“As we move towards the transition process, all foreign parallel functions and institutions including private security firms, the PRTs, existence of the militias, detention of Afghan citizens by foreign forces and arbitrary house searches must stop immediately.” – Karzai’s speech on 23 March 2011, announcing the first phase of the Enteqal process.
There are a few issues that really rile President Karzai with regard to the presence of foreign forces. In his speech last Tuesday he mentioned several of them, including the parallel functions and structures formed by PRTs (which in his mind seem to stand for the whole network of military bases across the country), private security companies and militias, and the uncontrolled breaches of Afghan citizens’ privacy through detentions and house searches.
There are a few more – more inflammatory ones – that he did not mention this time, including the recurring issue of civilian casualties (which has as subtext the message that foreign forces are careless and indifferent to Afghan suffering), the suspicions that PRTs and private security companies are in reality a cover for widespread intelligence operations, and the accusation that foreign forces and their auxiliaries are responsible for much of the violence in the country. (Karzai often uses public speaking engagements to express these suspicions, which are then echoed in certain media outlets).*
It is in this light that the recurring tussle over private security companies should be seen – as one of the constant reminders to Karzai that even as a President he does not control what is happening in his country and that he cannot control what his international partners are doing: who they are arming, attacking, arresting or empowering.
The announcement on 17 August 2010 that all private security companies were to be disbanded within four months – not his first attempt – seems to have stemmed mainly from this frustration. It was preceded by a fatal and controversial traffic accident caused by two Dyncorps vehicles, the release of several reports describing in detail the uncontrolled nature of private forces,** and a constant stream of complaints about the behaviour of local campaign forces, militias and convoy protection units.
The international donors, security companies and development contractors expressed great dismay over the ban. The decree, which stipulated that the Afghan government would shoulder the security responsibilities instead, was obviously un-implementable and it was clear that at some point a more workable compromise would have to be reached. But because it was by no means certain that this would happen on time (or without a considerable amount of harassment, loss of capital and disruption of projects), the internationals, with the US in the forefront, exerted great pressure on the Karzai government to get the decree amended, a whole host of exceptions accepted and more time provided.
This finally resulted in a ‘Bridging Strategy’, the rough outline of which was presented on 15 March 2011 after months of negotiations and several interim agreements. The bridging strategy outlines the conditions and procedures for a phased dissolution of private security companies, but the text of the document still contains important ambiguities and its substance seems to mainly address the concerns of the international stakeholders. It is highly unlikely that the strategy, even if implemented, will effectively address the deeper underlying issues of control and oversight (or more precisely: the lack of it) that has caused much of the controversy in the first place.
The strategy reiterates and details the main negotiated concessions: (1) embassies, diplomatic missions and police training missions can continue to make use of the services of private security companies indefinitely, or more precisely: ‘until deemed unnecessary’; (2) development programs, ISAF and coalition forces are allowed to use private security companies for convoy and area security for another year; and (3) ISAF and coalition forces are allowed to use private security companies for fixed site security for up to two more years. A new ‘state-owned security company’, the Afghan Public Protection Force (APPF), is to gradually take over the security responsibilities for development projects and, together with the Ministry of Defence, for ISAF convoy and site security.
The document describes timelines and principles, but there is considerable lack of clarity on crucial issues such as PSC staffing limits and command responsibilities. Although the document establishes ‘manning caps’ and ‘manning ceilings’ – respectively a 500 staff limit imposed by the 2008 PSC regulations (which some companies are exempt from) and a 1,000 staff limit, applied ‘according to policy and tiered pricing mechanisms’ – the text is confusing and seems to suggest that, in practice, there are no real limits.
