The privatization of the Afghanistan War is still generating headlines and the majority of the coverage is hostile, uninformed, inaccurate and basically ad hominem attacks on Mr. Prince. Did you know that Betsy Devos, the current Secretary of Education is his sister? Can anyone explain what that has to do with Afghanistan or why it is a standard feature in almost news story about this plan?
When looking at these stories one realizes that trying to explain this program to the media and general public is like trying to explain quantum physics to kindergartners. It appears to be a hopeless task but FRI has the advantage of an informed readership. With that in mind we’ll cover the details in the hopes that you, my dear readers, will have additional ammunition should you chose to engage friends, family or co-workers on the topic.
The Prince plan involves putting trainer/mentor teams at the battalion level of the Afghan National Army and augmenting their helicopter and tactical aircraft with some 90 additional high speed, low cost aircraft. The plan takes the current projected annual price for supporting the Afghan military from 40 billion down to 10 billion. Reducing the hemorrhaging of tax money to stabilize a losing effort is the strong component of a workable the plan.
The second benefit of the plan is reducing the stress on our tactical air assets. The Marine Corps air component is currently in crisis. Average flight hours for pilots have gone from well over 80 hours a month (on average) when I was on active duty to around 10 hours and that is not enough flight time to maintain proficiency. The primary Marine tac air platform, the F-18, is so worn out that Marines are going to museums to strip parts that are no longer in production of museum pieces to try and keep their birds in the air. The Navy, who wisely went with the F-18 Super Hornet instead of waiting for the trillion dollar F-35, is in slightly better shape. The Air Force also has serious readiness issues and all the services are hemorrhaging experienced pilots. Taking the load off the our tactical air fleet is an imperative.
Also part of the plan is a helicopter fleet for combat resupply and dust offs (medical evacuation). The Afghans had dust off’s when the Americans (and NATO allies) were there in force. They have none now which means Afghan troops, who would have survived their wounds in the past, now die. That is a moral killer and unquestionably contributes to the high desertion rate then ANA is experiencing.
Another component of the plan is embedding large teams of trainers/mentors at the battalion level where they will eat, sleep, train and fight with their Afghan colleagues. We have never tried this before with the exception of the high end Afghan Special Forces units. The embedded mentor teams of the past fought with the Afghans but did not live, eat or sleep with them. They were housed in secure FOB’s inside the Afghan FOB’s where Afghans were not welcomed and could go enter.
The costs associated with maintaining mini FOB’s inside Afghan FOB’s with KBR DFACs (chow halls) that served excellent American food (to include pecan pie and unlimited mint chocolate chip ice cream) flown into the country from who knows where were astronomical. I assume the Prince Plan is not duplicating that failed strategy and base the assumption on both the cost savings and the amount of experience Mr. Prince has doing this sort of thing in the 3rd world.
The final strength of the plan is the fact that contracted Private Military Companies (PMC’s) have proven they work. Global piracy rates are plummeting due to PMC’s. Boko Haram is getting its ass kicked in Nigeria because of a PMC. Joseph Komey was broken and damn near killed by the Ugandan’s who had received specialized training from a PMC. Egypt was kicked out of Yemen back in 1962 by a PMC that started with only six former Brit SAS men and ended up with less than 50. These are facts that should matter but in the echo chamber PC based hysteria that dominates our national discourse they are are studiously ignored.
Added bonus for the proposal is that the DoD is already sending armed contractors to Afghanistan to mentor (another hat tip to Feral Jundi). Here is an example from Raytheon who is looking for “armed S2 mentors”. S2 means intelligence and what they are proposing is these guys arm themselves and then mentor Afghans on an individual basis. That’s not only crazy it illustrates the hypocrisy resident in DoD opposition to the Prince plan.
