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Jan 15 2019

Private contractors could take over from U.S. forces in Syria - Erik Prince

U.S. troops could be replaced by private mercenaries after withdrawing from northern Syria, U.S. private security firm Blackwater's former chief Erik Prince has said in an interview with Fox Business.

“The United States doesn’t have a long-term strategic obligation to stay in Syria. But, I also think it’s not a good idea to abandon our allies,” the Independent’s Richard Hall quoted Prince as saying during the interview.

Prince’s suggestion of replacing the approximately 2,000 U.S. special forces deployed in northern Syria with contractors is a potential compromise that would allow U.S. President Donald Trump to hold to his vow to pull out troops while allaying concerns of top U.S. officials that doing so would leave his country’s Syrian Kurdish allies vulnerable to attack.

The former U.S. Navy Seal added that those allies would be “smashed” unless a force remains in place with “some kind of robust capability to defend from a ground invasions from the very conventional power that the Iranians and the Syrians have.”

It was a counterintuitive statement given that the greatest threat to the United States’ allies in the People’s Protection Units (YPG) comes from Ankara, which has pushed for a U.S. withdrawal so it can pursue its openly stated goal of removing the Syrian Kurdish militias from territories bordering Turkey.

Ankara views the YPG and its affiliates as serious threats due to their links to Kurdish insurgent groups within Turkey. It was a phone call from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to Trump on Dec. 14 that reportedly spurred Trump’s Dec. 19 announcement of the withdrawal.

Moreover, the YPG turned to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Damascus to negotiate protection shortly after Trump made his announcement.

Since then, top U.S. officials including Senator Lindsey Graham have persuaded Trump to slow down the withdrawal, to ensure U.S. forces achieve their objective of defeating the Islamic State as well as protecting their Kurdish allies.

A move to bring the contractors in could mean good business for Academi, the U.S. security firm formerly headed by Prince. Better known as Blackwater USA, the security contractor was a controversial actor in U.S. conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Reports more recently said operatives from the firm took part in the war in Yemen after being retained by the United Arab Emirates.

Prince, who donated $250,000 to Trump’s election campaign, has made a similar proposal for a 6,000-strong private security force to take over U.S. operations in Afghanistan, Hall reported.