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Erik Prince Again Touts Plan to Privatize US War in Afghanistan

FILE - U.S. troops walk from a Chinook helicopter in Uruzgan province, Afghanistan, July 7, 2017.
FILE - U.S. troops walk from a Chinook helicopter in Uruzgan province, Afghanistan, July 7, 2017.

A plan by billionaire American businessman Erik Prince to privatize the U.S. war in Afghanistan is reportedly receiving renewed interest within the Trump administration, even though Afghan officials continue to criticize it as misguided.

Prince is mounting a media campaign to convince President Donald Trump that his plan will reduce the cost and the burden of the U.S. military's role in Afghanistan by turning over training of the Afghan army to Prince's security company. Prince has outlined the proposal in new videos explaining the plan in English and Dari.

The former Navy Seal first drew international attention when contractors for his Blackwater security company were accused of numerous abuses in Iraq. He later sold Blackwater but started other companies that provide security services for the United States and other governments.

2017 privatization plan

Trump was said to first consider Prince's plan a year ago during his administration's review of the Afghanistan strategy. But the plan failed to gain any traction in Washington or Kabul.

Instead, Trump decided to largely maintain the status quo when he rolled out his Afghanistan strategy in August 2017.

Tuesday marks one year since Trump's Afghanistan announcement, and Prince is hoping to use the anniversary to capitalize on frustrations that the plan has led to little tangible change in the 17-year-old war.

NBC News reported last week that Trump again became interested in Prince's plan after watching a video in which the former Navy Seal laid out what he sees as the failures of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan.

​Prince's plan would replace thousands of U.S. troops with fewer private contractors, who would be backed by a 90-plane private air force. The war would then be coordinated by what Prince calls a "viceroy."

Asked about Prince's plan on ABC's This Week, White House National Security Adviser John Bolton said, "There are always a lot of discussions. I find them helpful. I'm always open to new ideas. But I'm not going to comment on what the thinking is. That'll ultimately be the president's decision."

Afghan opposition

The U.S. currently spends about $45 billion a year in Afghanistan, according to the Pentagon. Prince has claimed he could do the job for less than $10 billion, though some experts have disputed that notion.

Critics say the plan could lead to less accountability and fear a repeat of incidents in which security contractors like Blackwater guards were accused of killing civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Both Afghanistan's government and its people oppose the privatization plan, Afghan presidential spokesman Haroon Chakhansoori said Monday.

"Giving away the responsibility of waging war to a private company increases the risk of civilian casualties," he said. He also called the plan a "conspiracy against President Trump's South Asia strategy that has had good results."