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AFGHANISTAN: Security companies fall foul of gun controls

by Jeremy PageTimes Online U.K.
February 11th, 2008

Afghan police have begun a crackdown on private security guards carrying
guns in Kabul, paralysing foreign aid and other organisations whose
rules oblige them to travel with armed escorts. The Interior Ministry
has also detained four foreign employees of two security companies for
several days, including two British citizens who were released on
Saturday but still have charges pending against them, The Times has learnt.

A French citizen and a Nepalese former Gurkha are thought still to be in
custody after being detained, like their two British colleagues, on
suspicion of carrying unlicensed firearms.

The Government says that it is trying to control illegal weapons and
improve the regulation of an industry that has grown from nothing in
2001 to at least 60 companies employing almost 30,000 people, including
up to 10,000 foreigners.

Industry insiders say that elements of the police are trying to cripple
foreign firms and drive their clients to Afghan firms with links to the
Interior Ministry or other parts of the Government. ASG, one of the
biggest Afghan private security companies, is owned by a cousin of
President Karzai.

Others suggest that some government officials are suspicious of private
business in general and want to renationalise the entire security
industry. Either way, the issue threatens to disrupt international
civilian and military operations in Afghanistan, where private security
companies even guard food and drink supplies for military bases.

“For a long time this has been seen as a private sector problem and, as
much as people felt sorry for us, they didn’t want to get involved,” an
industry source said. “But if it affects us, it affects our clients. The
people who suffer in the end will be the people of Afghanistan.”

The Government has been putting pressure on the industry since last
year, when it scrapped its old licensing regime and started drawing up
new regulations, which among other things raised the licence price from
$10,000 (Ł5,000) to $120,000. The new regulations were approved by
Cabinet last month, but have not yet been through parliament, leaving
many security companies in a legal limbo.

“It’s all very confusing,” another industry insider said. “The problem
is that some people in the police and Government are connected to the
dodgier local security firms.”

The latest blow came on Friday, when a local television station reported
that police planned to search all private security guards and arrest
anyone found carrying a firearm. Although that plan has not been
confirmed officially, private security companies have taken it seriously
because of the recent arrests, and some have decided to stop carrying
firearms altogether. That has forced some of their clients to halt
operations, because their security regulations insist that they be
escorted by armed guards.

They are believed to include USAid, the US Government aid agency, and
Bearing Point, a consultancy linked to the World Bank that advises the
Afghan Finance Ministry. Neither organisation was available for comment.
“It has started to have an impact on our clients and some have ceased
operations – and these are not small operations, they are big players,”
one of the industry sources said.

Many aid workers and other foreigners had already had their movements
limited by curfews or “lockdowns” introduced after the Taleban attacked
the Serena Hotel in Kabul last month.

Zamarai Bashary, an Interior Ministry spokesman, denied that a blanket
ban on armed guards had been introduced but admitted that a crackdown
had begun and several arrests had been made. “We have arrested a number
of people – some foreigners, some Afghans – who were carrying weapons
with no licence under the name of private security companies. These
people have to comply with our laws and regulations, otherwise they
damage the security situation rather than helping it.” He declined to
identify those arrested.

Sources told The Times that they included two British and two Afghan
employees of Blue Hackle – a British private security company – and that
they were detained in Kabul on January 27. The Afghans are thought to
have been freed yesterday. The British Embassy in Kabul declined to

Blue Hackle said: “We are of course delighted that our employees have
been released, but sensitivity is obviously very high and it would be
inappropriate to comment at this stage.” The Frenchman and the Nepalese
are thought to work for Global, another large security company whose
clients include USAid.

Global staff were not immediately available for comment.

*Growing concern *

*60: *private security companies (PSCs) are currently working in

*20: *of these are owned and run by Afghans

*30,000:* security personnel are employed by all PSCs across the country

*5,000: *of these personnel are Westerners 5,000 are nonAfghans. Many of
these are from Turkey, Pakistan, India and Nepal

*17:* of the PSCs are UK-owned

*43,750:* handguns, rifles, machineguns and rocket-propelled grenades
are in the arsenals of PSCs

*3.5:* weapons for each employee

*6,000:* personnel are employed by the two largest US companies,
Blackwater and DynCorp 500 average daily pay, in US dollars, for
international PSC staff

Source: Swisspeace; Afghan PSCs Association

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