Head to Head

Blackwater’s Erik Prince: Iraq, privatising wars and Trump

Mehdi Hasan challenges the Blackwater founder on his firm’s role in Iraq and his new plan to privatise the Afghan war.

In this episode of Head to Head, Mehdi Hasan challenges Erik Prince, the founder and former CEO of Blackwater, on his security firm’s performance during the Iraq war, the “exit strategy” he’s proposing for the war in Afghanistan, and his support for US President Donald Trump.

During the early years of the Bush administration’s so-called “war on terror”, Blackwater grew into one of the most profitable private military contractors in the US. Over the years, it received over a billion dollars worth of government contracts to provide security to top US officials, train members of the Iraqi army and police, and support the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and Department of Defense’s counternarcotics programme in Afghanistan.

But following the 2007 Nisour Square incident, wherein Blackwater employees killed 14 unarmed Iraqi civilians at a traffic circle, the firm and its founder shot to international notoriety, highlighting the clear dangers of using armed military contractors on the battlefield.

Prince, a former US Navy SEAL, has since been channelling his efforts to train security personnel abroad, including most recently in China, where he launched the Hong Kong-based Frontier Services Group, a security and logistics company.

He has also offered a proposal to end the costly, ongoing US-led war in Afghanistan – the longest in the US history – by privatising the bulk of it: replacing thousands of US troops with private contractors and sending NATO forces home. But is he really the man to bring peace to the war-torn country?

In front of the Oxford Union audience, we challenge Prince on the record of his private contractors in the Iraq war and ask him to explain how his controversial plan for the conflict in Afghanistan would bring it to an end. We’ll also ask Prince, who previously served as an informal adviser to President Trump and has been interviewed by both the US House Intelligence Committee and Special Counsel Robert Mueller about his ties to the current administration.

We are joined by a panel of three experts:

  • Sean McFate, a former private military contractor, ex-officer in the US army, and author of The New Rules of War
  • Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, an award-winning journalist with the Guardian from Iraq who has covered conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and beyond
  • Tim Collins, a former commander in the British Army and cofounder of the private military consulting company, New Century

This episode will be broadcast on March 8 at 20:00 GMT and will be repeated on March 9 at 12:00 GMT, March 10 at 01:00GMT and March 11 at 06:00 GMT.

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Head to Head is Al Jazeera’s forum for ideas, a gladiatorial contest tackling big issues, such as faith, nationalism, democracy and foreign intervention, in front of an opinionated audience at the Oxford Union.