Of course Afghan government can’t live without privatised forces

Don’t believe anybody who says that private security and mercenaries won’t increasingly be in the front-line of US-led wars (if not in the headlines). The New York Times reports:

President Hamid Karzai’s plan to disband private security companies that protect billions of dollars worth of aid projects and replace them with government forces is fraught with problems and unlikely to meet the president’s March deadline to complete the transition, according to a six-month assessment of the program.

The assessment, conducted by NATO and the Afghan Interior Ministry, outlines dozens of issues that have slowed the development of the new security force and raises questions about the government’s capacity to carry out and sustain the program and others as international aid and military support dwindle in coming years.

The report, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times, comes as international development companies are becoming increasingly worried about the security of their workers, many of whom are Afghans.

Mr. Karzai has said that replacing the private companies with his country’s forces is an important step toward Afghan sovereignty. Gen. John R. Allen, the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, has also made it a central issue, according to a Western official.

“It’s become a top priority because if it doesn’t work, everything grinds to a halt,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in keeping with diplomatic protocol. “If it isn’t sorted out, everyone will pull out because they don’t want some fly-by-night security protecting them.”

NATO, the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development are setting up a task force that could grow to more than 170 people to advise and help train the guard force, according to a senior American official and a senior NATO official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The Pentagon will also be asking Congress to appropriate $35 million to $40 million in new and reallocated money to pay for the task force, a senior NATO official said.

The assessment makes it clear that much work needs to be done. Of 166 “essential” criteria to determine if the government was able to recruit, train and sustain the guard force, less than a third could be fully met, the assessment found. Sixty-three of the measurements could not be met at all.

Among the shortfalls: the program, which is overseen by the Interior Ministry, “has no money available to procure necessary supplies and equipment”; its training center is not teaching leadership skills and cannot generate enough guards to meet the forecasted demand; and the ministry has failed to provide the seed money — about $10 million — to prop up a state-owned business to run the program.

The program has already failed to supply personnel and equipment for some of its contracts, the report said. Its authors concluded that the police protection force “is not on track” to assume the responsibilities of the private security companies by March.