Reining in security contractors

Firms, which could give cover to criminals, may get new rules from Afghans

The Associated PressOctober 12, 2007 

  • Here is an excerpt from an Afghan government document obtained by The Associated Press outlining a draft policy for regulating private security companies:

    "In a compromise with the large international community, and its legitimate and high demand for security protection, the GOA (government of Afghanistan) has allowed for limited PSC (private security company) operations and activities. However, increasingly, the absence of targeted regulation ... in parallel with unstable security environment has generated an unfortunate and nearly anarchical PSC market with a long series of security problems and criminal activities. This prevailing situation has completely changed the perception of many government officials as well as the general public in relation to the delivery of services by PSCs, in a negative direction."

— Echoing a growing problem in Iraq, Afghan authorities are cracking down on lucrative but largely unregulated security firms, some of which are suspected of murder.

Two private Afghan security companies were raided and shut down this week, and a dozen or so more contractors -- including some protecting embassies -- would be closed soon, police told The Associated Press on Thursday.

The government is proposing new rules to tighten control over such firms, including some Western companies, amid concerns they intimidate Afghans, show disrespect to local security forces and don't cooperate with authorities, according to a draft policy document obtained by the AP.

The crackdown echoes efforts by authorities in Iraq to rein in private security contractors often accused of acting with impunity. Blackwater USA guards protecting a U.S. Embassy convoy in Baghdad allegedly killed 17 civilians last month in an incident that enraged Iraqi leaders, who are demanding millions in compensation for victims' families and the removal of Blackwater in six months.

That shooting -- and another this week in which private security contractors killed two women in Baghdad -- focused attention on the regulation of private guards and added to the Bush administration's problems in managing the Iraq war.

Dozens of security companies also operate in Afghanistan, some of them well-known U.S. companies such as Blackwater and Dyncorp, but also many others that may not be known even to the Afghan government.

Authorities on Tuesday closed the Afghan-run security firms Watan and Caps, where 82 illegal weapons were found during the two raids in Kabul, police Gen. Ali Shah Paktiawal said.

More companies -- "maybe 13, maybe 14" -- will be closed next week, including some whose employees may have committed murder or robberies, he said.

Many foreign embassies in Kabul rely on private guards -- typically highly trained former soldiers or police officers -- because Afghan forces don't have the skills, or the trustworthiness, to carry out high-profile protection jobs.

The private security firms have caused resentment among many Afghans, who feel the companies consider themselves above the law.

The Interior Ministry says 59 Afghan and international security companies are registered.

The draft rules, which are under discussion by President Hamid Karzai's government, say the main problem is the absence of checks and balances over the work of private security companies. That lack "has generated an unfortunate and nearly anarchical PSC market with a long series of security problems and criminal activities," the draft says.

It also warns that operating as a security company can provide cover for a "wide range of militia and criminal groups."

The U.S. military employs about 1,000 private guards in Afghanistan, said Air Force Lt. Col. Todd Vician, a Defense Department spokesman.

"If you don't have enough military forces, very often that is a way out then, to count on private security companies," Maj. Gen. Bruno Kasdorf, chief of staff with the NATO forces in Afghanistan, told reporters Thursday.

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