The Prince Plan: Strengths, Weaknesses and Probability

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 AN 29B Super Tucano platform – I like this bird and inshallah shall see it in action in Afghanistan.

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.

This was an ANA training accident with 81mm mortar that claimed the life of the photographer, army Specialist Hilda Clayton. Embedded trainers at the battalion level should be able end incidents like this if they are the right trainers.

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.

7 Replies to “The Prince Plan: Strengths, Weaknesses and Probability”

  1. I have opposed this idea from the start, and I still do. It is a terrible idea for America to start paying mercenaries. Period. If Afghanistan wants to hire a mercenary force, then Afghanistan can pay for it.

    I am now disturbed by an aspect I had not previously considered. The idea that the only entity eligible for this windfall would be a scion of a politically connected, big time contributor to the current administration is appalling…it looks and feels like cronyism on the highest level

    1. Come on man – do you not read the posts John? I don’t think Prince is the scion of a politically connected family but even if he is what does that matter?

  2. The Prince Plan may well be (slightly) better than what we’ve been doing, just by virtue of not already being a manifest failure. I still think that there are not nearly enough guys with the combination of training and temperament to do the job, and that green-on-blues will swiftly undercut any real attempt at “you shit where they shit” tight partnership with ANSF. Witness the MARSOC captain who got a posthumous Zembiec Award a few years back – I think his guys were living in pretty close quarters with their ALP.

    And I know you’ve got residual fondness for the Afghans (as do many of us), but what makes Afghanistan worth $1 billion, let alone $10 billion? If there really is a need to kill serious national enemies (vice try to fight someone else’s civil war), we should do the opposite of advising. Bribe the Kyrgyz to get Manas back, put the popcorn out again at those pilot-infested bars, and rotate battalions of Rangers and Marine grunts through every six months. When we have real enemies that need to be pre-empted or punished, put 300+ motivators on target, guided by SIGINT and some very brave stay-behinds in shalwar kameezes. CIA’s wall might get a few more stars, but it will be a lot cheaper and smarter than current reality or Prince’s fantasy.

    1. I can only add some stay behinds running pseudo ops to your plan and I agree with the concept. Baruchk and I could do run excellent pseudo ops teams from Nimroz using the Baloch tribes and we’re a cheap date. The problem is that pragmatic approach is DOA in the western world now. It may one day come back in style but only after we have had another catastrophic “man caused” event.

  3. Prince is right! John Mcain is an idiot! Politicians need to stay out that’s where the problem is and we all know it!

  4. The three main weaknesses of the Prince plan are:

    1) It keeps the US engaged in a place it should leave,

    2) If the contractors are employees of the Afghan government (yes that’s really impossible but I heard Prince say it) and US forces are drawn down there still isn’t unity of command. “Viceroy” BTW is a terrible choice to describe what should be the US Ambassador. All the problems of inefficiency and corruption remain with the added touch of more contractors to join in.,

    3) I doubt very much Prince can recruit and retain the number of high quality people he needs. There are very, very few retired competent officers who’d volunteer for a long term posting to a squalid ANA post. Throw in the need to learn Pashtu, still be healthy and fit enough for the field, can think at a level above platoon and the willingness to exist on rice and goat and you’re down to a handful of people. I recently read a comment about Jim Gant’s ideas that “your plan can’t rely on genius”. There is probably no way Prince can come up with a single “genius” for every ANA battalion let alone the scores his plan requires.

  5. How does one even measure success or failure in that theater? What constitutes winning? We haven’t accomplished jack shit in almost 20 years. Prince’s plan sounds like open-ended war for profit at the expense of the US taxpayer. Sorry to rain on your parade.

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