Interview Part 2:
A huge THANK YOU to Velshi & Ruhle for taking the time to explain where we are in the Afghanistan War and why the issue matters. Hardly anyone in media has ever done what those two did today. Worth watching.
-- TRANSCRIPT --
STEPHANIE RUHLE: America's longest running war has continued to cost the country lives and quite a lot of money. As the Pentagon prepares to send dozens more Marines into Afghanistan, days after the remains of the most recent casualties in the conflict were returned home, 2,263 Americans have died there since 2001. Over 20,000 wounded. So many Americans still asking what are we doing there? The Pentagon has spent more than $714 billion to date on just military costs fighting in Afghanistan.
ALI VELSHI: Let's talk about solutions to this here. Former Navy SEAL and Blackwater CEO Erik Prince will join us in just a moment, but he laid out his vision for a new strategy in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. His plan includes appointing a federal official with broad powers to conduct the war and reducing troop numbers in Afghanistan by training local units under private military leadership. Maintaining a small special operations presence in the country, also talks about lowering the cost of the conflict that Stephanie just talked about by spending an estimated $10 billion a year on private military units rather than the $45 billion that the fund -- the conflict is expected to cost through the end of 2017. It also talks about containing terror groups and this is key, choking off the trade they use for funding their operations, that being the ultimate goal of this. Our next guest is Erik Prince, he is the executive director and chairman of Frontier Services Group, former CEO of military contractor Blackwater. He served as a navy SEAL and is the brother of the Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos. Great to see you.
PRINCE: Thanks for having me.
VELSHI: Let's talk about this plan. Nothing has and last hundreds of years and you could go back more than 1,000 years, Afghanistan seems to be a very tough place to manage. What about your approach will work better?
PRINCE: Let me clarify the pricing difference, 10 billion, that's not just on private military efforts that would include the continued support of the Afghan army, which the Pentagon is spending $4 billion on, plus billions more for the SOCOM guys.
VELSHI: You're saying it's $10 billion versus a bigger number than $45 billion.
PRINCE: Correct and the Pentagon has 52 approved for next year.
RUHLE: We like the money saving but my question is the effectiveness, nothing has worked there.
PRINCE: I think, left, right or center, they want to say how do we end this thing in Afghanistan? People say advice, not as a colonial figure, it's about unity of command. You've had 17 commanders in those years and different ambassadors and chiefs, you have you have to one person in charge of all US government policy spending and rules of engagement since they are linked. View that as a bankruptcy trustee that can scale away from the bad spending we have and scale down. What is the goal in America for Afghanistan? Do deny terror sanctuary, that's it? If we strengthen the the Afghan forces from the battalion level up, the US isn't doing anything below the core level. But the battalion is 600 people. By putting in a structural support mechanism of those mentors that live with and train with and operate with even the UN definition, would not be mercenaries, those would be contracted people that can go in for a few months and home and go back into the same unit again and again.
VELSHI: Let me ask you questions. Afghanistan and Pakistan don't work together -- Pakistan is not interested in having a "viceroy" of America's choosing involved in it. You're not interested in nation building nor is President Trump but the fact is you can't just be in a country that's not your country?
RUHLE: Afghans can say get out, we don't want an occupy here.
PRINCE: Of course but the Afghans -- here's the thing, the president could pull everybody out, United States leaves. I don't agree with that necessarily because I think you'll have the Taliban or ISIS battle flag flying over the US Embassy in six months or a year. That becomes a rallying cry for every Jihadi want to be around the world. If they feel they beat America -- they've got space in Yemen...
VELSHI: I agree with you. Not looking to do that.
PRINCE: That's one consideration. If we keep doing what we're doing, like Secretary Mattis said we're not winning in Afghanistan. This is a scaled down rational approach that puts unrelenting pressure on the terrorist groups and strengthens Afghans doing it. Doesn't require American soldiers driving around getting killed like last week.
RUHLE: Is $10 billion the cost to simply keep a lid on it? When you say a bankruptcy trustee, that makes sense but where is the turnaround guy and where's the strategy that she's we're going to end it?
VELSHI: It's not $10 billion a year forever?
PRINCE: Certainly not. For the 16 years we've been there, that's not a mining law or energy law. There's a trillion dollars of wealth but we don't have the legal structure -- someone wants to say i'm going to spend $100 million and build this mine, you can't do that. They are making money off the illegal mining gold, opium and hash. We haven't legalized capitalism really.
RUHLE: Is the White House signing on to your plan in any way? Have they given you an answer? If I was a member of the military, one of the dozens being sent into Afghanistan next I would say what's the game plan here.
PRINCE: I have not briefed the president. The president has heretofore rejected the Pentagon's approach for more money and more troops, kind of the same approach the last 16 years.
