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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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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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Blackwater Mercenaries ‘Will Bring Hatred, Not Peace to Afghanistan’

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President Trump has been advised to turn to private military contractors and hire a mercenary army to “fix” Afghanistan, where it has been at war since 2001. Retired Afghan General Atiqullah Amarhel told Sputnik that it will only breed hatred and won’t bring any peace to his country.

The proposal was offered by Steve Bannon, President Donald Trump’s chief strategist, and Jared Kushner, his senior adviser, and son-in-law. Local media reports say that Erik D. Prince, a founder of the private military company Blackwater Worldwide, and Stephen A. Feinberg, a billionaire financier who owns the giant military contractor DynCorp International, were quick to jump on the idea and each sees a role for themselves in this future.

Blackwater, founded by Prince, is a private military company that gained notoriety in Iraq following the US invasion in 2003. During the Iraq War, Blackwater was involved in numerous troubling incidents. The most infamous was the Nisour Square massacre, when contractors opened fire on a crowd of civilians in Baghdad, killing 17; it led to court cases that put four of the contractors in prison.

An Afghan military analyst, retired General Atiqullah Amarhel, told that the suggested outsourcing won’t bring any stability and peace to his home country; Afghans nourish only hatred towards the US mercenaries.

“Those who can’t end a war with success, either lose it or get deadlocked. The Americans choose to persist and take on a risky venture. They think that with their venture and aggressive actions they can frighten the Afghan people. But it is a very bad idea,” Atiqullah Amarhel said.

He further explained that for the Afghan people, Blackwater is one of the cruelest companies, hence they feel only hatred towards it. They have not only been killing unarmed innocent civilians but have maintained special secret jails where they tortured people in the most perverted forms, according to his statement.

“However the Americans have gained nothing. The thing is that each country has its own culture and mode of life which should be understood first. Luckily or unluckily, but the Afghan people have such a culture, as a counterstrategy to any form of aggression. To defend against an aggressor and outside power is a duty and an honor for any Afghan,” the retired general said.

If from the very start of the military conflict the Americans did not resort to the services of this very company, he said, treated with respect the culture and traditions of the Afghan society and did not misuse their military presence in the country, the war would not go on for so long. Moreover, the native people at that moment were abused by the Taliban, who at the time gained power in Afghanistan and tortured the native people.

“Now the Americans want to make the very same mistake. But this strategy won’t bring any stability and peace to Afghanistan. It will only result in the colossal destruction of not only Afghanistan, but the region as a whole,” Atiqullah Amarhel said.

The Americans want to rule Afghanistan by force, which is practically impossible. It is a wrong route, unlikely to bring any desired result. They need to develop another strategy, mild and not aggressive, which will benefit the Afghan people and will be aimed at rapprochement with the country’s residents, the retired general concluded.

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