As time for evacuations runs out and thousands of people are stranded at the Afghan capital's airport, billionaire defence contractor Erik Prince is reportedly cashing in on the desperation of thousands of Afghans who want to leave the country at all costs. Prince has once again seen the Afghan conflict as a business opportunity. According to The Wall Street Journal, he is reportedly offering chartered plane tickets from Kabul for $6,500 per person.
Prince's company claims that the fare covers the entrance to the airport and the flight. However, it would charge passengers more if they need transport to the airport from the capital, as many Afghans have been blocked by Taliban security checkpoints in Kabul.
But who is Erik Prince? Prince is a former member of the Navy Seal Special Forces and founder of the private security firm Blackwater - renamed Xe Services since 2009 - has a long history of criminal investigations, lawsuits and expulsions from conflict-ridden countries. The most notorious was in 2007, when he was operating in Iraq in one of the most difficult moments of the post-war period and several of his mercenaries - all former marines - were caught in a crossfire that killed 17 Iraqi civilians. The Baghdad government then ordered the firm's immediate departure from the country and five of those allegedly responsible for the massacre were brought to court in the US.
In 2010, the security company Xe Services had to reach a settlement with the US government in which it had to pay USD 42 million in exchange for avoiding prosecution for violating US trade laws on hundreds of occasions. The violations included illegal arms exports to Afghanistan, surreptitious proposals to train troops in Sudan and sniper training for Taiwanese police. Even so, Blackwater continued to work with the State Department and the CIA in Afghanistan. In June of the same year it signed a $120 million deal with the former and a $100 million deal with the latter.
As the situation at Kabul airport becomes a deadly race against time, President Biden stands by his plan to withdraw military forces from Kabul airport on 31 August, creating a situation that has contributed to widespread desperation around Hamid Karzai International Airport to escape the Taliban, who intend to take full control of the airport from 1 September.
Entering Kabul airport remains the recurring nightmare of thousands - perhaps tens of thousands - of Afghans trying to flee their own country, which after the Taliban's victory has become deadly territory for them. Private rescue efforts increasingly face obstacles such as the latest bombing near the airport. Chartered planes are flying out of Kabul with hundreds of empty seats. New Taliban checkpoints on the road to Pakistan have made leaving the country increasingly difficult, and bureaucratic hurdles have prevented many from leaving Afghanistan.
The climate of threat has forced Washington to turn on its machinery. Countries around the world are rushing in the last hours before the deadline stipulated by both the US and the Taliban for the departure of all foreigners. Several countries have already announced that they will not be able to evacuate all personnel, mostly Afghan collaborators. Day by day the evacuations are becoming more and more complicated, thousands of people are crowded at the airport entrance with the only hope of being able to leave the country, while the Taliban announced that only foreigners would be allowed access to the airport.