Afghan officials cite security firms with U.S. ties for violations

Continued photo coverage from the front lines of the U.S., Afghan and NATO military effort in Afghanistan.
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, January 22, 2011; 6:36 PM

KABUL - The Afghan government has accused several prominent private security companies, including some that work with the U.S. government, of committing "major offenses," a move that U.S. officials fear could hasten their departure from the country.

A list compiled by Afghan officials cites 16 companies, including several American and British firms, for unspecified serious violations and seven others for having links to high-ranking Afghan officials, according to a copy obtained by The Washington Post.

A decision to ban the major violators and those that have relationships with senior Afghan officials would affect firms that provide about 800 guards for the U.S. Agency for International Development projects and about 3,000 who work on military construction projects for the coalition, said a senior U.S. official.

"We're wringing our hands over this," the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. "We're waiting to hear which companies will get disbandment notices and when they will have to disband."

Among those listed as major offenders are Triple Canopy, based in Reston; Washington-based Blue Hackle; and the British firm G4S, the parent company of ArmorGroup North America, which provides security for the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.

Also listed were the British companies Global Strategies Group, which guards the Kabul airport, as well as Control Risks and Aegis.

The list included nine firms deemed "medium" offenders, 11 with "minor" offenses and nine, including Xe Services, formerly known as Blackwater, with no offenses detected.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has yet to approve the list or indicate whether these companies face expulsion. A senior Afghan official said "no decision has been made," and suggested that many of the firms were on the list for tax evasion. A NATO official said one of the companies, the British firm G4S, owes the Afghan government $8 million in taxes. The company declined to comment.

The development has escalated the battle over the fate of private security companies in Afghanistan. For the past six months, Karzai has sought to push out the firms and replace them with government guards. U.S. officials and other foreign diplomats, who generally support Karzai's intentions, have tried to negotiate concessions to keep private guards at their embassies and military bases, as well as guard foreign-funded development projects, including roads and power plants.

U.S. officials believed that they had reached a compromise in December that would protect key operations and give the companies more time before they would have to depart, but the list has raised new concerns that the timeline has accelerated.

"We thought it was pretty much on ice. All of a sudden, it isn't anymore," the senior U.S. official said.

USAID has put several new programs on hold while it waits for a resolution to the issue. An initiative worth hundreds of millions of dollars to support the miliary's counterinsurgency operations, called Stability in Key Areas, was pulled back from the bidding process, in part because of uncertainty over private security companies.

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