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Security firms must be discreet Print
The Gazette - October 23, 2007

An opinion poll of the people of Afghanistan, reported last week, apparently did not ask about private security firms. Perhaps that's just as well, because such firms, while perhaps necessary, are surely not popular.

A report in the Toronto Globe and Mail yesterday pointed out Canada's diplomatic compound in Kabul is protected not by Afghan soldiers or police, nor by Canadian soldiers, but rather by armed patrols of uniformed employees of a British company, Saladin Security. The same company provides security for visiting Canadian VIPs.

With more than 2,000 "indigenous personnel" on the payroll, Saladin is not much smaller than the Canadian force of 2,500 soldiers in Afghanistan.

Saladin is registered and operates legally in Afghanistan, and there are no reports of improper activities on the part of Saladin employees. But private security firms have come to have an unsavoury reputation in Afghanistan, as in Iraq.

The Globe reported two other such firms have been forced to cease operations in Afghanistan for weapons violations; 10 more firms might face the same fate for various reasons. Guards working for Blackwater Security in Iraq killed 17 civilians last month in one incident. That company now faces eviction from Iraq.

It might be that a reputable security firm is the best way for Canadian diplomats to be protected in Afghanistan. Foreign troops defending foreign compounds would generate some unhappy images of colonial extra-territoriality. Afghan police, as has been widely reported, are not yet uniformly reliable. Soldiers, Canadian or Afghan, might be more needed in operational areas than in the capital.

So far, Saladin seems to have served Canadians - and Afghans - well. But prudence in the use of private security firms will remain important.

The survey last week suggested Canadians and their NATO allies are genuinely welcomed by a majority of Afghans. Making sure security contractors are discreetly respectful of local law will be an important part of improving popular support even more.
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