The weakness of Price’s plan is not the plan itself but the way the U.S. Government (USG) handles contracts like the one he is proposing. Unless they give it to Prince as a sole source contract it will be open for bidding. A sole source contract means the contractor is the only business that can provide the services needed. Based on my observations of the performance other US PMC contenders in Afghanistan I would argue that Prince should be the sole source. But that probably won’t happen in the highly charged political atmosphere in DC today. If a contract, based on this plan, is let for bid companies with demonstrated poor performance will be allowed to bid and if they come in with a lower cost than Prince they will win. Other international companies will bid too despite the fact that they cannot conduct the proper pre-deployment training (due to restrictive weapons laws in their home country). Because they can’t train up their people they will not incur the costs associated with that training and will naturally come in lower than Prince.
I saw this play out on the Kabul Embassy security force contract and would explain that debacle in detail were I not terrified of lawyers and law suits. If the DoD or DoS or whoever lets the contract chooses the lowest bidder the plan will fail, the savings evaporate, the quality of the embedded trainers will be poor and the results will be a dismal, expensive failure.
There is also the problem of ad hominem attacks on Prince because of the Nisour square incident. I addressed why those attacks are uninformed gibberish in this post. What I want to stress is I’ve been on both sides of that problem. I know well the gut wrenching fear of watching an Opel gun it’s engines and come after you in Nisour square. I’ve had two SUV’s shot out from under me in Kabul – one by the Brit army and one by the American army. I urge you to read the linked post to get some perspective, from a guy who has been on both sides of the situation, on the Raven 23 incident.
I rate the probability of this planning moving forward at 50/50. The reason for my optimism is that there are no other rational alternatives available. The Pentagon has proposed more of the same thing they’ve been doing which is clearly (by their own admission) failing. Senator John McCain, a man I hold in extremely low regard, is threatening to come up with his own plan and I can promise you his plan will be fraught with stupidity and fuzzy logic. He’ll take parts of the Prince plan and try to shoe horn military trainers into it resulting in a 40 billion increase vice a 40 billion decrease in spending…watch and see if I’m not right.
News reports from inside the administration indicate little enthusiasm from Secretary Mattis and the DoD. That may or may not be true. Our legacy media has zero credibility with me and the vast majority of my fellow citizens. If they are saying Mattis is opposed to the plan odds are he’s not. But if he is opposed he’ll need to come up with a better plan and he knows that he doesn’t have one.
The one legitimate obstacle appears to be General McMaster; the current head of the National Security Council and author of the book Dereliction of Duty: Johnson, McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies That Led to Vietnam. McMaster appears to be opposing President Trump on many of his policies which you’d expect from a guy who wrote a book about weak generals who sucked up to the presidents they were serving. It also appears that McMaster is tolerating zero dissent in his office, firing anyone holding contrary views, retaining Obama appointed deadwood and refusing to use or acknowledge the term “Islamic Terrorist”. One would not expect that from the guy who wrote Dereliction of Duty. But just because a guy writes a book about flaky generals doesn’t mean he’ll end up not being a flaky general. He may not even be a flaky general, who would you know? Reading chicken entrails is easier then deciphering media reports these days.
Generals are weird; I don’t know McMaster so I’ll focus on one I do know. If you told me that my former boss John Allen would, as a former four star general, speak in support of Hillary Clinton at a democratic national convention I may have throat punched you (metaphorically given my fear of lawyers and law suits) for bad mouthing one of my heroes. There was no way those of us who knew John Allen as a junior officer could have imagined him morphing into a political general with such spectacularly poor judgement.
I mention that to say this. The “Viceroy” portion of the Prince plan – the one government official who resides over the entire Afghan effort in order to break up the petty rice bowl guarding, slow decision making, and multiple agendas? That guy needs to have serious chops and John Allen is the only man I can think of who could do that.
Our country is so politically polarized that rational discussions have become almost impossible. The recent firing of goggle engineer James Damor who wrote a well researched piece concerning liberal group think and intolerance in an organization he was obviously devoted to is the latest example of this. The Afghans need some serious help to stabilize their country and the Prince plan is the only rational plan that will but them the time they need to stand on their own.