The Islamic State (ISIS) is massacring people in the strategic town of Kobani along the Syrian-Turkish border, indicating that American airstrikes on the terrorist group were not effective. Big-named pundits like Bill O'Reilly and Steven Colbert have been arguing about whether mercenaries should fight America's war against the Islamic State (ISIS). Now, the ex-chief of the mercenary company formerly known as Blackwater has waded into the debate, and (no surprise) he says absolutely they should.
Erik Prince, a former Navy SEAL and founder of Blackwater (now called Academi), writes in his current company blog at Frontier Services Group "as someone who spent many years operating in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other underdeveloped countries facing existential security threats":
The President's current plan seems half-hearted at best. American air power has significant reach and accuracy, but ultimately will be unable to finish the job of digging ISIS out of any urban centers where they may seek shelter amongst the populace. Clearing operations ultimately fall to the foot soldier.
In spite of President Barack Obama's promises that American involvement in Iraq will be limited, troops-on-the-ground is an increasingly likely scenario. The Pentagon has said as much.
Whose troops, though? Prince says the Kurds can't do much, because "the U.S. State Department [is] blocking them from selling their oil and from buying serious weaponry to protect their stronghold and act as a stabilizing force in the region." The Iraqi military is broken. The Obama administration has $500 million for moderate Syrian rebels, but deciding who is "moderate" is easier said than done. The majority of American troops don't want to fight this war.
Prince writes that "the American people are clearly war-fatigued," and he accuses the Defense Department of waging war in "the most expensive ways." He says that "a multi-brigade-size unit of veteran American contractors or a multi-national force could be rapidly assembled and deployed" to eliminate the ISIS threat.
The elephant in the room is Blackwater's track record. In one incident in 2007 the company killed 17 civilians and injured 20 more in Baghdad. In two years' time, employees were "involved in 195 shootings," having shot first in 163 of them. Wikileaks exposed sordid details about civilian deaths in Afghanistan, too. A Blackwater manager threatened to kill a State Department auditor for raising questions about the company's practices.
Will the Obama administration bite anyway? The Daily Beast reported one month ago that the Pentagon had already some major military contractors about estimated costs of fighting ISIS. Academi already has a $250 million contract with the CIA, $92 million contract with the State Department, so it's not like the company is in bad standing with the federal government.
If the White House does turn to private companies to fight ISIS, some people will likely shriek "capitalism!" Those folk will have to reconcile that notion with the fact that the business opportunity only exists because of a massive government project with ill-defined goals that has already cost nearly one billion dollars and is expected to cost billions more regardless of private involvement.