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Karzai renews opposition to security firms after meeting

By Joshua Partlow and Rajiv Chandrasekaran
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, October 26, 2010; A8

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 guards play in Afghanistan.

Karzai has come under intense pressure to back down from his intention to bar 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 would allow Karzai to phase out the private security companies over time while not jeopardizing a key component of NATO's counterinsurgency 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 that projects needing private security could be approved on a case-by-case basis. Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. and 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.

Karzai on Monday also said that his government received as much as $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 that said Iran gave Karzai's chief of staff, Mohammad 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 that the money was used to "help the presidential office" and that the payments have been "transparent."

Staff writer Karen DeYoung contributed to this report.

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