Erik Prince, founder of the infamous defense contracting firm Blackwater, is reportedly charging $6,500 for a seat on a charter plane leaving Kabul, Afghanistan, as Afghan citizens are clamoring to leave the country amid a mounting humanitarian crisis.
Prince told the Wall Street Journal about his evident scheme to profit off the chaos and desperation in an article published Wednesday. It’s unclear whether or not the disgraced defense contractor is actually able to contribute to the evacuation efforts in this way.
Even as tens, if not hundreds of thousands of people rush to leave Afghanistan, however, the WSJ reports that many charter flights are leaving the country with hundreds of vacant seats. Afghans, risking being killed en route to the airport, are facing roadblocks and checkpoints put up by the Taliban, who have also made driving out of the country into Pakistan inaccessible and dangerous.
Prince has a storied and checkered career, defined partly by his drive to privatize and profit from the Afghanistan war. His latest stunt, then, is relatively unsurprising for anyone familiar with his past.
Prince’s company, Blackwater, is perhaps best known for a 2007 massacre in Baghdad in which 17 people were killed. The company was tasked with providing private security for the government when Blackwater guards apparently began shooting at innocent people attempting to flee Nisour square.
An investigation at the federal level found Blackwater responsible for the massacre. In 2014, one Blackwater guard was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison, while three others were convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 30 years in prison. However, the latter sentence was later halved by a federal appeals court.
Controversially, however, in a particularly shocking move, former President Donald Trump, who appointed Prince’s sister Betsy DeVos as his education secretary, pardoned the former guards just before he left office. He was slammed by critics for the pardon and a United Nations human rights expert said that it violated international law.
Trump also kept a close relationship with Prince who acted as an unofficial adviser to Trump after the defense contractor had been excoriated by the media for being “an infamous symbol of U.S. foreign policy hubris,” as The Intercept wrote, for the Blackwater incident. In 2017, shortly before Trump took office, Prince had met with a close ally of Vladimir Putin to discuss conflicts in the Middle East — another incident that created headlines.
As a Trump ally, Prince also dabbled in domestic politics. Last year, an explosive report found that he had helped recruit spies to infiltrate at least one Democratic campaign and other organizations that were viewed as a threat to Trump’s power.
As a shady Republican operative, Prince’s move to make evacuating Kabul perhaps prohibitively expensive is especially ironic considering the Republican Party’s stance on the Afghanistan withdrawal. The GOP has capitalized on President Joe Biden’s chaotic evacuation of the country, politicizing the issue even though they were fully supportive of withdrawing the troops on a much shorter timeline while Trump was president.
Biden has set an August 31 deadline to withdraw all American troops from the country, which he says the administration is on track to meet. He has also said that the U.S. will be helping refugees enter the country, but that they will be thoroughly vetted. The administration is pledging to resettle 50,000 refugees, though progressive critics have said that that’s not nearly enough.
Refugee advocates are urging Biden to extend the deadline until all Afghan allies who aided the U.S. during the 20-year war are evacuated. The president has only doubled down on the deadline, however, and has said relatively little about refugee relocation.