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Report: Trump Administration Wants To 'Outsource Afghanistan To Mercenaries'

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Military contractors outnumber soldiers in Afghanistan almost 3-1. They do a lot of the back-office work of warfighting. The question now is whether their role could expand under the Trump administration.

Mark Perry wrote about this in The American Conservative, and he's in our studios this morning. Thanks for coming by, sir. Good morning.

MARK PERRY: Good to be here.

INSKEEP: So the headline on your article is "Bannon And Kushner" - close presidential advisers - "Bannon And Kushner Want To Outsource Afghanistan To Mercenaries."

PERRY: Yes.

INSKEEP: What's the evidence for that?

PERRY: Well, there was a meeting with Bannon and Erik Prince and Steve Feinberg, who are promoting this proposal.

INSKEEP: I guess we should mention Erik Prince, also close to a lot of these people. And he's got a background at Blackwater, which was a private military contractor...

PERRY: A private contractor in Iraq and a very controversial figure.

INSKEEP: And Steve Feinberg is a friend of Prince and also close to the president.

PERRY: That's right, head of Cerberus International and DynCorp, which has a very large footprint in Afghanistan.

INSKEEP: A very large footprint doing what sorts of things?

PERRY: Logistics, supply - they also train Afghan police. They provide services to American troops, but they also provide security. And of course...

INSKEEP: Meaning some of them carry guns?

PERRY: Absolutely. And under this proposal, more of them would carry guns. And a lot of the fighting and training of the Afghan army would be contracted to private contractors. It's a very controversial proposal, but it was promoted by Prince and Feinberg to the White House. Mr. Trump apparently liked the proposal and wanted it to be considered for the new Afghanistan strategy, which is what's happening.

INSKEEP: What is the case for using private contractors instead of U.S. troops? Why would that be a good idea?

PERRY: Well, the case that's being made by the two proponents is that it's cheaper. It really takes combat out of the hands of American soldiers. It takes the conflict off the front pages.

INSKEEP: Off the front pages - what? - because we, collectively, are presumed not to care as much about contractors as about...

PERRY: Well, Americans - American men and women wouldn't be coming home in body bags who wear uniform. This would be a wholly owned subsidiary, a corporate contract for private gain.

INSKEEP: Some of them might not even be Americans, I suppose.

PERRY: That's right. In Yemen right now, where corporate contractors are running the war, a lot of them are Colombians. They're for-hire guns. And it's a controversial proposal. But at least on the face of it, it has a certain appeal - could be cheaper, takes the politics out of the Afghanistan War. It lowers the temperature on the Afghanistan conflict. And this is what's being promoted.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about why it's controversial, though. There are questions about whether the laws of war apply to contractors the same way, whether they can be held accountable the same way, whether they are trained in the way that we would expect American troops to be trained. And finally, you seem to be laying out a scenario where people close to the president of the United States, making this decision, might be profiting from the decision because they're connected to companies that might be involved.

PERRY: Well, there's no mistaking. This is all about profits for the corporations that would be contracted to the U.S. government to run the Afghanistan War. And it's also true that the Uniform Code of Military Justice would not apply to these contractors.

We're seeing this now. Again, I bring up Yemen. We're seeing this now in Yemen, where, you know, it's a terrible humanitarian catastrophe, in part because contractors are fighting the war instead of regular troops, contractors from each and every side. It's a catastrophe. And this is why it makes it controversial, especially in the Pentagon. And across the national security establishment in the United States, there are a lot of people are opposed to this.

INSKEEP: I'm glad you mentioned the Pentagon. What kinds of things specifically do you hear from military officers when you discuss with them this proposal for a larger role for contractors?

PERRY: Well, it was very interesting. After my article appeared, I received calls the same day from senior military officers. They said Mark, Mark - this is dead on arrival. This isn't going to happen. It's just too controversial. Nobody at the Pentagon likes these contractors. They caused us a lot of problems in Iraq.

On the other hand, that same day a few hours later, I received calls from people in the intelligence services, especially in the retired set, a very powerful, influential group, who said this is still very much alive and being debated, and it could happen.

INSKEEP: Does the CIA also use contractors in the field?

PERRY: The CIA does use contractors in the field. But it's a much smaller - let me say, a much smaller footprint. And they do it very, very quietly. It's not at all overt. And they depend on their own military assets more than they do contractors.

INSKEEP: OK. Well, Mr. Perry, thanks very much for the insight. Really appreciate it.

PERRY: My pleasure.

INSKEEP: Mark Perry is a regular contributor to The American Conservative magazine. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.