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Trump Aides Asked Mercenary Companies for Advice on Afghanistan

Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner's move presents a fraught conflict-of-interest issue.
Drew Schwartz
Brooklyn, US
Photo by Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images

President Trump rode into office on a promise that he'd make the country function more like a business. That plan apparently extends all the way to the military: According to the New York Times, two of Trump's top aides asked moguls in the private defense industry to come up with some new options for the US's ongoing war in Afghanistan.

Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner and chief strategist Steve Bannon reportedly tapped Erik Prince, founder of the private security firm Blackwater, and Stephen Feinberg, owner of the military contractor DynCorp International, for the job.


Though Prince left Blackwater in 2010, he's now the chairman of an African-based security and logistics company called Frontier Services Group, not to mention brother of Education Secretary Betsy Devos. He and Feinberg reportedly drafted up a few strategies on how the US could use private contractors in Afghanistan, as opposed to American troops to present to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis—a plan that could essentially promote their own business interests.

"The conflict of interest in this is transparent," Georgetown University professor Sean McFate told the Times. McFate's an expert on private armies, and formerly worked for Feinberg's DynCorp. "Most of these contractors are not even American," he added, "so there is also a lot of moral hazard."

Bannon met with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Saturday to discuss the defense moguls' ideas, which reportedly closely resemble those put forth in a Wall Street Journal column Prince wrote in May. Though Mattis heard Bannon out, he refused to include the platform in a impending review of strategies for Afghanistan.

As Task & Purpose points out, Blackwater and DynCorp have long histories of operating in the Middle East, and both have been hounded by scandal. In one of the Iraq War's most controversial turns, a pack of employees from Blackwater—which has supplied armed paramilitary guards to the US, among other services—gunned down 17 civilians in Baghdad. Four Blackwater guards were later convicted of murder. Two months after that incident, a security contractor for DynCorp fatally shot a taxi driver in Baghdad without any apparent cause, according to the Times.

Although Mattis reportedly "listened politely" before he shot down the duo's suggestions, the move illustrates the lengths Trump's inner circle will go to look to the business world for help, despite any glaring conflicts of interest.

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