Afghan authorities formally closed down eight private security firms including international contractors like Xe, formerly known as Blackwater, a presidential spokesperson announced on Sunday.
AP - The Afghan government said Sunday it has started dissolving private security firms in the country by taking steps to end the operations of eight companies, including the firm formerly known as Blackwater and three other large international contractors.
“We have very good news for the Afghan people today,” presidential spokesman Waheed Omar told reporters in the capital. “The disbanding of eight private security firms has started.”
Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced in August that private security contractors would have to cease operations by the end of the year - wiping out an industry with tens of thousands of guards who protect military convoys, government officials and business people.
Some security contractors have been criticized for operating more like private militias, and the government said it could not have armed groups that were independent of the police or military forces.
The eight companies that have begun the process include Xe Services - the North Carolina contractor formerly called Blackwater - Virginia-based NCL Holdings LLC, New Mexico-based Four Horsemen International and London-based Compass International, Omar said. Two large Afghan firms, White Eagle Security Services and Abdul Khaliq Achakza, are also on the list. The remaining two companies are small operations with fewer than 100 employees, so he declined to name them.
It was not immediately clear if any of the companies had stopped operating in Afghanistan and Omar did not say why they were chosen as the first to be closed down.
Xe, at least, has been the subject of investigations. In February, U.S. Senate investigators said Xe hired violent drug users to help train the Afghan army and declared “sidearms for everyone” - even though employees weren’t authorized to carry weapons. The allegations came as part of an investigation into the 2009 shooting deaths of two Afghan civilians by employees of the company.
Omar said many of the firms had turned in weapons, some of them voluntarily. He did not say if any international firms had actually left the country. A statement issued by the president’s office was more strongly worded, saying that the process of closing down the eight companies was “almost complete.”
An owner of White Eagle, Sayed Maqsud, said his firm had handed over weapons for a contract that had finished but was still employing guards under another contract.
“We are not shut down. Only we gave up 340 weapons,” Maqsud said, explaining that the company’s contract to guard fuel convoys for American troops in southern Helmand province had ended. He said he fired 530 guards who had been working under that program when the contract finished and handed over the leftover guns to the government.
However, he said they have another 1,200 guards protecting cell phone towers for South Africa-based mobile phone company MTN, and said he plans to continue that unless the government says they have to close down.
“According to the decree of Karzai, still we have two months until December. We don’t know what will happen after that,” Maqsud said. He said he was angry at being lumped in with militias.
“We are not warlords. We are normal people. We started at the beginning from zero. After four years we had 2,000 people. I am very proud that I gave an opportunity to 2,000 people to work,” he said.
None of the other companies named could be immediately reached for comment.
Karzai’s original decree gave an exemption to companies used to guard the compounds of international embassies or organizations, and Waheed Omar said the disbanding process does not apply to these organizations. It is unclear what this means for companies on the list that also have contracts to guard U.S. government installations or other diplomatic missions.
“The focus of the Afghan government is on those security companies which are the companies protecting the highways, protecting transportation convoys,” not those training Afghan forces or guarding embassies, he said.
“We would like to be able at some point to be able to provide security for embassies and international organizations,” but the security forces are not yet able to do so, he said.
The Afghan government has estimated that 30,000 to 40,000 armed security guards are working in the country.
The Interior Ministry has 52 security firms licensed, but some older contracts are still being completed by unlicensed firms, according to the U.S. military. About half of the companies are Afghan-owned.
About 37 companies are working with the U.S. government, totalling about 26,000 armed security guards. The majority of those work for the military, though some are employed by the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, according to the military.
Date created : 2010-10-03