Karzai decree to eliminate private security within 4 months

Afghan President Hamid Karzai issued a decree on Tuesday setting a deadline of four months to disband private security companies — a move likely to dismay NATO and the U.S. military that rely on such firms to protect convoys and bases.

According to the decree, security contractors currently working in Afghanistan will have to either join the Afghan police force or cease operations by the deadline. Firms being disbanded either could sell their weapons to the Afghan government or take the equipment with them as they leave if the companies were properly registered. Unregistered firms would have their weapons confiscated, it said. The visas of their employees would also be terminated.

It does provide an exception for private security firms working inside of compounds used by international groups, including embassies, businesses and non-governmental organizations.

“They will have to stay inside of the organization’s compound and will have to be registered with the Interior Ministry,” the decree states.

All security outside of these compounds will be provided by Afghan security forces, as will all security for supply convoys for international troops, the decree says.

The decree said the private security firms were being banned to avoid the misuse of weapons which had caused “horrific and tragic incidents.”

The Pentagon called the deadline “very challenging” but said the United States would work with the Afghan government and seek to improve oversight and management of private security firms, long an irritant to Afghans.

In announcing a fairly near-term deadline for the shutdown, the president appeared to preempt efforts by NATO’s International Security Assistance Force to register private security contractors and set standards for their behavior.The timetable was so abbreviated that analysts questioned whether it might be delayed and changed as more detailed rules to carry it out were negotiated.

The Afghan Interior Ministry has 52 security firms licensed, but some older contracts are still being completed by unlicensed firms, according to the U.S. military. About half of the companies are Afghan-owned.

About 37 companies are working with the U.S. government, totaling about 26,000 armed security contractors. The majority of those work for the military, though some are employed by the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, according to the military.

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