VELSHI: Have you seen what you are suggesting work somewhere else?
PRINCE: Sure, I mentioned in the article and say the East India Company, not that I'm advocating a colonization of Afghanistan, far from it. We want to prevent terror sanctuary and leave. When they operated for 200 plus years they deployed with that model. One mentor to 20 local troops --
VELSHI: I'll tell you as somebody of Indian ancestry, it was a different situation versus a small armed force. Never more than 500 Brits in India any time. The Afghans have never been quelled by anybody, the Russians, Americans, Brits, Alexander the Great, has never ever worked.
PRINCE: Correct. I agree. We're not looking to make a Jeffersonian Democracy or anything else. The main thing is to put training wheels to continue to operate and not fail. They had a bad week, an entire company annihilated on Tuesday.
VELSHI: Is there a danger this becomes the ability for the administration to now put this aside and put it in a little box as a commercial venture that Blackwater is dealing with or your company is dealing with -- you're not Blackwater anymore -- and not be on the books as a continuing conflict that America has not been able to solve?
PRINCE: Look, from a spending side, $45 billion, versus $10 billion, that's good math.
VELSHI: A sale is only a sale if you're getting the same product for the discount. You're offering what sounds like a really big discount for no potential end to the problem.
PRINCE: Here's the difference though. Remember, right after 9/11, you had a few hundred -- 100 CIA officers and a couple hundred special forces officers backed by air power devastate the Taliban in three months. They don't stand 10 feet tall, not widely supported in the country. They can be beaten and pursued. The more we've gone to a conventional military approach when Bagram became a saluting zone, progress is largely stopped and drifting backwards in a conventional war ever since. If we go back what's worked for counter-insurgency zone, the special forces operations were shut down why? Because conventional generals it was too risky for them.
RUHLE: I'm not saying you shouldn't and certainly, an undertaking like this should never be a community service, but for you, a $10 billion spend, financially how much would you stand to benefit? Where are you a stake holder in this?
PRINCE: I don't know. I mean, I priced out. I made that op-ed, come up with what the math would look like, I don't know exactly what they'd hire -- I doubt very much they would say let's do this --
VELSHI: You would be the contractor, right?
PRINCE: I don't know. Again.
RUHLE: If you presented this and the White House said yes, and you won said contract, what would that mean for you financially?
PRINCE: It depends, it would probably put all of the risk performance on us on a place where aircraft were shut down and men were -- our own men were killed -- there are easier ways to make money.
VELSHI: Back in Iraq, that was a huge issue in the early 2000s, contractors all over the place seem to be making lots of money operating in Iraq and place was getting worse by the day.
PRINCE: Again, in that case, the contractors were there for security job or to logistics or mail or food service or base support. In this aspect they would be doing it would be attached to the Afghan army, teaching and training them and held under the UCMJ Uniform Court of Military Justice, and tried if there is an evil act by one of the guys accountable and incarcerated in the United States. That's better than trying to do it back in federal court system back in the United States.
VELSHI: I don't want to be unfair, one of your former partners Al Clark when he quit said the reasons he quit was because you wanted it to be a playground for your rich friends. That is the concern here. Are you going to profit?
PRINCE: Come on, that was from 1997.
VELSHI: Doesn't matter when you said it.
PRINCE: Okay, yeah, sure I started Blackwater after I got out of the SEAL Teams because my father died and wife had cancer. I built a place to stay connected to the SEAL Teams and a lot of people thought it was this rich kid's playground. Clearly it was not. We answered the call after the Cole was attacked after Columbine High School, trained tens of thousands of SWAT officers and answered the call after 9/11 and said yes when the government needed us to do anything --
RUHLE: We don't argue good profitability, we argue about a good solution. When you think about Afghanistan, 2,263 Americans killed since 2001, 20,000 wounded since 2001. You said they had a tough week last week, there was talk from the president -- he's angry with how his generals are doing
VELSHI -- wants to replace Nicholson.
RUHLE: What do you think of the president's take?
PRINCE: Look, the president is frustrated because the Pentagon has only come with the 'more troops, more money' approach, like what Einstein said, the definition of insanity, if you do the same thing, expect a different results, what good is going to come from it?
VELSHI: Alright Erik, you put an idea on the table. We're going to look at it.
-- END TRANSCRIPT --
Erik Prince isn't making the rounds on cable news because he's unsure he'll get the contract to profit from mining security in Afghanistan. Give me a break. I want to know how taking over the heroin and hashish marketing from the Taliban is going to profit the American people, too. The whole thing stinks to high heaven and if Alexander the Great couldn't dominate the Afghans, let alone the Soviets, the fact that we (and the Taliban) are wasting resources there does nothing but help the bad guys win.