Mattis Bashes Proposal to Privatize Afghanistan War Effort
Photo: Defense Dept.
Outsourcing the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan, as some have proposed, would be ill-advised, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said Aug. 28.
In a recent interview with NBC News, Blackwater founder Erik Prince said he was planning a renewed effort to try to persuade President Donald Trump to replace U.S. troops in Afghanistan with contractors. Trump is reportedly frustrated with the amount of progress that has been made since he approved a new strategy last year and agreed to increase the U.S. military presence.
Nearly 17 years after the United States invaded Afghanistan, the United States still has about 14,000 troops there assisting Afghan forces and performing counterterrorism missions.
At a Pentagon press conference, Mattis was asked about the possibility of privatizing the war effort.
“When the Americans put their nation’s credibility on the line, privatizing it is probably not a wise idea,” he said.
A National Security Council spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding whether such an option is under consideration by the White House.
An NSC spokesperson told NBC News that Prince’s proposal was not under consideration.
The use of private security forces such as Blackwater during the height of the Iraq War, when the U.S. military was stretched thin trying to quell a widespread insurgency, proved to be controversial. In one notorious incident, Blackwater employees were involved in the killing of 14 unarmed Iraqi civilians during a 2007 shooting in a Baghdad traffic circle.
Mattis defended the current U.S. military strategy in Afghanistan, saying it was showing signs of progress despite the continuation of high-profile Taliban attacks such as the one in Ghazni earlier this month. Taliban leaders have expressed interest in another ceasefire and a negotiated political settlement, he noted.
“We knew when we reviewed this and came up with the strategy it would take time,” he said. “There is another [ceasefire] being proffered … so we’re going to continue to work this. We think there are positive reasons to stick with the strategy.”
The Afghanistan war is already the longest in U.S. history. How long it will continue is unclear, Mattis acknowledged.
“Would we still have troops in Afghanistan five years from now? I can’t give you the answer to that,” he said. “If [Afghan forces are] able to handle their own security and the international community determines that the NATO-led effort is no longer needed, I could image it coming out. But … we have to wait and see what the situation is because it will be situationally dependent.”
The security environment in Afghanistan is complicated by the fact that the Islamic State terrorist group has a presence there. While the U.S. strategy aims to force the Taliban to the negotiating table to reach a political settlement to end the insurgency, Pentagon officials are intent on destroying Islamic State forces militarily.
Mattis noted that the United States has a long term interest in preventing Afghanistan from being a terrorist sanctuary.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Joseph Dunford suggested the United States would have some sort of presence in Afghanistan indefinitely, although it might not be as large as it is now.
“We have permanent interests in South Asia — diplomatic interests, security interests — and we are going to maintain a presence there to have influence in that region,” he said at the press conference.
“The form of that presence is going to change over time,” he added, noting that the United States had more than 100,000 troops there just a few years ago but force levels have shrunk drastically since then.
“It will be a permanent diplomatic mission … but I certainly don’t expect that the current forces that we have in Afghanistan represents an enduring, large military commitment,” Dunford said.