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Afghanistan: Ouster of Contractors Throws US Strategy in Doubt

William Fisher

An Afghan bodyguard. Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai has issued orders to immediately begin dismantling private security firms, which are believed to number around 40,000 and are extensively used to protect embassies and offices, guard bases and escort convoys. (AFP/File/Massoud Hossaini)

Charging that U.S. private security contractors are "mafia- like groups"
being financed by U.S. taxpayers to carry out "terrorist activities"
with the support of the U.S. government, Afghan President Hamid Karzai
has ordered a four- month phaseout of all private security companies in
his embattled country.

Asserting his oft-challenged authority as the country's chief
executive, Karzai's move, if implemented, would likely change the
security landscape in Afghanistan. Critics are saying it would be
likely to result in potential delays of many foreign projects and
undermine the strategy being followed by top U.S. commanded in
Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus.

Economic organisations such
as the World Bank, and compounds of embassies, consulates,
nongovernmental organisations, would be exempted from the rule.

it appears clear that Karzai's hostility toward U.S. contractors is
fuelled by their impact on domestic Afghan politics. Attacks by U.S.
drones and other forces have resulted in the killing of innocent
Afghanistan civilians.

This has not only turned into hostility
by Afghans toward U.S. and allied troops, but it puts at peril the
strategy announced by the new U.S. military commander in Afghanistan,
Gen. David Petraeus. That strategy depends on the military courting
Afghan civilians by protecting them from the Taliban and improving the
government services they receive.

In a related development, Xe
Services, the private military company formerly known as Blackwater
Worldwide, has agreed with the U.S. State Department to pay 42 million
dollars in fines for hundreds of violations of United States export
control regulations, after allegedly illegally sending weapons to
Afghanistan and training international civilians to be soldiers.

latter charge includes making unauthorised proposals to train troops
in south Sudan and providing sniper training for Taiwanese police

The company is said to be pleased with the settlement, which will allow it to continue to get government contracts.

the settlement does not resolve other legal issues the company is
facing. Five former Blackwater executives are under indictment
executives on weapons and obstruction charges.

In a related
development, the Iraqi government said it plans to seize weapons from
foreign security firms and expel ex- Blackwater contractors still in the
country, according to Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani.

decision was triggered by the Iraqi government's outrage over the
dismissal by a U.S. court of charges against Blackwater Worldwide
guards who were accused of killing 14 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad in
2007. The guards said they shot in self-defense.

The judge said
there was evidence of prosecutorial misconduct. The U.S. government is
appealing the dismissal of the court case. The Iraqi government, which
has prohibited Blackwater from operating in Iraq, has hired U.S.
lawyers to prepare a lawsuit against the company.

For many
Iraqis, the killing of the 14 civilians became emblematic of the
impunity from prosecution in Iraq enjoyed by foreign security
contractors after the 2003 U.S. invasion. That immunity ended last year
under a U.S.-Iraqi security agreement transferring sovereignty back to

Karzai took the challenge to U.S. and NATO influence over
his much-criticized government to the American airways over the
weekend. During an appearance on ABC's "This Week," he pressed for the
removal of the vast majority of U.S. private contractors by the end of
this year. He said their continued presence inside Afghanistan was "an
obstruction and impediment" to the country's growth, a waste of money,
and a trigger for corruption among Afghan officials.

He added,
"One of the reasons that I want them disbanded and removed by four
months from now is exactly because their presence is preventing the
growth and development of the Afghan security forces - especially the
police force - because if 40, 50,000 people are given more salaries
than the Afghan police, why would an Afghan ... man come to the police
if he can get a job in a security firm, have a lot of leeway without
any discipline? So naturally our security forces will find it difficult
to grow. In order for our security forces to grow these groups must be

Karzai's proposal drew cautious support from Senator
John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts and chairman of the Senate
Foreign Relations Committee, who was on a two-day visit to Afghanistan.
Kerry said a reorganization of the country's security was called for.

is in (President Karzai's) interest to build his own security capacity
as fast as possible," Kerry said, adding that it was also in the
U.S.'s interest. However, he said, the timetable would need to be
worked out.

But, according to U.S. officials, Afghanistan's army
and police are not yet ready to take up the roles now played by
private security contractors. If anything, the corruption that Karzai
sees in the contractor corps could get worse if the Afghan army -
itself a reported haven for corruption - is now asked to take on an
even larger role.

Yet Karzai said, "I'm appealing to the U.S.
taxpayer not to allow their hard earned money to be wasted on groups
that are not only providing lots of inconvenience to the Afghan people
but are actually, god knows, in contract with mafia- like groups and
perhaps also funding militants, and insurgents and terrorists with
those funds."

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