When Harmid Karzai issued his decree in August that he wanted private security out of Afghanistan by the end of the year, I immediately thought of Major Chuck Bamlett who spoke at a Canadian Society for Industrial Security meeting last November.
Bamlett had just returned from an eight-month tour in Afghanistan where he witnessed the use of private security and assisted in the training of local private security officers. In some cases, Bamlett said, they couldn’t completely trust the people guarding them because they often “belonged to the same group trying to kill us.”
To qualify to be a private security guard in Kandahar, individuals simply had to be male, over 18 years of age. The pay? Between $120 and $200 a month. They might pocket about half of that for themselves after paying off various people for protection.
Bamlett worked in an Emergency Coordination Centre in downtown Kandahar City mentoring the Afghan Police and Afghan Army. His team was the link between coalition forces and the Governor of the Kandahar Province. Reflecting on his time in Kandahar, Bamlett said he feels “slow progress” is being made. But in a country where a culture of corruption is so ingrained, it will take a lot of effort to improve the relationships between public and private security and the army.
Karzai’s call to have private security out in four months is unrealistic — heck, even in four years. The Afghan Police and Afghan Army may believe they can secure the country on their own but experts argue otherwise. If he doesn’t modify his decree the impact will be massive. Development and aid projects will come to a crashing halt in the war-torn country.
Karzai’s timing is of course tied to the pending elections in Afghanistan and his desire to show the people he has gained control of the country and that it has become stabilized, which in reality he has not been able to do.
Two top GardaWorld executives just returned from Kabul where they met with clients and the international aid community, discussing the decree and the likelihood of it actually being enacted. Otherwise firms such as the G4S armoured group, which secures the Canadian Embassy, would be forced to pull out.
On the ground level the impact would be significant, says Pete Dordal, managing director of International Security for GardaWorld. All building projects will cease, he says, if they don’t have credible, professional, western-supervised private security in place. The development groups also employ thousands in the field. It also means thousands of Afghans won’t be working either and then there’s the question of whether they will work for the Taliban.
Garda employs about 500 officers in Afghanistan and Dordal says about 95 per cent of them are Afghan citizens. He says Garda provides more than 100 hours of training to its Afghan officers on everything from use of force and mobile patrol to human rights. They are contractually obligated to do so by the companies that employ them and the officers are biometrically registered with the government.
There are approximately 50 registered firms and 40,000 private security professionals working in Afghanistan. It’s considered the most lucrative business going in the war-torn country after the drug trade. But without them, Afghanistan’s progress hangs in the balance.