Embassies and police missions seem to be allowed to hire up to 1000 personnel in addition to the manning cap of 500, in exchange for a one-time ‘tiered pricing structure fee’ (the maximum of 1000 additional men costs an impressive 32,500,000 afghani, or over $650,000). They can contract any licensed PSC that is in good standing with the government (according to an evolving ‘PSC-list’ maintained by the Ministry of Interior and the APPF) and they retain the right to change contractors. It is unclear how the permission to contract security services from PSCs will play out after the completion of the bridging period, when all PSCs are supposed to have disbanded. There are consistent reports that at least Dyncorps and Xe will be exempt from disbandment (most probably due to a focus on police training).
Development contractors and ISAF forces can also continue to contract PSCs that are in good standing with the government, for convoy and area security, provided that the PSC size does not exceed the 500 manning cap. But there are loopholes: PSCs with up to a 1,000 personnel have to pay a fine, but they do not seem obliged to modify the situation, while PSCs that have more than 1,000 personnel are given 90 days to decrease the number of their staff by moving their excess guards to an APPF subcontract or a so-called ‘bridging tashkil’. The bridging tashkil is a ‘separate list of personnel hired by the PSC in excess of the 500 manning cap [or, it seems, the 1,000 manning ceiling] that will be recruited, vetted, commanded, equipped, trained, and paid by the PSC on behalf of the APPF’ – so no real changes there.
PSCs providing security for ISAF and coalition forces’ fixed sites, including military bases, are in practice equally exempt from the 500 manning cap and 1,000 manning ceiling, given that they are allowed to hire additional APPF guards, with no limits stated. As APPF capacity will be limited for the foreseeable future this again merely means the registration of these guards on a bridging tashkil or APPF subcontract, while the recruitment, vetting, equipping, commanding and paying is still done by the PSC.
Command and control is likely to remain rather fuzzy. The strategy states that armed foreign national security consultants can continue to exercise command and control of the bridging tashkils for security operations, if necessary from an operational control centre. If after the bridging period the APPF still cannot meet the security needs (which will be reviewed by representatives of the MoI, ISAF and the US) the PSCs will be allowed to continue their work until the end of the contract. After security services are transferred to the APPF, security management functions ‘may be transitioned to a licensed security management company to retain command and control with the APPF managers of the personnel transitions’, suggesting either a joint and potentially confusing command structure or only very symbolic APPF command and control.
The bridging strategy also details the seven companies that are to be disbanded within 90 days, due to their links with senior government officials (see last year’s Kilid Group report for more details). Most companies are well-known. They include NCL Security, established by Hamed Wardak, son of Defence Minister Rahim Wardak, who claims he no longer has any links to the company (see here his response to the bridging strategy); SSSI(Strategic Security Solutions International), linked to Hasseen Fahim brother of First Vice President Marshall Fahim; Watan Risk Management, headed by the Popal brothers, Rateb and Rashed, but closely linked to Ahmad Wali Karzai; Elite, belonging to Sadeq Mojadedi, son of Hazrat Sibghatullah Mojadedi, and Mowdud Popal; and ASG (Asia Security Group) founded by Heshmat Karzai, who claims to have sold the company. Two other companies – LSG (Logistic Solutions Group) and Shepherd Security – are not so well known. LSG is said to be linked to the son of an ANA division commander, while Shepherd Security is reportedly headed by a cousin of Zaher Aghbar, currently Head of the Olympic Committee. Aghbar used to be responsible for PSC registration in the MoI.
Disbandment, according to the strategy’s definitions, involves the revoking of all licenses and approvals, including business licenses provided by AISA (the Afghanistan Investment Support Agency), PSC licenses provided by the MoI, and the approval to operate as a profit-making company in Afghanistan. Security officials however agree that effective disbandment has only taken place after the companies’ weapons have been surrendered to the MoI.
Several of the companies that are to disband have close working relations with the international military and hold large military contracts for convoy and base security. It is highly likely that the set-up on the ground – the actual commanders and guards that are employed to guard the bases and convoys – will remain the same even as the mother company disbands, is sold, merges or nominally becomes part of the APPF.
