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Afghan government extends deadline for abolishing private security guards
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) ' The Afghan government is giving companies extensions ranging from a few weeks to 90 days to change from private security guards to a government-run force, NATO officials and security company managers said Sunday.
The reprieve comes just three days before the March 21 deadline that the Afghan government had set for the majority of companies to start using government-provided security.
Private development companies have said the move is threatening billions in U.S. aid to the country because companies would delay projects or leave altogether because they didn't feel safe using strictly local security.
President Hamid Karzai has railed for years against the large number of guns-for-hire in Afghanistan, saying private security companies skirt the law and risk becoming militias. He ordered them abolished in 2009 and eventually set the March deadline for all firms except those guarding military or diplomatic facilities to take on government guards.
But the process has been chaotic and has been weighed down by lengthy contract negotiations, making it appear unlikely in recent weeks that the Afghan Public Protection Force would be ready to take over for some 11,000 private guards by the deadline.
People involved in the handover said Sunday that companies that are still far from signing contracts are being allowed to continue to use private guards for a limited period of time, most ranging from 30 days to 90 days. Managers of private security companies, who spoke anonymously to avoid endangering contracts, said they had been called into a meeting with Afghan officials to explain the process for obtaining the interim permits.
Noorkhan Haidari, the business manager for the APPF, said the permit process was still under way and declined to comment further. Other APPF officials did not respond to calls seeking comment.
A number of deals have already been signed. So far, the APPF has signed 16 contracts with companies to provide security and licensed 14 "Risk Management Companies," according to a NATO official. The Risk Management Companies will essentially act as go-betweens for companies and the government agency in order to help manage the guards, payments and help hold the Afghan guards to an international standard.
The official spoke anonymously to discuss the inner workings of an Afghan government program.
But Afghan officials have said that there are about 75 companies they need to sign contracts with in order to complete the switchover and there were worries that holding to the March 21 deadline would create security gaps.
If the changeover doesn't happen smoothly, a raft of international aid projects could be in danger. Insurgents regularly attack development projects here, so private development companies that implement most of the U.S. aid agency's programs employ private guards to protect compounds, serve as armed escorts and guard construction sites.
Most companies working on development projects are being issued temporary 30-day permits for their private security guards, while companies working on convoy contracts are being given 90 days, the NATO official said. The development companies have a shorter extension because their projects tend to be easier to guard and many are already close to having a contract negotiated, the official said.
One element to the delay may have been that international military advisers who are helping the Afghan officials were blocked from going to the APPF offices following the shooting deaths last month of two Interior Ministry advisers by an Afghan driver. The APPF advisers are back at their offices now, though with some increased security, according to the NATO official.