Daniel G. Straub
Security, Middle East
History and incentives are on their side.
The president has declared a “path forward” for Afghanistan. Given that the United States is at a nexus for strategic change, might there be an increased role for private contractors in positions previously held by U.S. troops? A proposal from Erik Prince, formerly the head of Blackwater Worldwide, claims that with the use of his “corporate warriors” he can end the war in Afghanistan. Can it work? History suggests that it can. But to be successful, it would require a level of commitment and integration not yet demonstrated. It also relies upon the imperatives of capability, capacity and efficiency, as well as the effectiveness of those chosen to perform the task that the U.S. military has been unable to accomplish: winning the war. First, though, there must be a real understanding of what private security contractors (PSCs) actually do, and how they can and will be held accountable for their actions.
What We Are Doing Is Not Working
As has been evident since the earliest forms of combat, exclusively conducting one method or way of war is rarely effective in the long term. Sustained victory requires an adaptable force that understands and adjusts to changing political, social and economic landscapes. This force does not need to be drawn only from national militaries, or provided by the UN or so-called “coalitions of the willing.” PSCs have been used effectively in the past to stop civil wars and to bring parties to the table in moves toward peace. Successful PSCs understood the physical terrain as well as the human terrain, something Erik Prince claims his warriors know from their years of experience in wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and other conflicts around the world. Where U.S. troops rotate every year to eighteen months, Prince says that if given the chance his forces will be there over the long term, and see the war to its conclusion. He contends that consistency of personnel and experience will make all the difference. In contrast, our current model of rotating soldiers (and leadership: seventeen commanders in sixteen years) through Afghanistan has not worked.
A Baseline for Success