As the fight against the Islamic State unfolds, the take of Erik Prince, the founder of the former private security firm Blackwater, is straightforward: If the United States is unwilling to send in ground troops, “let the private sector finish the job.”
Prince addressed the subject this week in a little-noticed blog post on the site of his newest security and logistics firm, Frontier Services Group. Prince left Blackwater, with its checkered history in Iraq, including the killing by contractors of 17 civilians in a 2007 shooting, in 2010. The trial of four Blackwater guards involved in the shooting in Baghdad’s Nisoor Square, has been underway for months.
Prince is currently courting private business in Africa for his new company. He also is preparing to drum up readers for the paperback version of his bestselling book, “Civilian Warriors: The Inside story of Blackwater and the Unsung Heroes of the War on Terror,” out later this month.
The former Navy SEAL declined interview requests for this piece through a spokesperson with his book publisher, the Penguin Group. In his blog post, published Monday, Prince said President Obama’s strategy to counter the Islamic State is “half-hearted at best” and will not be able to dig the militants out of any urban centers where they seek shelter among civilians.
Prince said military clearing operations fall to foot soldiers, and the Iraqi military is “demonstrably inept after billions spent on training and equipping.” He points out that when the Islamic State attacked Iraqi units earlier this year, they folded and the militants were able to seize tanks, Howitzers, armored vehicles and ammunition, among other supplies and equipment.
“The Kurds, once a lean and strong fighting force that routinely rebuffed Saddam’s forces, now find themselves outgunned, under-equipped, and overwhelmed,” Prince wrote. “But they do fight, and they fight bravely. The Kurds’ biggest problem is the U.S. State Department blocking them from selling their oil and from buying serious weaponry to protect their stronghold and act as a stabilizing force in the region.”
Prince, long a proponent of using private military contractors to backstop U.S. policy abroad, added that the private sector has “long provided nations around the world with innovative solutions to national defense problems,” and he seems to look back fondly on the work Blackwater did.
“If the old Blackwater team were still together, I have high confidence that a multi-brigade-size unit of veteran American contractors or a multi-national force could be rapidly assembled and deployed to be that necessary ground combat team,” Prince wrote. “The professionals would be hired for their combat skills in armor, artillery, small unit tactics, special operations, logistics, and whatever else may be needed. A competent professional force of volunteers would serve as the pointy end of the spear and would serve to strengthen friendly but skittish indigenous forces.”
It’s not the first time Prince has said that Blackwater — later re-branded as Xe Services, and more recently as Academi — would have changed the equation in the fight against the Islamic State. At a political event last month, he said it was “a shame” the Obama administration had “crushed” his old business because it could have solved the issue of whether to put American troops on the ground in Iraq this year, according to the Daily Beast.
Contractors could have “gone in there and done it, and be done, and not have a long, protracted political mess that I predict will ensue,” Prince added.
Prince’s comments are likely red meat for those who think the Obama administration should do more to fight the Islamic State. His contention that Iraqi military units fell apart when tested by the militants is true. It’s also true that the State Department government has declined to sanction the sale of oil from the semi-autonomous Kurds or sell them weapons, preferring instead to deal with Iraq’s government in Baghdad.