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Afghan government rejects proposals to privatize war

U.S and Afghan forces patrol in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, Jan. 1, 2014. (SSG Bertha A. Flores/U.S. Army)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Afghan officials have rejected a proposal to have foreign military contractors take over training and advising of the Afghan armed forces.

The rejection comes after a renewed lobbying campaign by the founder and former CEO of the Blackwater security company, Erik Prince, who for the past few weeks has been pushing a proposal to privatize parts of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan by using contractors instead of to foreign troops.

Prince, whose company came to prominence during the Iraq war, lobbied several Afghan political figures and gave interviews to media outlets on a recent visit to Kabul to discuss the plan.

Afghan officials say that replacing U.S military advisers with private contractors would further undermine government legitimacy.

President Ashraf Ghani has repeatedly rejected to the proposal and on October 4 the office of the National Security Council (NSC) issued a statement condemning what it called a “destructive and divisive debate.”

“Under no circumstances will the Afghan government and people allow the counterterrorism fight to become a private, for-profit business,” the statement said, adding that the debate around privatizing the Afghan war would “add new foreign and unaccountable elements to our fight.”

In August, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis also rejected the proposal.

Prince, a businessman and former U.S. Navy SEAL whose sister Betsy DeVos serves as the secretary of education in President Donald Trump’s administration, is best known for founding the private security company Blackwater USA, now called Academi.

In 2007, several Blackwater contractors were convicted of killing 14 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad, for which four of them were convicted in a U.S. court.

Under Prince’s proposal, retired Special Forces troops from the United States and allied nations would embed with Afghan forces, replacing U.S. and NATO military advisers.

The plan was originally floated last year as Trump was considering a new strategy for Afghanistan.

Washington eventually ordered thousands more U.S. troops to be sent to boost existing forces.

The United States currently has some 14,000 troops in Afghanistan, serving in the NATO-led Resolute Support training and advisory mission as well as in separate counterterrorism operations against militant groups like Islamic State.