Out­sourc­ing the air war in Afghanistan

Erik Prince de­serves a chance to do what the mil­i­tary can’t

The Washington Times Daily - - COMMENTARY - By Gary An­der­son Gary An­der­son is a re­tired Marine Corps of­fi­cer who served as a De­part­ment of State civil­ian ad­viser in Iraq and Afghanistan and as a con­trac­tor in Afghanistan.

Erik Prince, the owner of the for­mer Black­wa­ter se­cu­rity com­pany, has pro­posed that the U.S. mil­i­tary out­source the air war in Afghanistan to him. Gen. John Ni­chol­son, who cur­rently com­mands the NATO ef­fort in the war, has ap­par­ently re­fused to give the Prince pro­posal an air­ing. The pres­i­dent re­port­edly is not happy with the progress of the war and wants to fire Gen. Ni­chol­son, who would be the sec­ond Amer­i­can com­man­der to be sacked in the war’s nearly 16 years. If I were Gen. Ni­chol­son, I’d give Mr. Prince a fair hear­ing.

The Afghans are not do­ing well in the war largely be­cause their air force can­not sup­port the army ad­e­quately of the ground. Af­ter nearly two decades of Amer­i­can “ad­vice and as­sis­tance,” the Afghan Air Force is a mess. In­stead of fix­ing the prob­lem, the Amer­i­cans have shored the Afghans up with close air sup­port and other patch­work fixes that have failed. If the def­i­ni­tion of in­san­ity is do­ing the same thing over and over and ex­pect­ing a dif­fer­ent re­sult, the high com­mand in Kabul is cer­ti­fi­able.

In­stead of dis­miss­ing Mr. Prince out­right, Gen. Ni­chol­son should have re­quested a pro­posal that would re­quire Mr. Prince to come up with a plan that would make the Afghan Air Force self-suf­fi­cient in a cer­tain time frame if he de­sires to see a profit from his ef­forts. That would not just mean pro­vid­ing the Afghan troops with close air sup­port. It would re­quire Mr. Prince and his com­pany to train the me­chan­ics and air crews of the Afghan Air Force to main­tain the trans­port air­craft and he­li­copters needed to pro­vide re­sup­ply and med­i­cal evac­u­a­tion to Afghan sol­diers scat­tered over some of the world’s most in­hos­pitable ter­rain.

Mr. Prince’s profit-ori­ented ap­proach is an out­side-the-box, com­mer­cial so­lu­tion to a hard prob­lem that has eluded the U.S. mil­i­tary. It won’t win the war by it­self, but it could pro­vide a key so­lu­tion to the sup­ply-and-sup­port prob­lem that has dogged Afghan forces since Pres­i­dent Obama pre­ma­turely tried to hand the war over to them on an ar­bi­trary time­line.

Our gen­er­als have lacked the imag­i­na­tion to tell the ad­min­is­tra­tion that some­thing new and dif­fer­ent from send­ing in more uni­formed ad­vis­ers should be tried. We are in an Afghan war that is not be go­ing to won by merely de­feat­ing the en­emy on the bat­tle­field. The Tal­iban can draw from a nearly lim­it­less sup­ply of tribal youth bent on re­venge for the deaths of rel­a­tives and friends.

The Afghan stale­mate will only be bro­ken when the various fac­tions that make up the Tal­iban re­al­ize two things. First, that they are not strong enough to cap­ture the ma­jor pop­u­la­tion cen­ters of Afghanistan as they did in the late ’90s; and sec­ond, that they are los­ing ground to a far more danger­ous en­emy in the form of ISIS than they face in the Afghan gov­ern­ment. Un­til the Afghan se­cu­rity forces stop los­ing ground, the Tal­iban will con­tinue to hope the gov­ern­ment will crack. If its forces can ad­e­quately hold and re­take ground, the pos­si­bil­ity ex­ists that the gov­ern­ment and the lo­cal in­sur­gents can make com­mon cause to fight the real for­eign-in­spired threat that ISIS rep­re­sents. The Tal­iban don’t want to at­tack the Amer­i­can home­land or Europe, but ISIS does.

Afghanistan should not be an Amer­i­can “for­ever war.” What­ever its faults, the gov­ern­ment of Afghanistan must even­tu­ally be­come re­spon­si­ble for its in­ter­nal se­cu­rity. The United States will need to sup­ple­ment its defense costs, but the Afghans even­tu­ally need to do their own fight­ing with their own peo­ple. Our even­tual mil­i­tary mis­sion in Afghanistan, Iraq, So­ma­lia and else­where should be lim­ited to coun­tert­er­ror­ism against al Qaeda, ISIS and other vi­o­lent ex­trem­ist groups that are plot­ting against the Amer­i­can home­land. If Mr. Prince can come up with a plan to help us do that and make a buck at the same time, good for him.


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