As recently as August 2018, outgoing Defense Secretary James Mattis dismissed the idea of a privatized war in Afghanistan. Now that he is gone, could Blackwater founder Erik Prince’s vision become a reality?
In the wake of his departure and President Donald Trump’s plan to pull out some 7,000 troops from the war-torn country, Blackwater USA took out a full page ad in a national magazine which typically announced “We are coming.” For quite some time, and especially after the Trump-Mattis South Asia vision passed the one-year mark, Mr. Prince touted privatization relentlessly. It is unclear if the new civilian brass would be receptive to this idea. But incoming Afghanistan commander Lt. Gen. Scott Miller may be a privatization fan.
Significant changes like this one will definitely “be more likely” now, opined one DoD official.
The Afghan War
There is some reason to believe that the U.S. government, at least indirectly, started the current 17-year Afghan war. If that is true, it stands to reason that private military contractors should try to end it.
From the ancient Babylonians and Persians to the 20th century British and Russians, Afghanistan has almost always been on the frontier of a global or regional empire. So, the country is no stranger to war and foreign influence. This latest conflict arguably began in 1978, when the Soviet Union engineered a coup which ushered in pro-Moscow “President” Nur Mohammad Taraki.
Things began badly. Almost immediately, Taraki instituted a number of Stalin-style reforms which were quite unpopular among the rural and religious elite. By 1979, howls of protest had morphed into outright rebellion.
The Soviets responded to the rebellion in this South Asia client state in much the same way as it reacted to similar movements in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968. Within weeks, thousands of mechanized Red Army troops descended on Afghanistan. It seemed that the rebellion might end within weeks.
Unwilling to let that happen and unable to do much about it, Uncle Sam devised a plan. The CIA encouraged Islamic militants from around the world to fight the Soviets in a jihad. But the Red Army hopelessly outgunned the mujahedin (holy warriors). With that firepower, and with control of the skies, things looked bleak.
Then, around 1985, the CIA began supplying Afghan rebels with Stinger missiles. According to some, the shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles turned the tide of battle. That may or may not be true, but it is certain that the Stingers contributed mightily to the Soviet withdrawal.
With the Soviet economy teetering on the brink in the late 1980s, that withdrawal might have been inevitable anyway. Unable to continue the war, the Soviets pulled out in 1989.
At that time, former CIA director George H.W. Bush was in the White House. The old war horse (Bush was shot down twice in the Pacific during World War II and won the Distinguished Flying Cross) knew a successful covert operation when he saw one. Unwilling to take any additional risks, he popped the champagne corks and reassigned the spooks elsewhere.
Unfortunately for the late President, history has judged that decision rather harshly. The diverse mujahedin had no common enemy left to fight. The country was there for the taking, since Taraki was clinging to power by his fingernails. So, the civil war began.
Remember how we said that the original mujahideen were rural, religious types? It should surprise no one that one of these groups eventually became the Taliban. A few years later, this group emerged as top dog and offered shelter to Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden. Most people know the rest of that story.
Immediately after 9/11, another Bush was in office. Many people compared George W. Bush to Woodrow Wilson, at least in terms of foreign affairs. Wilson believed that if despotism disappeared, democracy would take root. The younger Bush apparently believed the same thing. Both men were wrong. Adolf Hitler rose to power in Germany shortly after the Kaiser abdicated, and 17 years of war in Afghanistan have not produced a stable democracy. With all that futility, and all that investment, people are looking for an honorable way out.
What Contractors Do
Private military contractors may offer that way out, and not just in Southwest Asia, but in other situations, as well.
Militarily, contractors provide flexibility. Contractors can be boots-on-the-ground after just one phone call. There is no need to spend months preparing regular servicemembers to go there. Additionally, after their deployments end, contractors go home. The government need not continue to pay them.
Many contractors also have a military skill set that regular service-members do not have. These skills include things like actual experience in-country, electronic warfare and other skills, and an ability to interface with locals.
When the bullets stop flying, contractors still play a role. Many rebuilding contracts require a large security presence. Contractors also provide much of the labor and supervision necessary for these projects.
Injury Compensation Available
Because of their multiple roles, contractors also face multiple injury risks. These injuries could take the form of:
- Trauma Injuries: Enemy action wounds and kills contractors indiscriminately with regular servicemembers. Furthermore, these individuals could be hurt during their off-duty hours. Construction and rebuilding contractors also risk falls and other trauma injuries. There is almost no government oversight at foreign construction sites, so the workers are highly at risk.
- Occupational Diseases: Combat brain injuries may occur slowly over time. The brain can not absorb continual exposure to combat stress. Similarly, construction workers often have issues with hearing loss, joint pain, and other long-term conditions.
The Defense Base Act pays for medical bills in both these situations. The payments begin with the first day of emergency care and, in most cases, continue until the last day of physical therapy.
Benefits include more than just hospitalization. The DBA also covers medical devices, prescription drugs, and any other reasonably necessary medical expenses. DBA insurance companies routinely challenge expenses on this basis. So, an attorney must be diligent and make sure that victims get the medical help they need to fully recover.
To learn more about other DBA benefits, including wage replacement, contact Barnett, Lerner, Karsen, Frankel & Castro, P.A.