The Trump administration is considering using private military contractors in the ongoing war in Afghanistan in an attempt to turn the tide against the Taliban.
The proposed plan would see 5,500 private contractors sent to Afghanistan, in addition to a 90-plane strong air force component, according to USA Today. White House officials are currently in the midst of developing a new policy to counter the Taliban's resurgence in Afghanistan, however, internal disputes over what that policy would include have held up the process.
"At what point do you say a conventional military approach in Afghanistan is not working," Erik Prince, a former Navy SEAL and founder of private military contractor Blackwater, told USA Today on Tuesday. "Maybe we say that at 16 years."
The bulk of the force would be made up of former special operations forces, many of whom would conceivably have experience fighting insurgent groups like the Taliban and Islamic State Khorasan, ISIS's offshoot group in Afghanistan. They would take over responsibility for training and supporting the Afghan Security and Defense Forces, who are currently supported by 8,400 conventional U.S. forces. The contractors would even don the Afghan uniforms, while the air component would provide transportation, medical evacuation and close air support, should it be requested. As opposed to U.S. forces, the contractors would work with the Afghans at the battalion level, giving them closer on the ground support.
Prince said the plan would also be significant cheaper than the current policy, coming in at $10 billion per year compared to the $40 billion price tag budgeted for this year.
Prince, who sold Blackwater in 2010, has met with administration officials to brief them on the plan. Trump's national security adviser H.R. McMaster, an active Army lieutenant general, and Secretary of Defense James Mattis are reportedly skeptical of the new plan, though chief strategist Steve Bannon is reportedly open to the idea.
Trump has remained relatively silent about the Afghanistan issue, reportedly leaving much of the day-to-day to Mattis. McMaster has attempted to push his own plan for Afghanistan to Trump for months, but has been unsuccessful thus far.