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Asia-pacific

Karzai calls for disbanding of private security firms within four months

Video by Elena CASAS

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-08-17

Afghanistan's President Karzai is giving armed contracting companies four months to dissolve, his spokesman said Monday. The move has raised concerns about a potential security crisis in the war-torn country.

AFP - Afghan President Hamid Karzai will give armed contracting firms four months to disband, his spokesman said Monday, sparking fears of a potential security crisis in the war-torn country.
  
"Today the president is going to issue a four-month deadline for the dissolution of private security companies," Waheed Omer said.
  
Omer gave notice last week that Karzai intended to deal with private security firms, calling it "a serious programme that the government of Afghanistan will execute".
  
He said the firms employ 30,000-40,000 armed personnel across Afghanistan. These are employed by more than 50 companies, roughly half of them Afghan.
  
"The deadline is the first of January 2011, but that has to come in the decree. The decree will come soon," Omer told reporters.
  
Omer said last week that Karzai had spoken to his Western backers as well as leaders of the US and NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) who contract the companies to safeguard many aspects of their work, including supply convoys.
  
The US Defense Department, which employs around half of the contractors, promised to work with Afghan authorities but made clear that it favoured a more gradual withdrawal.
  
"Everybody looks forward to the day when private security companies can be eliminated altogether from Afghanistan because the security situation is such that they're no longer needed," Pentagon spokesman Bryan 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 the security conditions permit," he said.
  
Following the collapse of the Taliban regime in a 2001 US-led invasion, private security firms rushed in to fill a vacuum created by a lack of adequately trained police and army forces.
  
In 2006 the Afghan authorities began registering, regulating and licensing the firms but there have been questions about the activities of some.
  
"It's not about regulating the activities of the private security companies, it's about their presence, it's about the way they function in Afghanistan," said Omer, highlighting the challenges the firms have posed to the government.
  
"It's about the way they have developed into alternative forces for the government of Afghanistan, all the problems that they have created," he said.
  
The firms provide security to the international forces, the Pentagon, the UN mission, aid and non-governmental organisations, embassies and Western media companies in Afghanistan.
  
But Afghans criticise the private security forces as overbearing and abusive, notably on the country's roads.
  
Karzai has often complained that they duplicate the work of the Afghan security forces, and divert resources needed to train the army and police.
  
ISAF said Monday dissolving private security firms would not be practical or possible until an alternative force was ready to take over.
  
"It's very clear for the Afghan side and for us as well to dissolve private security companies as soon as possible," ISAF spokesman General Josef Blotz told reporters.
  
"But there's a condition to it and this condition is that we need to have enough Afghan national security forces that can provide the necessary security which is prerequisite for the private security companies to do it," he added.
  
Political analyst Haroun Mir agreed it would be "impossible" to force the closure of private security companies because of the broad reach or their services and the lack of an alternative.
  
"Afghan security forces are not ready, and even more they are not reliable -- there have been cases of infiltration of insurgents in police and army," he said referring to a number of incidents in which rogue elements in the security forces have turned on their colleagues, both Afghan and foreign.
  
Allison Stanger, author of "One Nation Under Contract: The Outsourcing of American Power and the Future of Foreign Policy", said eliminating private security firms would pose a major problem for Western forces.
  
"Ending the use of private security contractors in Afghanistan effective immediately would be equivalent to accelerating the end of Western involvement in Afghanistan," she said.
  
It would also cut off a major source of jobs because more than 90 percent of security contractors in Afghanistan are Afghans, she added.
  
At an international conference in Kabul on July 20, donors endorsed sweeping Afghan government plans to take responsibility for security by 2014.

Date created : 2010-08-16

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