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Blackwater Founder Wants Mercenaries to Replace US Troops in Syria

Late last year, President Trump announced the withdrawal of all United States troops from Syria — apparently without discussing this plan with his military advisers. Despite severe doubts expressed by critics — including myself — over the logistics and time frame needed for such a move, the Trump administration seems adamant about demonstrating forward movement on withdrawal.

On Jan. 11, U.S. military equipment began leaving Syria, but officials declined to acknowledge whether or not troops had also returned home.

Even with a major draw down on the number of uniformed U.S. troops remaining in Syria, it appears more likely than ever that a U.S.-backed military presence will continue for the foreseeable future. And that’s due to the high chances that U.S. troops will be replaced by hired mercenaries — or as they are more formally known, private military contractors.

Erik Prince, the infamous founder of U.S.-based private military group Blackwater, recently went on Fox Business to pitch just this to the American public.

In 2011, Prince sold Blackwater, which was then rebranded multiple times — most recently renamed as Academi. Blackwater originally gained widespread notoriety in the wake of the 2007 Nisour Square massacre, an incident that killed 14 civilians.

Though he’s no longer affiliated with the group, Prince has been busy cultivating privatized military efforts around the world — recently and most notably in China. Prince, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ brother, had also been questioned by the Robert Mueller investigation over allegations that he was involved in coordinating contacts between the Russian government and the Trump campaign.

In 2017, Prince made a similar push to let private military contractors take over for uniformed troops in Afghanistan, suggesting a radical reorganization of the U.S. presence there. These ideas are far from novel, however.

In 2016, a Pentagon report to Congress publicly acknowledged that under then-President Obama, there had been a quite shift toward an increased use of mercenaries in place of U.S. troops

It’s worth pointing out that not only did President Trump vow to pull out of Syria in December, but he also stated that 7,000 U.S. troops would soon be leaving Afghanistan. Local authorities claim they had not been consulted on this decision. Could it be that Trump had decided to unilaterally embrace a large-scale privatization of the wars in Syria and Afghanistan?

There are several reasons doing so would have great appeal for Trump, especially right now. No doubt feeling mounting pressure — given midterm setbacks and indications that Mueller’s investigation is drawing to a close — Trump needs a few wins. No doubt this is precisely what’s behind his decision to dig in his heels over funding for the border wall, one of his most touted campaign promises.

Defeating the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, as well as leaving Afghanistan, also ranked high among Trump’s most lofty presidential goals. Not only would bringing home uniformed troops be great for optics, but it would also open the door to more aggressive — and potentially war crime-prone — tactics that couldn’t be used by U.S. troops.

This accountability became a major point of contention when private military contractors became more prominently used during the Iraq War, thanks to U.S. law being unable — and, more importantly, unwilling — to hold mercenaries to the same legal standards as uniformed servicepeople.

This is why the convictions related to the Blackwater massacre of Iraqi civilians at Nisour Square — the most recent of which was handed down last month — were so significant: Hired mercenaries committing such crimes are rarely held accountable for their actions.

Originally published at Care2.com on Jan. 26, 2019.

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