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Is Blackwater back in Iraq?

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Members of Iraq’s parliament have some questions about security contractors arriving in Iraq. They’re worried that notorious mercenary firm Blackwater has, more or less, made its way back to Iraq.

“So far, the government has not briefed us on the arrival of private security firms for securing the highway between Anbar and Jordan, and we only heard about it from some members,” Niazi Meamaroglu, a member parliament’s security and defense committee, said in an interview with Almaalomah on Aug. 7, 2017.

Parliamentarians are reserving particular scrutiny for Olive Group, a UAE-based firm with ties to Erik Prince, who founded the private military company formerly known as Blackwater. The Iraqi government banned Blackwater from operating in the country after some of its employees opened fire on a crowded street at Baghdad’s Nisour Square in September 2007, killing 14 people and wounding dozens more.

Blackwater rebranded itself as Xe Services in February 2009. Prince announced his resignation as CEO a month later, although he remained as chairman for some time. In 2010, a group of private investors purchased Xe’s North Carolina training facility and again rebranded — this time as Academi.

In 2014 there was a merger between Triple Canopy—a part of the Constellis Group—and Academi, along with several other companies. They are now are now all gathered under the umbrella of Constellis Holdings. A year later Constellis snatched up Olive Group. The firm was founded by former British infantry officer Chris St. George and his brother and is known to recruit former British military personnel in large numbers.

Olive Group has historically specialized in providing security to energy companies such as BP and Dutch Royal Shell. After merging with Constellis, St. George and his brother joined the Constellis board of directors and announced that the Olive Group was would expand its operations in Africa and the Middle East. “The merger will provide us with a deeper funding base and allow the business to expand into new areas,” St. George told The Telegraph. “The world is not getting a safer place.”

Eric Prince, founder of notorious Blackwater

The Iraqi government has granted Olive Group contracts repair roads and bridges, build gas stations and oversee security along Iraqi the roadways. But these operations have made many Iraqis uneasy, especially given the complicated history of security contractors in the country—Blackwater in particular.

The Blackwater guards involved in the Nisour Square shootings have consistently argued they had all acted in self-defense, but during a 2014 trial the jury found little credible evidence that they were under threat. The guards were found guilty of murder and attempted murder.

But on Aug. 4, 2017, a U.S. federal appeals court threw out the prison sentences of three Blackwater guards involved in the Nisour Square shootings and ordered a retrial for a fourth. These developments have only further stoked Iraqis’ suspicions of the new contracts, Olive Group’s in particular.

“Olive Group was recently selected to help deliver the Anbar Road project in combination with two Iraqi companies and regional partners,” the company insisted in a statement to the London-based New Arab. “The focus is to provide economic growth by establishing a critical border crossing into Jordan and a lifeline to provide goods and services into Iraq.”

Nabil Shaddad, a Lebanese-born American citizen who once worked for Olive Group, told the New Arab that the firm is an “Emirati version of Blackwater.”

“Blackwater has returned to work in the Middle East through two companies, Olive Group and [Reflex Responses], which operate out of Abu Dhabi and conduct strategic operations in the region,” Shaddad said. “Olive Group is the spiritual successor to Blackwater.”

 

Prince founded Reflex Responses after leaving Blackwater and relocating to Abu Dhabi, where he helped Emirati officials build a secret mercenary army made up largely of Colombian hired-guns and former South African soldiers. Mercenaries linked to Prince have also been spotted in Libya working with UAE-backed forces loyal to Gen. Khalifa Haftar. Lately Prince has been in the media promoting his plan to have mercenaries take over operations from the U.S. military in Afghanistan citing the East India Trading company as a precedent.

As early as July 2017, some Iraqi lawmakers were demanding that Abadi terminate Olive Group’s contract. “The committee has demanded the cancellation of recently signed contracts with security contractors – U.S.-based or not – and called for dependence on the Iraqi security forces instead,” parliamentarian Majid Al Gharawi said. “In the coming days, Abadi will come to discuss the return of Blackwater to Iraq under another name.”

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Contractors, Not Troops, Will Save Afghanistan

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In 1941, shortly after Pearl Harbor pulled the United States into World War II, a group of volunteer American aviators led by Gen. Claire Chennault known as the Flying Tigers fought Japanese aggression in China. They were so successful that many people believe they were decisive in holding back Japan, eventually leading to its defeat.

Although they were paid volunteers rather than members of the American military, they were not denigrated as “mercenaries.” The Flying Tigers — who now would be called contractors — fought for China and the United States and, like paid American contractors in theaters of war today, fought as bravely and patriotically as American soldiers.

As policy makers in Washington decide what to do in Afghanistan, they should keep the Flying Tigers in mind. Such a force could be just the solution Afghanistan needs.

The reasons are as obvious as they are compelling: Last week, President Trump announced his “new strategy” to end the war in Afghanistan, the longest war in American history. But in promising to add more dollars to the more than $800 billion already spent, not to mention more American troops to the thousands already dead or wounded, President Trump’s strategy is sadly more old than new.

Fortunately, it is not too late to alter the course.

This spring, as Afghanistan policy was debated in Washington, the president asked for fresh options to end the war honorably. Faced with two choices — pulling out entirely or staying the course — I argued strongly for a new approach, a third path that would put in place a light footprint of American Special Forces, as well as contractors to work with Afghans to focus on the goal that Americans really care about: denying America’s enemies the sanctuary they used to plan the Sept. 11 attacks.

