Blackwater founder still promotes plan to privatize Afghan operations

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The founder of private military contractor Blackwater is trying to interest U.S. intelligence agencies in his plan to privatize counter-terrorism operations in Afghanistan, even though the Trump administration earlier rejected the idea.

FILE PHOTO: Blackwater USA Chief Executive Erik Prince testifies before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on security contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. October 2, 2007. REUTERS/Larry Downing/File Photo

Erik Prince, who now runs a Hong Kong-based security business, told Reuters on Wednesday he was consulting about aspects of the plan, including how to hold contractors accountable for wrongdoing, with lawyers including a “former general counsel of the CIA.”

U.S. government sources say Prince has recently floated his Afghanistan proposal to spy agencies including the CIA but it is not clear how much support it has received. The CIA declined to comment.

Prince’s plan to have retired special forces soldiers from the United States and allied nations embed with Afghan army units made its way into the White House ahead of a recent review of Afghanistan policy, according to a senior administration official.

But after the review, President Donald Trump ordered several thousand more U.S. troops to be sent to Afghanistan to battle Islamist militants, effectively rejecting the privatization plan.

Prince, a former Navy SEAL and the brother of U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, is undeterred.

“What I’m confident of is the current (Pentagon) approach is not going to move the needle” and improve the Afghan battlefield situation, Prince said.

Prince founded the company formerly known as Blackwater. Some of its guards were convicted of killing 14 unarmed Iraqi civilians at a Baghdad traffic circle in 2007, an incident that outraged Iraqis and inflamed anti-U.S. sentiment around the world.

Prince said he is weighing a run next year for a U.S. Senate seat in Wyoming, where he has long had a home.

Citing his opposition to the current U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, Prince said: “If they don’t want to listen, maybe I need to run for Senate, and see if they can hear me now.”

Under Prince’s proposal, U.S. and allied private forces would remain in Afghanistan for long periods of time, as opposed to the current situation, in which U.S. soldiers rotate in and out of the country after roughly nine-month deployments.

Reporting by Mark Hosenball and Warren Strobel; Editing by Alistair Bell