Like Prince, I was a private military contractor for years. I worked mostly in Africa, where I helped stop a genocide before it started, demobilized warlords, helped UN peacekeeping missions, transacted arms deals in Eastern Europe, and raised small armies for U.S. interest. Based on my experience, I would submit that not everything Prince suggests is crazy. We are seeing a new breed of conflict-entrepreneur roam the battlefield, selling war to anyone who can afford it. They are not just lone soldiers of fortune toting AK-47s, but small armies with armed aircraft and special-forces units. Despite the claims of those who have never seen an actual battle, these privately contracted fighters can be quite effective, and this is why the industry is flourishing.
The truth is, countries are increasingly turning to private military solutions to solve their problems, all in the shadows. Two years ago, Nigeria secretly hired mercenaries after a six-year struggle against Boko Haram, a jihadi terrorist group. They showed up with attack helicopters and special forces teams, and accomplished in weeks what the Nigerian military alone could not: Push Boko Haram out of much of the territory it held in Nigeria. Some quietly wonder if the same thing could be done against the Islamic State or al Shabaab.
Nigeria is not unique. Russia, the Emirates, Uganda and even terrorist groups, hire private fighters to wage secret wars everywhere. Ships enlist them as “embarked security” to fight pirates. There are even private cyber warriors, called "hack back companies,” who hunt hackers that attack their clients. In some ways, the Trump administration is just making this furtive trend fully apparent, a final stroke and affirmation of what has been building for nearly two decades now.
However, as an ex-military contractor, I cannot think of a worse solution for Afghanistan. There are many concerns about the safety, accountability, and morality of going into business with these types of outfits. When I was in the industry, I had multiple opportunities to go “off contract” and form a Praetorian Guard. In ancient Rome, this infamous imperial bodyguard assassinated 14 emperors, appointed five, and even sold the office to the highest bidder on one occasion. Praetorianism is a real thing, and something Prince or a viceroy could not easily control.
Alternatively, what would happen if Russia, China, or Pakistan offered this private army a better deal? There would be a bidding war for the loyalty of the force, something I saw warlords do in Africa. Unlike soldiers, these fighters would be akin to products on an eBay of war.
Mercenaries also breed war and suffering. For-profit warriors proliferate armed conflict—as long as there is someone to pay, there will always be a war to start, expand or prolong. History shows us that they often maraud between contracts, preying on the innocent. In the Middle Ages, they would sometimes extort whole cities in racketeering schemes, as happened to Siena, Italy 37 times between 1342 and 1399. Others set up de facto kingdoms of their own, or just took one over, as the happened to Milan in the 1400s. Sometimes they were hired to commit atrocities, sparing their clients from this nasty work. In 1377, the Pope’s private army was ordered to annihilate the town of Cesena, massacring all its inhabitants.