Unfortunately, serving or recently retired Pentagon generals monopolized the conversation, so a conventional outcome was assured.

The third path I’m talking about is not untested, even if it has been forgotten. When the United States first went into Afghanistan in 2001, it devastated the Taliban and Al Qaeda in a matter of weeks using only a few hundred C.I.A. and Special Operations personnel, backed by American air power. Later, when the United States transitioned to conventional Pentagon stability operations, this success was reversed. Since then, the Pentagon’s biggest innovation has been to vary American and NATO troop levels from 9,000 to 140,000, and to increase civilian contractors to a peak level of 117,000 during President Obama’s “surge.”

But history shows clearly that sheer tonnage does not win insurgencies. In all of them, when a foreign “invader” dominates, the weaker indigenous forces wait and learn. The 20 or so terrorist organizations in Afghanistan have watched American troops rotate through the country every six to nine months, allowing the insurgents to learn our battlefield tactics, including how forces patrol, communicate, target and respond. These quick rotations give American troops less time to learn the insurgents’ tactics.

The “new” strategy that the president adopted last week would reportedly increase authorized troop levels from 8,400 to around 12,400. This will merely continue the conflict. And no one can seriously argue that this strategy won’t inevitably require more spending, more troops and more casualties. In a war that has already lasted twice as long as Vietnam, is this the “new” strategy we want?

Credit must be given where it’s due. A bright spot in the Pentagon’s approach has been its reliance on the Afghan Special Forces, a unit representing fewer than 10 percent of total Afghan forces that conducts 70 to 80 percent of all offensive combat operations in the country. American Special Forces train and mentor those troops effectively.

My proposal is for a sustainable footprint of 2,000 American Special Operations and support personnel, as well as a contractor force of less than 6,000 (far less than the 26,000 in country now). This team would provide a support structure for the Afghans, allowing the United States’ conventional forces to return home.

This plan would use former Special Operations veterans as contractors who would live, train and patrol alongside their Afghan counterparts at the lowest company and battalion levels — where it matters most. American veterans, whose extraordinary knowledge and experience could be vital to Afghan success on the ground, would serve as adjuncts to the Afghan Army and would perform in strict conformity with Afghan rules of engagement, eliminating the stigma of a foreign occupying force. Supplemental Afghan air power, flown with Afghan markings, would include a contractor safety pilot, but only the onboard Afghan officer would make weapons decisions. All contracted personnel would be subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, just as active-duty American troops are now.

If the president pursues this third path, I, too, would vigorously compete to implement a plan that saves American lives, costs less than 20 percent of current spending and saves American taxpayers more than $40 billion a year. Just as no one criticizes Elon Musk because his company SpaceX helps supply American astronauts, no one should criticize a private company — mine or anyone else’s — for helping us end this ugly multigenerational war.

It’s not too late to find a new path and give a new band of Flying Tigers a chance to serve America as valiantly as their predecessors did.

The whole article is written by Erik Prince as an opinion for the New York Times. Eric Prince, a former Navy SEAL, is the chairman of Frontier Services Group. He founded the company formerly known as Blackwater, a security contractor.

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Blackwater founder Erik Prince wants to create his private air force in Afghanistan

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Erik Prince, the former CEO of the private military company known as Blackwater, wants to step up the Afghan air war with a private air force capable of intelligence collection and close-air support, according to a recent proposal submitted to the Afghan government, Military Times reported.

According to a senior Afghan military official, Prince has submitted a business proposal offering a “turn-key composite air wing” to help the fledgling Afghan air force in its fight against the Taliban and other militant groups. The development comes as the White House is considering a plan to draw down the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and replace the ensuing power vacuum with contractors.

Pentagon officials are skeptical of that plan. Moreover, a senior Afghan defense official told Military Times that U.S. Army Gen. John Nicholson, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, has refused to meet with Prince regarding the contractor plan.

The proposal submitted to the Afghan government in March boasts an impressive array of combat aircraft for a private company. The aircraft offered in the proposal includes fixed-wing planes, attack helicopters and drones capable of providing close-air support to maneuvering ground forces, according to a copy of the proposal obtained by Military Times.

Afghan National Air Corps L-39 Albatross jets take off in a formation practice for an aerial parade for Afghan National Day in Kabul. The head of the private security firm formerly known as Blackwater wants to provide a private air force to supplement the Afghan’s fledgling fleet.

The proposal promises to provide ”high-speed response” close-air support and ”the entire country can be responded to in under 1 hour.” The proposal states that weapons release decisions will still be made by Afghans.

The air frames are also outfitted with equipment to provide intelligence collection that includes imagery intelligence, signals intelligence and communications intelligence. The aircraft would be operated by the private company’s employees. The proposal also promises to ”conduct medical evacuation in combat situations” with ”ex-military medics and door gunners,” according to a copy of the proposal.

The Afghan air force is in the first stages of transition from its old fleet of Russian Mi-17 transport helicopters to U.S. UH-60A model Black Hawks — a development Nicholson deemed as necessary to help break the stalemate in Afghanistan.

However, those helicopters won’t be arriving in Afghanistan for almost two years, and training isn’t expected to begin until later this fall.

With battlefield casualties rising and the continued see-sawing of territory between Afghan and Taliban control, Prince’s proposal seeks to provide an interim private air force while the Afghan air force reaches full operational capability.

 

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