In all, the bridging strategy seems to largely address the concerns of the international community, as it has sought to minimize the disruption to its projects and military operations and to retain a considerable level of control over who they are guarded by and whom these guards report to. The strategy however does almost nothing to address Afghan concerns over the large numbers of armed men that are employed, without directly reporting to or being controlled by the government. The strategy does not limit the number of armed men and may even increase it (embassies can hire up to 1,500 guards, while other entities seem to be able to recruit an unlimited number of men as long as they are listed on a bridging or APPF tashkil). The registration of the individual guards and the collection of biometric data give a semblance of control, but it is unlikely that recruitment decisions made on the ground can be easily monitored or overruled from the centre. The unease over local strongmen who are linked to the international military and who command large units of armed men will thus remain.
The forces that are considered most problematic and out of control – mainly those involved in convoy security and base security for the international military – are unlikely to be effectively demobilized. They will most probably change in name and formal status only. The international military will, moreover, be even less prepared to give up control over their auxiliary ‘campaign forces’, which are often presented as static site guards but are in reality involved in active military operations.*** It is in this regard quite relevant that, according to the bridging strategy, fixed site security may include a Quick Reaction Force (QRF) and localized patrolling – which provides scope for formal registration of forces with quite loose interpretations of their responsibilities.
The remaining 45 PSCs are allowed to operate for another year, provided they solve their ‘violations’ (tax issues, proper registration of weapons and vehicles, etc.).**** Deloitte and others, in the meantime, are busy designing a possible legal and institutional structure, which will allow US government insitutions to hire the APPF guards (as currently they are not allowed to contract other government entities). The heads of the banned companies are trying to figure out which loophole to take, or whether it is just easier to concentrate on trucking or fuel (which up till now has often included the provision of security) or being an informal broker of men. But whatever happens in the coming year, it is pretty clear that the strategy will not end the existence of small armies of armed men contracted by internationals and international military***** and it will not end the suspicions that they are probably up to no good.
* See for instance Karzai speech which he gave during a ceremony at the Civil Service Institute on 8 August 2010 – a little over a week after a fatal traffic accident involving two Dyncorps vehicles and a week before he issued his decree banning PSCs: “We don’t want our Afghan administration to be run by two different sets of people and to be accountable to two different sources. It’s destroying the national sovereignty of Afghanistan and we will not allow it (…) The people who are working in private security companies are against Afghan national interest and their salaries are illegal money. They are thieves during the day and terrorists during the night (…) If they want to serve Afghanistan they have to join the Afghan police.”
Around the same time some newspapers also levelled serious allegations, which may well have been fed by the palace. See for instance the following quotes from Rah-e Nejat and Weesa (translations by BBC Monitoring):
“These pressures are put on the government at a time when President Karzai and the government have repeatedly claimed that private security companies have become a parallel force to the government in terms of security provision and are also involved in making deals with the Taleban, cooperating with drug traffickers and crimes such as kidnapping and causing insecurity and thus undermining the good work done by the Afghan security forces. (…) The government of Afghanistan should not allow foreigners to give precedence to their own interests over the wishes of Afghans, like they have done in the past. The government should not allow them to take control of affairs in the country and invalidate the president’s decree so easily by hurling threats and trying to intimidate and by violating the constitution and other laws of the country,” (Rah-e Nejat, 25 October 2010)
