Afghan government accuses 16 security firms of violations

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Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, February 8, 2011; 5:53 PM

KABUL - An Afghan government probe of private security companies has accused 16 firms of violations that include employing too many guards, failing to pay taxes for up to two years, and keeping unregistered weapons and armored vehicles.

The allegations, contained in a list being circulated in Kabul, represent the most detail to date about the government's case against several prominent U.S. and British security firms in Afghanistan. The government has moved away from threatening to disband these firms, which it considers "major" violators, and appears intent on imposing fines.

In addition, seven security firms with connections to high-ranking Afghan officials are expected to be ordered this week to disband, Afghan officials said.

The allegations detailed in the list, which was obtained by The Washington Post, are disputed by company representatives, who view the investigation as further evidence of President Hamid Karzai's push to eventually replace them with government guards.

Since August, Karzai has called for phasing out the thousands of private security guards working in Afghanistan, whom he describes as "thieves by day, terrorists by night." The firms say their departure could derail foreign-funded development projects as well as security provided for NATO convoys, embassies and military bases.

The investigation found, for example, that the British firm G4S - the parent company of ArmorGroup North America, which provides security for the U.S. Embassy in Kabul - employed 1,358 guards more than allowed, kept 27 illegal "bullet-proof" vehicles and used embassy vehicles for off-base, non-diplomatic purposes, according to a copy of the violation list. Other, slightly different lists of violations also have been circulating in Kabul.

Another company, Washington-based Blue Hackle, is alleged to have employed 1,257 guards more than permitted, kept 385 unregistered weapons and "would not reveal the location" of its armory, the document said. Blue Hackle guards Camp Eggers, a NATO military base in Kabul, and has contracts with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and others.

Half of the companies on the list were accused of failure to pay taxes. Others were cited with failure to pay insurance to the families of slain guards. The list also accused one firm of killing an Afghan driver and burning his vehicle. It said another firm killed four people and wounded four, and did not report the casualties as it should have.

"We have heard literally almost every different type of allegation," said one security company official, who along with other sources spoke on the condition of anonymity so as not to jeopardize their business in Afghanistan. "If you do put the U.K. and U.S. governments' protective security providers on your [violators] lists, it's going to make it very difficult to operate here."

A spokesman for G4S, Patrick Toyne-Sewell, said that the company has not received any official notification from the Afghan government about the alleged violations and that "we do not comment on speculation."

The president of Blue Hackle North America, Tony Koren, said his company does not have an armory in Afghanistan and has registered all its weapons. Although the Afghan government once had established a 500-person cap for private security companies, Koren said, an exemption included those guards who worked on U.S. government contracts.

"The 500 cap, up until a couple of months ago, was just not an issue," Koren said. "Everybody knew the major companies exceeded that."

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