US President Joe Biden claims that all US forces will be withdrawn from Afghanistan by September 11. But regardless of whether that happens or not, there has been no announcement that US employed private contractors are going anywhere.
The Biden administration has stated clearly that they wish to withdraw all US forces from Afghanistan, with President Biden vowing not to “pass this responsibility [Afghan war] to a fifth President”. Despite being praised by some as a move which will end the US’s longest war, the issue is not yet concluded, in fact, very far from it.
According to the Pentagon Spokesperson, this past Friday, US forces will likely increase in the coming weeks and months in order to facilitate a full withdrawal by the 9/11 deadline. Under former US President Donald Trump, US forces had dropped to 2,500 as part of a deal signed by the Trump White House in February 2020. As part of Trump’s withdrawal deal with the Taliban, Western forces were to leave by May 1st this year, if this does not happen the Taliban vow that attacks will immediately begin on all remaining service members.
Sec. Blinken: “We will remain vigilant against any possibility that the threat of terrorism reemerges in Afghanistan. We will reorganise our counterterrorism capabilities to stay on top of that.”
Pls. make a habit of going straight to the source instead of relying on headlines. pic.twitter.com/dXy5urAEbW
— sameera khan (@SameeraKhan) April 20, 2021
If the statement released by the Pentagon is true, this means that Biden will not only have violated the US deal with the Taliban, and as a result come under attack in Afghanistan, but will also bring in additional troops after May 1.
If the current administration’s promises for withdrawing from the “forever war” in Afghanistan are to be judged by other such promises this year, like the supposed US effort to end the war in Yemen, a war which has only escalated since, it is doubtful that Biden will keep his word. However, if we work with the assumption that raised troop levels which inevitably come under attack from the Taliban will actually withdraw fully by December, there’s still a bigger issue that has gone untouched by Western media.
Under the Trump administration it is true that troop levels in Afghanistan did drop officially to 2,500, yet what was not noticed was the large number of private contractors sent over to the embattled nation. In 2019 it was noted that under Donald Trump’s term in office – up until that point – the number of contractors working in Afghanistan had risen by 65%. According to a Defense Department report, released this January, the total number of contractors in Afghanistan sits at roughly 18,000.
The other issue to be noted here is that the number of contractors present in Afghanistan also tend to rise if there are more US forces in the country, which will apparently occur within the next weeks to months. Meaning that the number of contractors operating in the country will likely again increase.
In 2017 infamous founder of the mercenary company ‘Blackwater’, Eric Prince, floated the idea to the Trump administration of a new strategy for Afghanistan, a privatized war. The pitch was to have a force of private mercenaries who would work to fulfill what the US military couldn’t accomplish in 17 years (or what it claimed it was trying to accomplish), the model would be much cheaper and would allow for the PR stunt of a US withdrawal. The initial plan would’ve ultimately included around 6,000 contractors, working alongside roughly 2,000 US service members, with the contractors being the real fighting force in the country.
There is no indication that Eric Prince is behind the Biden withdrawal and no proof that the US government has a strategy to fight a privatized war in Afghanistan, however there has been no announcement that the contractors will actually be removed. So the question now remains, what will happen to the 14,000 contractors in Afghanistan?
As it is currently unclear as to how the US government will actually proceed on this issue, it is hard to state anything about what their strategy is or isn’t with certainty. Yet we can look at possible scenarios going forward.
As I see it, these are the following options:
- The best case scenario is that the United States does implement a full withdrawal and gets rid of its contractors, successfully withdrawing the US from its longest war on record.
- The US withdraws its forces fully, but leaves behind a mercenary army, which would aim to successfully undermine Pakistan’s influence over the US’s strategy.
- The US is attacked by the Taliban and uses this as an excuse to keep a number of troops in the country, yet claims it has withdrawn – depending heavily on contractors which could coordinate with remaining Western forces.
- The US uses the excuse that the Taliban will take over the country as a result of their withdrawal, as well as harrowing stories of US forces having been killed in the country, as Western media broadcasts, depicting the US’s role as defending the rights of women and minority communities in the country.
From the reaction of Western media, leading military figures and NATO allies, it does seem like real pressure is being applied upon Biden to remain in Afghanistan. This pressure may ultimately be convincing enough to keep the US in its “forever war” as Biden calls it, or it could just as equally be part of a strategic play by the Biden administration which is not actually looking to withdraw from Afghanistan at all.