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Private security firms exacerbating Afghan turmoil Print
(AFP) - 12 November 2007

KABUL - Afghanistan’s dozens of private security companies are exacerbating public insecurity because of their heavy reliance on weaponry and alleged criminal links, according to a study released Monday.

Their links to militia, shadowy operating methods and disrespectful behaviour to locals also contributed to distrust, the swisspeace research institute report said, urging moves to regulate the industry to be speeded up.

‘Overall, PSCs (private security companies) are not seen in a positive light in Afghanistan,’ said the study based on interviews this year with people from government, the security sector and civil society.

‘Much rather, those interviewed suggested that the PSC presence leads to a sense of distrust or even insecurity.’

The report comes as Kabul police are cracking down on security companies, with four of them closed down last month and raids yielding military and police uniforms, handcuffs and weapons.

Afghanistan, struggling to cope with a rise in extremist violence and crime, is awash with security companies which range from international groups such as US-based Blackwater—under fire after its guards shot dead 17 civilians in Iraq in September—to smaller Afghan outfits, some linked to militias.

They guard embassies and other premises or act as bodyguards, and some, like the US-based DynCorp, also train Afghan police.

The report said about 90 firms could be identified by name but several sources suggested there were more, maybe up to 140.

However only 35 have registered with the government. DynCorp was not among them which was ‘puzzling’ as the company has contracts with the government and once provided bodyguards for President Hamid Karzai, the study said.

Many companies operate without identification and travel in vehicles which sometimes lack licence plates, it said.

Some Afghans could not distinguish them from the police and army, andinternational military forces, and their heavy weaponry was perceived as threatening.

It is estimated that, combined, they had a minimum of 43,750 weapons, with firepower ranging from semi-automatic handguns to rocket-propelled grenades, the study said.

They are also allegedly engaged in extortion, kidnapping and the smuggling of drugs, swisspeace, which conducts research into the causes of wars and violent conflicts, said.

The lack of regulation meant that ‘nobody guards the guardians,’  swisspeace senior research fellow Susanne Schmeidl told reporters.

The government is debating draft regulations for private security companies.

The study also covered Angola, where it said a law regulating private security companies was passed in 1992 but not properly implemented with the public also wary of firms for similar reasons as in Afghanistan.
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