Afghanistan bans security firms

Afghanistan has formally banned eight foreign private security firms, including the controversial company formerly called Blackwater, a spokesman for President Hamid Karzai says.

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The Afghan government announced in August that it was giving security firms working in Afghanistan four months to cease operations, potentially hitting hard efforts by NATO-led troops fighting a nine-year insurgency in the country.

There are fears the measure could create huge problems for the military and other international entities that depend on the estimated 40,000 employees of private security contractors.

“The Afghan interior ministry today reported the dissolution of eight private security companies to the national security council of Afghanistan,” Waheed Omer told reporters on Sunday.

Omer said some of the companies had been fully dissolved and their weapons had been collected, while for others the process was still underway.

Xe — the former Blackwater — and White Eagle Security Services, which provides security for Afghan government officials and NGOs in particular, are among the first companies banned.

The security firms provide a wide range of services including protecting supply convoys for NATO, guarding foreigners’ compounds, embassies and other installations, and training Afghan security forces.

The dissolution will not immediately affect companies’ activities that deal with the training of national security forces or those guards who operate inside buildings to provide protection, Omer said.

“The focus is on those security companies which are protecting the highways, protecting transport caravans — those areas other than the training of Afghan security forces or protecting the internal premises of international organisations or embassies, or others,” Omer said.

Omer said the eight companies included both Afghan and international firms, and two of them were small outfits employing only about 100 guards.

The August presidential decree ordered the 52 private security contractors operating in the country, both Afghan and international, to cease operations by January 1, 2011.

Karzai had accused the security companies of running an “economic mafia” based around “corruption contracts” favoured by the international community.

He has said the firms duplicate the work of the Afghan security forces and divert much-needed resources, while Afghans criticise the private guards as overbearing and abusive, particularly on the country’s roads.

Omer said security had improved along some highways since the banning of private guards operating as escorts for supply convoys in those areas.

Critics, though, say the tight deadline will not allow enough time to negotiate an alternative to private contractors in a country were security is a priority and police are generally not trusted.

Private security firms in Afghanistan are employed by US and NATO forces, the Pentagon, the UN mission, aid and non-governmental organisations, embassies and Western media.

They employ about 26,000 registered personnel, though experts say the real number could be as high as 40,000.

The contractors themselves have been reluctant to comment publicly but some have said privately they believe many of their clients would leave the country if they could not source their own security.

Blackwater gained notoriety in Iraq after guards protecting a convoy opened fire in a busy Baghdad square in September 2007, killing as many as 17 civilians.

Last month two former Blackwater security guards went on trial in the United States, accused of the murder of two Afghan citizens in a 2009 shooting.