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Karzai again blasts security firms' role in Afghanistan

Afghan President Hamid Karzai listens during a press conference in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Oct. 25, 2010. Karzai told reporters that once or twice a year Iran gives his office $700,000 to $975,000 for official presidential expenses. He said the U.S. has known about the Iranian assistance for years and that Washington also gives the palace
Afghan President Hamid Karzai listens during a press conference in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Oct. 25, 2010. Karzai told reporters that once or twice a year Iran gives his office $700,000 to $975,000 for official presidential expenses. He said the U.S. has known about the Iranian assistance for years and that Washington also gives the palace "bags of money." (AP Photo/Allauddin Khan) (Allauddin Khan - AP)

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By Joshua Partlow and Rajiv Chandrasekaran
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, October 25, 2010; 9:38 PM

KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN - The confrontation between President Hamid Karzai and the NATO coalition over the fate of private security companies accelerated Monday as Karzai lashed out again about the damaging role the hired guns play in Afghanistan.

Karzai has come under intense pressure to back down from his intention to ban private guards from protecting development projects in Afghanistan, including a call from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, as U.S. officials have warned that the ban could shut down billions of dollars in programs and put thousands of Afghans out of work.

Behind the scenes, foreign diplomats have been working furiously to forge some face-saving compromise that allows Karzai to phase out the private security companies over time while not jeopardizing a key component of NATO's counter-insurgency strategy.

In recent days, Karzai has remained defiant in his commitment to phasing out these companies, while at the same time opening the door for possible compromise by suggesting projects that need private security could be approved on a case-by-case basis. Gen. David Petraeus, the top NATO commander here, Karzai and other senior officials were involved in an unusually tense meeting over the issue Sunday in Kabul, according to Western diplomats.

On Monday, Karzai said at a news conference that the companies are enriched in the United States and "then they send the money to kill people here."

The private security industry is responsible for "insecurity in Afghan homes and causes the killing of Afghan children and causes explosions and terrorism in Afghanistan," he said.

It was the latest in a series of comments Karzai has made criticizing what he considers the reckless role of private security guards.

Amid the uncertainty, some development firms have begun the process of shuttering some programs ahead of the Dec. 17 deadline Karzai has imposed. By Nov. 1, more companies are expected to take further steps toward a shutdown. In the meantime, Karzai has appointed Ashraf Ghani, a presidential candidate last year, to mediate a compromise, officials said.

"It doesn't make any sense to me," said one prominent Afghan of Karzai's desire to quickly shut down the security companies. "I'm very much hopeful they will extend it or do something. It's impossible."

Even some Afghans close to Karzai have questioned the wisdom of his decision to try to shut down so rapidly the enormous security company apparatus in Afghanistan, at a time when the insurgency remains virulent.

Karzai on Monday also said that his government received as much as almost $1 million at least once or twice a year from Iran for palace expenses, and that Washington also doles out money to his office. He was responding to a New York Times article this week saying that Iran gave Karzai's chief of staff, Umer Daudzai, money in order to further an Iranian agenda in the Afghan palace and to buy his loyalty.

"This is a relationship between neighbors, and it will go on and we will continue to ask for cash help from Iran," Karzai said.

Karzai said the money was used to "help the presidential office" and said they've been "transparent" payments.

"It is not hidden," he said. "We are grateful for the Iranians' help in this regard. The United States is doing the same thing. They are providing cash to some of our offices."

A senior U.S. official confirmed that the Iranian money was not a secret. "Everyone knew about it, including the U.S. government," a senior American official in Kabul said of the Iranian money. "Everyone has talked about it openly for years."

Daudzai served as Karzai's chief of staff from 2003 to 2005 before becoming Afghanistan's ambassador to Tehran for two years and then returning to the chief of staff job in 2007. He is widely considered one of the members of Karzai's government closest to Iran.

Staff writer Karen DeYoung also contributed to this story.


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