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Karzai Bans Private Security Firms
Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, has given private security firms working in Afghanistan four months to end their operations.
Karzai has repeatedly called for banning private security companies, saying they undermine government security forces.
"Today the president is going to issue a four-month deadline for the dissolution of private security companies," Waheed Omer, Karzai's spokesman, said on Monday.
Omer gave notice last week that the president intended to act over private security firms, calling it "a serious programme that the government of Afghanistan will execute".
"It's not about regulating the activities of private security companies, it's about their presence, it's about the way they function in Afghanistan ... all the problems they have created," Omer said.
Omer said more than 50 private security companies, roughly half of them Afghan and the other half international, employ 30,000 to 40,000 armed personnel in Afghanistan.
He said Karzai had spoken to his Western backers as well as leaders of the US and Nato's International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) who contract the companies, to safeguard many aspects of their work, including supply convoys.
The US military responded on Monday saying it supported the plan and was tightening oversight of its own armed contractors in the meantime.
"Certainly we understand President Karzai's statements that he is determined to dissolve private security companies," Brigadier General Margaret Boor, head of a new task force to better regulate and oversee private security operations, said.
"We are committed to partnering with the government in meeting that intent," she said.
However, Boor declined to give a timeline, saying private security contractors can only be phased out as the security situation improves.
That could be a long time given worsening security in recent months in areas of northern and central Afghanistan that had previously been relatively safe.
About 26,000 armed security contractors work with the US government in Afghanistan, including 19,000 with the US military, Boor said.
The majority of military contractors protect convoys, though some also provide base security, Major Joel Harper, a spokesman for Nato forces, said.
Karzai has said such responsibilities should fall to either enlisted military or police, though it is unclear how soon Afghan forces would be ready to take on additional jobs.
Boor said private contractors were needed right now to keep development projects and military operations running.
"Since the Afghan army and the Afghan police are not quite at the stages of capability and capacity to provide all the security that is needed, private security companies are filling a gap,'' Boor said.
In Afghanistan, contractors have been in the spotlight on several occasions.
In February, US senate investigators said the contractor formerly known as Blackwater hired violent drug users to help train the Afghan army and declared "sidearms for everyone'', even though employees were not authorised to carry weapons.
The allegations came as part of an investigation into the 2009 shooting deaths of two Afghan civilians by employees of the company, now known as Xe.