Security contractors guzzle $14b annually in Afghanistan

September 14, 2010

By staff and agencies

@T= KABUL/TEHRAN — The U.S.-led occupation forces now spend about $14 billion a year on contracting private security companies in Afghanistan, according to U.S. military officials.
The NATO military command in Afghanistan has quietly issued new guidelines on contracting aimed at pushing commanders to take a tougher approach to how they spend billions of dollars, The New York Times reported on Monday.
Last month Afghan President Hamid Karzai called on the United States and its allies to stop supporting foreign mercenaries, or private security companies as they are officially known, saying the activities of these firms aggravate Afghanistan's problems.
“To help strengthen the Afghan government, the U.S. and NATO should eliminate private security companies,” Karzai said, adding that their presence is “intolerable” since they have created a security structure that undermines the police and the army.
Kabul has confirmed the presence of 52 foreign private security companies in Afghanistan, including the notorious U.S. security firm Xe Services LLC -- formerly known as Blackwater.
Private security guards are operating in the country with absolutely no supervision by the Afghan government.
Karzai had earlier accused foreign security contractors of operating like militias, saying that the firms are only worsening the security situation in Afghanistan.
Most of the security contractors are believed to have close ties with Afghan warlords and have been accused of being partly responsible for the rise in civilian casualties in the country.
Blackwater/Xe mercs were hated by the Iraqis during their time in that country because they were able to kill many civilians with impunity, Press TV reported.
The new guidelines, issued last week by Gen. David H. Petraeus, the United States’ top military man in Kabul, make clear that he wants his subordinates to use their purchasing power as a tool to confront the Afghan resistance fighters but that has not happened.
The provisions in the new guidelines suggest that on many occasions NATO contracts have ended up exacerbating Afghanistan’s problems by empowering warlords and entrenched power brokers, and undercutting the trust of average Afghans, who see dollars being spent but never reap the benefits, The New York Times wrote.
The guidelines, in a two-page unclassified memo, also raised the possibility that some contractors now on the NATO payroll could be purged or barred from further work. But no specific contractors were singled out in the memo, and it was unclear how the new guidelines could be enforced.
“The scale of our contracting in Afghanistan represents both an opportunity and a danger,” General Petraeus wrote. “With proper oversight contracting can spur economic growth and development. If, however, we spend large quantities of international contracting funds quickly and with insufficient oversight it can fuel corruption, finance insurgent operations, strengthen criminal patronage networks and undermine our efforts in Afghanistan.”
Contracting, wrote General Petraeus, “has to be commanders’ business.”
Photo: An Afghan elder and a boy look at U.S. army soldiers on patrol in the village of Saidon Kalacheh in the Arghandab Valley on September 11, 2010. (Getty Images)
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