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Afghan president to eliminate private security companies

US, NATO leery of hasty action

UNANSWERED QUESTIONS President Hamid Karzai intends to disband all private security firms within four months, said his spokesman. UNANSWERED QUESTIONS
President Hamid Karzai intends to disband all private security firms within four months, said his spokesman.
By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post / August 17, 2010

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KABUL, Afghanistan — President Hamid Karzai intends to disband all private security companies in Afghanistan within four months, his spokesman said yesterday, a timetable that may be met with strong resistance from NATO forces who rely heavily on the companies to provide security to bases and convoys.

Karzai issued a presidential decree outlining how the companies are to be disbanded, presidential spokesman Waheed Omar said. Omar did not provide details of how the order would be implemented.

The announcement came as a surprise to US military officials who have recently begun a review of their security contracts in an attempt to address the widespread allegations that such guards are unaccountable and that their reckless behavior inflames public sentiment against foreign forces.

Just hours before Omar’s statement, the head of the new NATO task force on private security companies, Brigadier General Margaret Boor, said she did not know what the deadline would be for dissolving the companies.

US military spokesman in Kabul, Major Joel Harper, said, “We are in total support of the president of Afghanistan’s intent to do away with private security companies and to do away with the need for private security companies.’’

But he added, “This should be done in a logical and sequential manner, and as conditions permit.’’

As the Taliban has spread through Afghanistan, violence has spiked and security has deteriorated. Because of the daily threats of working and traveling in the country, providing private armed guards has become a lucrative industry.

They escort NATO supply convoys, guard government buildings, and protect those involved in development projects. But they have developed a reputation as poorly trained, trigger-happy mercenaries operating outside the law and with little oversight.

Use of the contractors has strained the relationship between the Afghan government and coalition forces. In a speech earlier this month, Karzai urged the United States and NATO to stop supporting private security companies, which he claims have created a separate security apparatus in Afghanistan.

The US government employs about 26,000 armed guards, including 19,000 working with the US military, Boor said. The military has contracts with 37 licensed private security companies, of whom just under half are Afghan companies, as well as an unspecified number of nonlicensed companies, she said.

“Since the Afghan army and the Afghan police are not quite at the stages of capability and capacity to provide all the security that’s needed, private security companies are filling a gap,’’ Boor said.

In Washington, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman questioned whether a four-month deadline was realistic. “I think everyone looks forward to the day when private security companies can be eliminated altogether from Afghanistan because the security situation is such that they are no longer needed,’’ Whitman said.

“Until that time, though, we’re going to continue to work with the government of Afghanistan to improve the oversight and management as well as developing plans to progressively reduce their numbers as security conditions permit.’’

In late June, the US military set up Task Force Spotlight to “take a hard look’’ at these private security companies, Boor said, because when it comes to accountability and oversight, “we had not been doing a good job.’’

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