Erik Prince, famous Navy SEAL and former CEO of Blackwater, has a new mission and a new company. Frontier Services Group (FSG) is providing expeditionary logistics and asset management to companies working in Africa. They hope to cut a nice slice out of the $1 trillion China plans to spend on African transportation infrastructure. Based in Hong Kong with subsidiaries in Africa, FSG is cleverly positioned and intelligently promoted.
The interesting part is that Chinese government owns 15 percent of FSG. This is exercised by China’s largest state-owned corporation, the Citic Group. The two corporations have interlocking boards with Chinese Citic executives also sitting on the board of FSG. CITIC Group is not what you might expect from a Chinese government corporation. They have 44 subsidiaries including banks in Hong Kong, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and the United States with approximately $12 billion in assets.
According to their website:
“Frontier Services Group Limited (FSG) offers world-class logistics solutions across the African continent. Providing ground, airborne, and maritime logistical services for international and local enterprises, UN, NGOs, and governments seeking safe, reliable and integrated logistics capabilities. FSG is a proven provider of end to end expeditionary solutions that span Sea / Air / Land. At FSG, corporate social responsibility isn’t simply a buzzword, it’s our grounding philosophy in all that we do. FSG strives to incorporate sustainable engagement with local communities wherever we operate to ensure we make a positive, lasting difference in the lives of those encounter and serve. We take seriously the importance of encouraging diversity within our teams, promoting our core ethical values, and valuing health and safety. FSG is a partner to governments, companies, and NGOs in achieving their humanitarian mission objectives.”
Prince is very proud of his accomplishments. Blackwater never lost a U.S. government official under their protection during 100,000 missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. As we find out more about State Department security in Benghazi, this is even more impressive.
Blackwater Worldwide has recently been in the news again as four former security guards were convicted for their part in a 2007 incident in Baghdad’s Nisour Square, which left a number of civilians dead and wounded.
In June 2009, CIA Director Leon Panetta revealed in classified testimony to Congress that Blackwater and Prince operated a global network of informants engaged in identifying and locating al Qaeda operatives. This information leaked to the press and Prince was compromised. Prince has written of his experiences in his recent book, Civilian Warriors: The Inside Story of Blackwater and the Unsung Heroes of the War on Terror.
Prince has come through a series of U.S. government investigations and is understandably bitter. He has a taken on a superhuman mission on a continent filled with drama and disease. I believe Mr. Prince is an American patriot, even if he does not have a great relationship with the current administration. Prince does not believe that there is a conflict between China’s development in Africa and American interests. He has said, “The United States and China are among each other’s largest trading partners, and I think countries that trade goods together tend not to trade lead.”
There are concerns about Chinese support for dictators like Sudan’s President for Life Omar al-Bashir. Term limits have a different connotation in Africa. Business is business. Somebody is going to do business there. There is a theory that inclusion in the world economy and the free flow of information will ultimately doom dictators. Mr. Prince could make the point that creating jobs and expanding transportation infrastructure is the ultimate insurgency.
Eric Prince is an interesting guy. He has some impressive accomplishments in an industry filled with political risks. The truth about Blackwater is hard to see through politically motivated attacks. I would not count him out. If the Chinese think he is just a useful pawn, they are in for an ugly surprise. Looking at his recent interviews and the FSG website, he has learned a great deal from his experiences and come out the other side talking about hearts and minds. He is extremely cunning and bears close watching.
There is a section on the FSG website called “Africa Monitor.” Here’s an interesting excerpt of an article that has since been taken down:
Private Sector Innovation
As someone who spent many years operating in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other underdeveloped countries facing existential security threats, I was recently asked about my reaction to President Obama’s plan for fighting ISIS.
My immediate response is that the president’s current plan seems half-hearted at best. American air power has significant reach and accuracy, but ultimately will be unable to finish the job of digging ISIS out of any urban centers where they may seek shelter amongst the populace. Clearing operations ultimately fall to the foot soldier. The Iraqi Army is demonstrably inept, even after billions spent on training and equipping them. Providing them more gear is a high-risk endeavor. When ISIS first attacked, the Iraqi Army folded, quickly providing ISIS with five heavy divisions of U.S. weaponry (tanks, howitzers, armored vehicles, and even helicopters) and three logistic support units’ worth of equipment and munitions.
The Kurds, once a lean and strong fighting force that routinely rebuffed Saddam’s forces, now find themselves outgunned, under-equipped, and overwhelmed. But they do fight, and they fight bravely. The Kurds’ biggest problem is the U.S. State Department blocking them from selling their oil and from buying serious weaponry to protect their stronghold and act as a stabilizing force in the region.
Unfortunately, the DOD has mastered the most expensive ways to wage war, adding only very expensive options to the president’s quiver. Flying off of an aircraft carrier in the north end of the Persian Gulf may be a great demonstration of carrier air power, suitable for a high-tempo war, but the costs will quickly become staggering—far higher than they need to be for what will quickly become a counter-insurgency effort.
As I explain in my book, Civilian Warriors: The Inside Story of Blackwater and the Unsung Heroes of the War on Terror, the private sector has long provided nations around the world with innovative solutions to national defense problems in a variety of ways, from the kinetic to the background logistical support necessary to keep militaries humming. If the old Blackwater team were still together, I have high confidence that a multi-brigade-size unit of veteran American contractors or a multi-national force could be rapidly assembled and deployed to be that necessary ground combat team. The professionals would be hired for their combat skills in armor, artillery, small-unit tactics, special operations, logistics, and whatever else may be needed. A competent professional force of volunteers would serve as the pointy end of the spear, and would serve to strengthen friendly-but-skittish indigenous forces.
The American people are clearly war-fatigued. Defeat was already snatched from the jaws of victory by the rapid pullout of U.S. forces in 2009. Afghanistan will likely go the same way after never truly defeating the Taliban. Now the danger of a half-baked solution in Iraq is, if ISIS isn’t rightly annihilated, they will portray their survival as a victory over the forces of civilization. There is no room for half-measures. The longer ISIS festers, the more chances it has for recruitment and the higher the danger of the eventual return of radical jihadists to their western homelands. If the administration cannot rally the political nerve or funding to send adequate active-duty ground forces to answer the call, let the private sector finish the job.
(Featured Image Courtesy: jeffpao.wordpress.com)