On Monday, the administration of Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced that all security contractor firms would have to end operations in the country within the next four months, allowing employees to either join the Afghan police force or look for another line of work. Successful implementation of Karzai’s order, though difficult, could radically transform the debate around the use of private security contractors (PSCs) in war zones.
Though the decree does provide an exception for the use of PSCs “working inside compounds used by international groups, including embassies, businesses and non-governmental organizations,” the move would outlaw the use of private security personnel, who Karzai recently branded as “thieves by day, terrorists by night,” anywhere else in Afghanistan.
Karzai had previously stated that he wanted security efforts consolidated under the control of the central government, but had usually discussed the transition as a long-term project concluding anytime between late 2011 and 2014.
Recent events, however, including a deadly car accident in Kabul involving DynCorp International employees that sparked massive rioting, and pressure from the U.S. government to clean up corruption, which the Afghan president derided as heavy-handed foreign influence, may have spurred Karzai’s decision.
Indeed, the disband order comes as the relationship between the U.S. and Afghan governments has come under strain, and will surely only inflame tensions further, possibly jeopardizing the decree’s successful implementation.
There have already been delays in congressional approval of aid to Afghanistan in response to what was seen as Karzai’s slowness in addressing corruption. It wouldn’t be hard to fathom the Obama administration putting pressure on Congress to hold up further aid in an attempt to persuade Karzai against his decision.
Notwithstanding the pressure the U.S. and other governments will likely apply to Karzai to abandon the effort, successful implementation of the decree will be difficult logistically.
There are currently 52 licensed private security firms operating in Afghanistan, roughly half of which are foreign owned. The U.S. government contracts out with roughly 37 of those companies, which employ about 26,000 armed security contractors. Total, the security firms employ 30,000 to 40,000 people, some of whom are Afghans, but there are also Americans, Europeans, and many third country nationals.
The big question is how many of the 30,000 to 40,000 contractors will the Afghan government corral into the police force, which the Taliban – many charge – often infiltrate, and whether the government will be able to supply the necessary protection to foreign entities performing reconstruction and humanitarian efforts throughout the country.
Still, Karzai has accomplished what good government groups have long been advocating: the elimination of private security contractors in war zones. If the Afghan government can successfully nationalize security functions, it would lend credibility to congressional efforts – like Rep. Jan Schakowsky’s (D-IL) and Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) recent Stop Outsourcing Security Act – seeking to end the monetarily and ideologically costly use of PSCs.