Afghan government’s monopoly on private security raises cost concerns, watchdog says


Afghan President Hamid Karzai gestures during a news conference in Kabul, Afghanistan, June 29, 2013. (Massoud Hossaini/AP)

Afghanistan’s government has established a monopoly in the country’s lucrative private security business, which could force U.S.-funded project managers to pay arbitrary fees for years to come, the inspector general overseeing reconstruction efforts there warned in a report issued Tuesday.

The Afghan Public Protection Force, a state-run enterprise formed to phase out Western security companies from the country, is far from meeting its target strength of 25,000 guards, according to the audit, having employed only 14,873 as of May.

While it grows, program managers have been allowed to retain the services of foreign security consultants, who are now nominally hired as advisers, rather than bodyguards. They must work alongside Afghan guards until the local force is fully formed, but the Afghan government hopes to eventually squeeze them out, too.

“Relying on the APPF as the sole provider of security services raises concerns for future unrestrained cost increases,” the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) said in the report. “As it currently stands, the APPF can unilaterally establish its rates without fear of competition.”

The report is the latest to warn that the Afghan government stands to collect money from the international community through questionable means as the U.S. drawdown accelerates.

Some of the contracts that SIGAR reviewed suggested that the Afghan government had charged program managers for functions that had been performed by the foreign advisers. Although the overall cost of security has decreased in the early phase of Afghan-provided services, the average cost per guard has risen, in some instances by as much as 47 percent, SIGAR said.

“Our recent reports have found illegal taxes, fees and fines levied by the Afghan government,” said John F. Sopko, the special inspector general. “In light of this, we’re deeply concerned that security costs could spiral out of control with the Afghan government’s monopoly over security for U.S.-funded projects. Without proper controls this could be another blank check from the American taxpayer.”

The U.S. Agency for International Development, whose contractors depend on APPF for security, faulted some of the findings in the audit. In a July 22 letter, the agency said the transition from private security companies to APPF has been “generally successful,” noting how quickly the force has been set up. It also said that SIGAR had warned last year that the cost of security under the APPF model would rise but that it has, in fact, fallen.

SIGAR, which based its conclusions on a review of 10 projects funded by USAID, said foreign advisers, known as “risk management companies,” are performing virtually all the training and recruiting of the guards, even though the Afghan government is supposed to fulfill those tasks.

The issue of private security has been fraught since Afghan President Hamid Karzai issued a decree in 2010 calling for the disbandment of foreign security companies, which he came to see as instigators of corruption.

In 2011, when the APPF program began, the Afghan government raided private security companies, seizing millions of dollars’ worth of armored vehicles and weapons. It is now charging U.S. project managers a $25 “monthly weapons fee” for guns that were taken from private security companies — in some instances, the same ones that have now been re-branded as risk mitigation consultants.

Ernesto Londoño covers the Pentagon for the Washington Post.

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