Se­cu­rity firms are ac­cused of break­ing Afghan laws

If vi­o­la­tors are banned, some coali­tion projects would be jeop­ar­dized

The Washington Post Sunday - - THE WORLD - BY JOSHUA PART­LOW AND RA­JIV CHAN­DRASEKARAN part­lowj@wash­post.com chan­drasek@wash­post.com Chan­drasekaran re­ported from Washington.

Kabul — The Afghan govern­ment has ac­cused sev­eral prom­i­nent pri­vate se­cu­rity com­pa­nies, in­clud­ing some that work with the U.S. govern­ment, of com­mit­ting “ma­jor of­fenses,” a move that U.S. of­fi­cials fear could has­ten their de­par­ture from the coun­try.

A list com­piled by Afghan of­fi­cials cites 16 com­pa­nies, in­clud­ing sev­eral Amer­i­can and Bri­tish firms, for un­spec­i­fied se­ri­ous vi­o­la­tions and seven oth­ers for hav­ing links to high-rank­ing Afghan of­fi­cials, ac­cord­ing to a copy ob­tained by TheWash­ing­ton Post.

A de­ci­sion to ban the ma­jor vi­o­la­tors and those that have re­la­tion­ships with se­nior Afghan of­fi­cials would af­fect firms that pro­vide about 800 guards for the U.S. Agency for In­ter­na­tional Devel­op­ment projects and about 3,000 who work on mil­i­tary con­struc­tion projects for the coali­tion, said a se­nior U.S. of­fi­cial.

“We’re wring­ing our hands over this,” the of­fi­cial said, speak­ing on the con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause of the sen­si­tiv­ity of the is­sue. “We’re wait­ing to hear which com­pa­nies will get dis­band­ment notices and when they will have to dis­band.”

Among those listed as ma­jor of­fend­ers are Triple Canopy, based in Re­ston; Washington-based Blue Hackle; and the Bri­tish firm G4S, the par­ent com­pany of Ar­morGroup North Amer­ica, which pro­vides se­cu­rity for the U.S. Em­bassy in Kabul.

Also listed were the Bri­tish com­pa­nies Global Strate­gies Group, which guards the Kabul air­port, as well as Con­trol Risks and Aegis.

The list in­cluded nine firms deemed “medium” of­fend­ers, 11 with “mi­nor” of­fenses and nine, in­clud­ing Xe Ser­vices, for­merly known as Black­wa­ter, with no of­fenses de­tected.

Afghan Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai has yet to ap­prove the list or in­di­cate whether these com­pa­nies face ex­pul­sion. A se­nior Afghan of­fi­cial said “no de­ci­sion has been made,” and sug­gested that many of the firms were on the list for tax evasion. A NATO of­fi­cial said one com­pany, the Bri­tish firm G4S, owes the Afghan govern­ment $8 mil­lion in taxes. The com­pany de­clined to com­ment.

The devel­op­ment has es­ca­lated the bat­tle over the fate of pri­vate se­cu­rity com­pa­nies in Afghanistan. For the past six months, Karzai has sought to push out the firms and re­place them with govern­ment guards. U.S. of­fi­cials and other for­eign di­plo­mats, who gen­er­ally sup­port Karzai’s in­ten­tions, have tried to ne­go­ti­ate con­ces­sions to keep pri­vate guards at their em­bassies and mil­i­tary bases, as well as guard for­eign-funded devel­op­ment projects, in­clud­ing roads and power plants.

U.S. of­fi­cials be­lieved that they had reached a com­pro­mise in De­cem­ber that would pro­tect key op­er­a­tions and give the com­pa­nies more time be­fore they would have to de­part, but the list has raised new con­cerns that the time­line has ac­cel­er­ated.

USAID has put some pro­grams on hold while it waits for a res­o­lu­tion. An ini­tia­tive worth hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars to sup­port the mil­iary’s coun­terin­sur­gency op­er­a­tions, called Sta­bil­ity in Key Ar­eas, was pulled back from the bid­ding process, in part be­cause of un­cer­tainty over pri­vate se­cu­rity com­pa­nies.

“It is not a stretch to sug­gest that un­less the U.S. govern­ment and the Afghan govern­ment can reach a rea­son­able ac­com­mo­da­tion on this is­sue, much if not all of the U.S. in­vest­ment in Afghan devel­op­ment could be placed at risk,” said Stan Soloway, pres­i­dent of Pro­fes­sional Ser­vices Coun­cil, which rep­re­sents dozens of contractors in Afghanistan.

The list does not ex­plain the vi­o­la­tions or say how the Afghan com­mit­tee ar­rived at their con­clu­sions. NATO of­fi­cials have com­plained about lack of trans­parency in the process and ques­tioned whether other Afghan pri­or­i­ties, such as col­lect­ing more taxes from for­eign­ers, are play­ing into which firms were tar­geted.

An ex­ec­u­tive with a devel­op­ment firm that works for USA ID in Afghanistan said of­fi­cials have expressed con­cern to its im­ple­ment­ing part­ners that there are “some real prob­lems with the­way the list was as­sem­bled.”

“ The lack of trans­parency makes it very dif­fi­cult to op­er­ate ef­fec­tively: The rules change ev­ery day depend­ing on which depart­ment you are talk­ing to,” said a sec­ond ex­ec­u­tive with one of the se­cu­rity firms, who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity. “We’ve heard of com­pa­nies be­ing pulled up on ev­ery­thing from taxes to ve­hi­cle reg­is­tra­tions to visas.”

Sev­eral com­pa­nies could not be reached or de­clined to com­ment.

Ear­lier this month, U.S. Am­bas­sador Karl W. Eiken­berry told Karzai that new NATO devel­op­ment projects could re­quire an ad­di­tional 25,000 guards, ac­cord­ing to Afghan of­fi­cials. This would be on top of the 27,500 pri­vate guards cur­rently in the coun­try, a to­tal that alarmed the Afghan govern­ment.

Later, Karzai ap­proved a plan that would re­quire all new for­eign devel­op­ment projects to em­ploy govern­ment se­cu­rity guards rather than pri­vate se­cu­rity guards and in­structed the In­te­rior Min­istry to work out the de­tails, Afghan of­fi­cials said.

This has trou­bled U.S. of­fi­cials, who noted that there is no way the new govern­ment force, known as the Afghan Pub­lic Pro­tec­tion Force, can be ready in time.

Afghan of­fi­cials say they un­der­stand the need to pro­tect devel­op­ment projects. But they be­lieve it is cru­cial to build up the govern­ment force or they will never wean them­selves off mer­ce­nar­ies.

“We must strengthen first the Afghan in­sti­tu­tions. If not, pri­vate se­cu­rity com­pa­nies will sim­ply be poi­son for the state,” the of­fi­cial said.

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