Afghan president plans to bar private security guards
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KABUL, Afghanistan -- President Hamid Karzai is planning to sign a decree this week ordering the disbanding of all private security forces by the end of the year, his spokesman said Monday.
But it is not clear how the move, which would constitute an extraordinary change in Afghanistan's security makeup, could be carried out. There are at least 24,000 private armed guards in the country, some foreign but most Afghan, and there is no immediately available alternative for the array of crucial tasks they perform.
They escort convoys of supply trucks across dangerous roads to NATO military bases, protect government and military buildings and provide protection for political leaders and others.
Mr. Karzai had been under pressure to bring private security companies under control, since a U.S. congressional investigation and news reports have asserted that the private guards often behave recklessly and, in some cases, even bribe Taliban insurgents to allow supply convoys to pass unmolested.
Some security companies are so large that they constitute private armies of thousands of armed men, who can challenge or ignore local governments.
"They are parallel structure to the government," said Karzai spokesman Waheed Omar. "They will soon be dissolved."
Mr. Omar did not explain how that would be carried out, or how the companies would be replaced. In the past, the Karzai government has sometimes promised things that it has shown itself to be unable to deliver. The president has pledged repeatedly to root out corruption in his government, but his efforts in that regard have fallen far short of the demands of his foreign backers.
Spokesmen for the U.S.-led NATO force in Kabul and officials in Washington expressed cautious approval for Mr. Karzai's goal, but said such a move would depend on the ability of the Afghan army and police to replace private guards.
"We have a shared goal with Afghanistan of transitioning from our current situation to security led by the Afghan government," said State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley. But he added, "At this moment, we believe that there is still a need for private security."
Records show that there are 52 private security companies registered with the government, with 24,000 armed men, most of them Afghans. But many -- if not most -- of the security companies are not registered with the government, do not advertise themselves and do not necessarily train their employees.
Afghan and NATO officials have discussed ways of either controlling the private forces or replacing them. Replacing them with the Afghan army or police -- or NATO troops -- would be problematic, as those troops are stretched thin. The Afghan security forces now number about 225,000, and NATO forces about 150,000.
The U.S. government employs 26,000 armed security contractors, about 19,000 of whom work for the U.S. military, according to NATO officials.
First Published August 17, 2010 12:00 am