What next in Afghanistan?

Los Angeles Times - - OPINION - res­i­dent Trump

Pis frus­trated about the lack of progress in Afghanistan and seems skep­ti­cal about his mil­i­tary ad­vi­sors’ pro­posal to de­ploy up to an­other 4,000 U.S. train­ers, ad­vi­sors and counter-ter­ror­ism forces to join the 8,500 now sta­tioned there.

“We’ve been there for now close to 17 years, and I want to find out why we’ve been there for 17 years, how it’s go­ing, and what we should do in terms of ad­di­tional ideas,” he told re­porters re­cently.

We un­der­stand the pres­i­dent’s ex­as­per­a­tion. De­spite the ex­pen­di­ture of hun­dreds of bil­lions of dol­lars and the loss of 2,400 Amer­i­can lives, the po­lit­i­cal and se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion in Afghanistan re­mains pre­car­i­ous, civil­ian ca­su­al­ties are in­creas­ing and cor­rup­tion is rife. Re­cently, the Tal­iban has gained ground.

So Trump is right to in­sist on a search­ing re­view of U.S. pol­icy there, one that con­sid­ers diplo­matic as well as mil­i­tary op­tions. But he should re­ject one pro­posal be­ing floated, re­port­edly with the en­cour­age­ment of some of his ad­vi­sors: the re­place­ment of U.S. forces by pri­vate se­cu­rity con­trac­tors.

Ac­cord­ing to the New York Times, White House ad­vi­sors Stephen Ban­non and Jared Kush­ner, the pres­i­dent’s son-in-law, asked two busi­ness­men who prof­ited from mil­i­tary con­tract­ing to come up with al­ter­na­tives to send­ing ad­di­tional troops to Afghanistan. The news­pa­per said that Erik D. Prince, a founder of the pri­vate se­cu­rity firm Black­wa­ter World­wide, and Stephen A. Fein­berg, the owner of the mil­i­tary con­trac­tor DynCorp In­ter­na­tional, rec­om­mended that the gov­ern­ment rely on pri­vate con­trac­tors in­stead of U.S. troops.

That’s an aw­ful pro­posal. Can Ban­non and Kush­ner have al­ready for­got­ten the his­tory of Black­wa­ter? The com­pany be­came no­to­ri­ous af­ter a group of its em­ploy­ees were con­victed of killing 14 Iraqi civil­ians in 2007 in Bagh­dad.

Un­daunted, Prince (who is the brother of Trump’s Ed­u­ca­tion sec­re­tary, Betsy DeVos) has now writ­ten a col­umn in the Wall Street Jour­nal of­fer­ing sev­eral ideas for changes in U.S. pol­icy in Afghanistan. Some of them, such as the con­sol­i­da­tion of all au­thor­ity in one of­fi­cial, might be worth con­sid­er­a­tion, although it is dis­turb­ing that Prince sees such a per­son as a “viceroy” in the mold of Gen. Dou­glas MacArthur in Ja­pan af­ter World War II. Even more dis­turbingly, Prince also sug­gested that the U.S. rely on “pri­vate mil­i­tary units” mod­eled af­ter the armies used by the East In­dia Co. — the for-profit en­ter­prise that with its own pri­vate army in ef­fect ruled In­dia dur­ing the Bri­tish colo­nial era. Th­ese units, he ex­plained, “were lo­cally re­cruited and trained, sup­ported and led by con­tracted Euro­pean pro­fes­sional sol­diers.”

If Prince is sug­gest­ing that du­ties now per­formed by U.S. mil­i­tary of­fi­cers should be en­trusted to con­trac­tors — mer­ce­nar­ies, in ef­fect — it’s a hor­ri­ble idea. Although pri­vate con­trac­tors have played a role in every war, mil­i­tary func­tions — even if they don’t tech­ni­cally qual­ify as com­bat duty — should be han­dled by mil­i­tary per­son­nel who are ac­count­able in the chain of com­mand.

Ap­par­ently Sec­re­tary of De­fense James N. Mat­tis agrees. Ac­cord­ing to the New York Times, Mat­tis re­fused to in­clude the pri­vate­con­trac­tor idea in the Afghanistan pol­icy re­view he is lead­ing along with na­tional se­cu­rity ad­vi­sor H. R. McMaster. Un­for­tu­nately, that doesn’t mean the idea won’t come to Trump’s at­ten­tion via Ban­non, Kush­ner or other close ad­vi­sors. A pres­i­dent with a busi­ness back­ground might be eas­ily beguiled by the idea of con­tract­ing out a war. But it is a ter­ri­ble idea. What ideas should Trump con­sider? He and his ad­vi­sors should cer­tainly cross-ex­am­ine the con­sen­sus that a con­tin­ued mod­est U.S. mil­i­tary pres­ence is vi­tal to the suc­cess of the Afghan gov­ern­ment’s cam­paign against the Tal­iban. (No one is sug­gest­ing that the U.S. re­turn to the troop lev­els it main­tained at the height of its com­bat role in Afghanistan, when 100,000 Amer­i­cans were de­ployed.) Even if that’s the case, some ex­perts have ar­gued for bet­ter in­te­gra­tion of U.S. ad­vi­sors with Afghan mil­i­tary units and changes in the mil­i­tary com­mand struc­ture.

And the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s re­view should ex­tend be­yond mil­i­tary strat­egy. Diplo­macy also must be part of the equa­tion. That in­cludes ef­forts to pres­sure Pak­istan to do more to com­bat ter­ror­ist groups that use its ter­ri­tory to launch at­tacks on U.S. and al­lied troops fight­ing the Tal­iban in Afghanistan. It also means be­ing open to the pos­si­bil­ity of ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween the gov­ern­ment of Afghanistan and el­e­ments of the Tal­iban that would be will­ing to ac­cept a con­sti­tu­tion that se­cured ba­sic rights. In­deed, one ar­gu­ment for mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion in Afghanistan al­ways has been that it places pres­sure on the Tal­iban to come to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble.

Th­ese are the is­sues Trump must con­sider in re­view­ing our role in Afghanistan. But he should for­get about pri­vate armies. I am an Ea­gle Scout. I be­lieved, then and now, in the ideals of the Boy Scouts, so I find it ap­palling that Pres­i­dent Trump used a ma­jor Boy Scouts of Amer­ica event as a back­drop for a par­ti­san, ran­corous po­lit­i­cal speech.

I was on the 1973 Na­tional Jam­boree Staff, when Bob Hope was the key speaker.

He cracked many jokes, even per­tain­ing to Richard Nixon, but the theme of his re­marks was to make all of us proud to be mem­bers of the Boy Scouts.

The con­cepts in the

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.