By Stephanie Kirchgaessner
The military contractor and Trump ally Erik Prince, who has faced scrutiny for his human rights record, has a ‘humane’ proposal to try to stop the flow of migrants.
Erik Prince, the founder of the private military contractor Blackwater, is pushing a plan to intervene in the migrant crisis in Libya with a proposal involving a privately trained police force that would mirror his company’s work in Afghanistan.
Prince, who is close to the Trump administration and is mulling a run for Senate in Wyoming, said it would be relatively easy for his company, Frontier Services Group, to stop, detain, house and “repatriate” hundreds of thousands of African migrants who are seeking a path to Europe through Libya.
He has also proposed to do so for a “fraction” of the price the EU is spending on boats that intercept migrant vessels in the Mediterranean.
“The traffic of human beings from Sudan, Chad, Niger is an industrial process,” he told the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera. “To stop it, you have to create a Libyan border police along the southern border.”
Prince suggested that his plan would be more “humane and professional” than the programmes that are being supported by the EU to try to stop the flow of migrants.
Those rely heavily on militia groups within Libya who detain migrants before they reach the coast and have been accused of using rape, beatings and forced labour in detention centres. The system has been called inhumane and been condemned by the United Nations and human rights groups.
Prince works as a security consultant in the United Arab Emirates, which has – alongside Egypt and Saudi Arabia – played a critical role in helping the Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar expand his military foothold in Libya, where he controls about half the country.
The Trump administration is likely to take any proposal by Prince seriously: he donated $250,000 to support Trump’s campaign and his sister, Betsy DeVos, serves as education secretary.
Trump is meeting with Libyan prime minister Fayez Serraj at the White House on Friday. A White House spokesman said that the pair will discuss US support for Libya’s government.
Asked if he has discussed his plan with officials in the EU or the Trump administration, a spokesman for Frontier said: “Erik does not wish to comment on any private discussions he has had concerning Libya.”
Prince has faced intense scrutiny for his own human rights record as the world’s most well-known mercenary.
Blackwater employees were accused of killing 14 unarmed Iraqi civilians in 2007, when the private military contractors opened fire on a crowd in Baghdad while they were escorting a US government convoy. Prince faced congressional scrutiny but was never charged with wrongdoing.
Four Blackwater contractors were convicted for manslaughter in connection to the incident. A court in the US has ordered a retrial for one man who was convicted, and three others are expected to be re-sentenced after a court ruled that their 30-year prison sentences were too long.
Blackwater became immensely wealthy during the Iraq war. It won about $1bn in contracts to protect US personnel. But Prince sold the firm in 2010 and eventually opened up a new company – Frontier – with the help of Chinese investors.
By agreeing to an interview with Corriere della Sera, Prince appears to be seeking to generate support in the EU for his possible involvement in Libya.
His plan calls for the building of three police bases in Libya and the deployment of about 750 of his “foreign trainers”, who would work alongside the Libyans.
“They will provide leadership, intelligence, communications support, surveillance aircraft and a couple of helicopters,” Prince said. “Traffickers must drive over vast distances, so it’s easy to locate their truckloads of migrants, intercept them, and stop the driver.”
He added: “I imagine that Europe wants to block the flow of migrants in the most humane and professional way possible. I do not think that paying militias is a solution in the long run.”
Prince acknowledged that a separate proposal to “privatise” the war in Afghanistan with 5,500 Frontier contractors who would serve alongside Afghan police, had been endorsed by both Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser for Trump who is now at the centre of the Trump/Russia probe, and Steve Bannon, the former White House strategist.
The plan was not adopted, however.
Prince said it was rejected by the Pentagon and Trump’s current national security adviser, HR McMaster, who Prince called “a very conventional general”.
The White House plan to send 3,000 additional troops to Afghanistan was, Prince predicted, bound to fail.
“The approach is the same as the last 16 years,” he told the Italian paper. “The White House will come back to me within six months or a year. It is inevitable.”
Stephanie Kirchgaessner – Rome correspondent for the Guardian