Afghan gov­ern­ment gives pri­vate se­cu­rity firms more time be­fore ban

The Washington Times Daily - - World - BY HEIDI VOGT

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN | The Afghan gov­ern­ment is giv­ing com­pa­nies ex­ten­sions rang­ing from a few weeks to 90 days to change from pri­vate se­cu­rity guards to a gov­ern­ment-run force, of­fi­cials said Sun­day.

The re­prieve comes just three days be­fore the Wed­nes­day dead­line that the Afghan gov­ern­ment had set for the ma­jor­ity of com­pa­nies to start us­ing gov­ern­ment-pro­vided se­cu­rity.

Pri­vate de­vel­op­ment com­pa­nies have said the move is threat­en­ing bil­lions in U.S. aid to the coun­try be­cause com­pa­nies would de­lay projects or leave al­to­gether be­cause they didn’t feel safe us­ing strictly lo­cal se­cu­rity over whose train­ing and pro­ce­dures they have lit­tle con­trol.

Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai has railed for years against the large num­ber of guns-for-hire in Afghanistan, say­ing pri­vate se­cu­rity com­pa­nies skirt the law and risk be­com­ing mili­tias.

It’s been part of Mr. Karzai’s larger push for more con­trol over the way his in­ter­na­tional al­lies op­er­ate in Afghanistan, as seen most re­cently in his call for NATO troops to pull back from vil­lage out­posts and to hand over se­cu­rity re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to Afghans more quickly.

Mr. Karzai said in 2009 that he wanted pri­vate se­cu­rity firms abol­ished and even­tu­ally set the March dead­line for all com­pa­nies ex­cept mil­i­tary or diplo­matic fa­cil­i­ties to use gov­ern­ment guards.

The ban would ef­fec­tively end the wide­spread pres­ence of for­eign­ers act­ing as se­cu­rity con­trac­tors, an in­dus­try that boomed af­ter the in­va­sions of Iraq and Afghanistan.

The ex­ten­sions did not ap­pear to rep­re­sent a change in pol­icy as much as a recog­ni­tion that the switch to gov­ern­ment guards was tak­ing longer than en­vi­sioned. The process has been chaotic and has been weighed down by lengthy con­tract ne­go­ti­a­tions, mak­ing it ap­pear un­likely in re­cent weeks that the Afghan Public Pro­tec­tion Force would be ready to take over for some 11,000 pri­vate guards by the dead­line.

Com­pa­nies that have yet to sign con­tracts are be­ing al­lowed to con­tinue to use pri­vate guards for a limited pe­riod of time, most rang­ing from 30 days to 90 days, said Ja­mal Ab­dul Naser Sidiqi, the head of the Afghan Public Pro­tec­tion Force.

Mr. Sidiqi ar­gued that this does not amount to a ma­jor change as much as a “re­vised im­ple­men­ta­tion plan.”

“This is a process. And on the 21st we are con­tin­u­ing our tran­si­tion,” Mr. Sidiqi said. “We are just clar­i­fy­ing the dead­line for ev­ery in­di­vid­ual com­pany.”

In Fe­bru­ary, Mr. Sidiqi told the As­so­ci­ated Press that the en­tire han­dover would be fin­ished by March 21.

Sev­eral deals al­ready have been signed.

So far, the Afghan Public Pro­tec­tion Force has signed 16 con­tracts with com­pa­nies to pro­vide se­cu­rity and li­censed 14 “Risk Man­age­ment Com­pa­nies,” ac­cord­ing to a NATO of­fi­cial who spoke anony­mously to dis­cuss the in­ner work­ings of an Afghan gov­ern­ment pro­gram.

The Risk Man­age­ment Com­pa­nies es­sen­tially will act as go-be­tweens for com­pa­nies and the gov­ern­ment agency to help man­age the guards, pay­ments and help hold the Afghan guards to an in­ter­na­tional stan­dard.

But Afghan of­fi­cials have said there are about 75 com­pa­nies they need to sign con­tracts with in or­der to com­plete the switchover, and there were wor­ries that hold­ing to the Wed­nes­day dead­line would cre­ate se­cu­rity gaps.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A for­mer pri­vate se­cu­rity guard (left) hands over his weapon to Ja­mal Ab­dul Naser Sidiqi, head of the Afghan Public Pro­tec­tion Force, dur­ing a tran­si­tion cer­e­mony Thurs­day of pri­vate se­cu­rity forces to Afghan Public Pro­tec­tion Force.

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