there. I suspect our ongoing military presence also relates to proximity to the Caspian Basin oilfields and Iran, Pipelineistan, China’s “One Belt One Road” initiatives, and the political influence of large US military contractors and suppliers. The publicly stated reason, to prevent the emergence of terrorists, lacks credibility.

    Those who continue to support the status quo, to undertake another “surge”, or to hand it all off to mercenaries without clearly articulated objectives, would do well to study what occurred to the British and Russians in that country. There is also the little matter of outsourcing control of the poppy fields. This situations begs for a diplomatic solution, most likely under Pakistani auspices.

Comments are closed.