“The question arises as to why America opposes the disarmament of these firms and is trying to exert pressure on President Karzai. There are various reasons for this. (…) America is opposing the disbanding of private security firms because this could put its interests at risk. If these firms are disarmed and serve legally in the ranks of the national army or police, who will carry out the secret activities which they are wilfully carrying out? The second point is that foreigners use these firms for mysterious killings and activities to achieve their objectives. If these firms are closed, how will they achieve their notorious, secret objectives? President Karzai openly said the other day that some of the explosions are carried out by the Taleban and some by private security firms.” (Rah-e Nejat, 27 October 2010)
“America and the international community have called for maintaining private security firms against legal principles. Now they have warned to stage an economic coup [i.e. the threat to stop all aid] and have also issued other threats. Their insistence shows that the issue is not about security and reconstruction. It is about the spy network and other military and intelligence objectives, which America does not want to lose. Senior American and other Western officials receive millions of dollars from these firms. Unfortunately, the Afghan people have suffered at the hands of these firms. Moreover, they have undermined the political and security situation. The fact is that if these security firms are not dissolved, Afghanistan will neither have a strong security force nor will it ever be allowed to stand on its own feet. If the international community recognizes Afghanistan as an independent country, it must bow to its president and senior officials. (…) Why senior Afghan officials and the people will accept such security firms, which can strike deals over them with insurgents? They set ablaze their supply convoys for dollars and are involved in hundreds of other games. The Afghan nation’s answer to the economic coup is that it will not beg others for economic support even if it dies.” (Weesa, 25 October 2010)
“..actually, the problem is not about the closure of projects worth 1.5 bn dollars. There are two crucial points in this regard: First, security responsibilities will fully be transferred to the country’s own security departments with the closure of private security firms. This will definitely enhance their capabilities and they will take a step towards becoming self-sufficient, and this is what the international community does not want. The international community wants Afghanistan to be helpless, not only in the field of security but also in every other area. If security responsibilities are transferred to the security forces in Afghanistan completely, it will call into question the military presence of the international community. Second, foreign intelligence and military groups are operating under the cover of private security firms. They do not want their spy network to be dismantled. (…) Actually, the international community is secretly pursuing dangerous objectives and now it is using closure of a number of projects and the security of the reconstruction drive as a pretext.” (Weesa, 23 October 2010)
** These include the US House of Representatives report Warlord Inc.: Extortion and Corruption Along the US Supply Chain in Afghanistan, dated 21 June 2010, the Senate Armed Services Committee’s Inquiry into the Role and Oversight of Private Security Contractors in Afghanistan, dated 28 September 2010 (which discusses mainly ArmorGroup/G4S and EODT), and the mention in Woodward’s book Obama’s Wars of the existence of a 3,000 strong CIA-backed Counterterrorism Pursuit Force.
*** These units are usually called Afghan Security Guards (ASG), not to be confused with the PSC called Asia Security Group, which is to be disbanded) or in some areas Afghan Guard Force (AGF).
**** The 45 remaining PSCs are: 1. Hart; 2. Edinburgh International; 3. G4S; 4. A-Team; 5. Blue Hackle, 6. SERVCOR; 7. Control Risk; 8. Olive Group; 9. Global; 10. Ronco; 11. Aegis; 12. SOC-A; 13. Tundra; 14. Compass; 15. White Eagle; 16. Triple Canopy; 17. ISS; 18. Good Knight Security Services (GKSS); 19. IDG; 20. Saladin; 21. Page; 22. OSG; 23. Garda World; 24. Kabora; 25. Yuksel; 26. TOR Afghanistan; 27. Sediqi; 28. Afghan Maiwand; 29. Afghanistan Naween; 30. Sabre; 31. Salarzai; 32. Reed Inc; 33. FHI (Four Horsemen Intl.). 34. TAC Force; 35. Khorasan; 36. ARGS; 37. General Security / EODT; 38. Dyncorps; 39. Guard Force; 40. Pride; 41. Arya; 42. Xe Service; 43. Shield; 44. Burhan; 45. Kabul Balkh.
***** The current thinking with regard to the design of the APPF includes a payment structure in which the guards do not enter into a direct relationship with the contracting party (who pays the Ministry of Finance, which then channels the money to the APPF, which then pays the guards their salaries and allowances). It is however very unlikely that this will sit well with those who are hiring protection services. In practice there will probably be parallel payments, one into the MoF/APPF and one directly to the guards and their commanders.
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020