(Sept 9, 2009)
The private security industry in Afghanistan has grown apace with demand. As of August 2009, the total number of private security personnel employed by the US Department of Defense – the largest employer of private security in the country – increased 19 percent (from 4,373 to 5,198) in response to the deployment of additional military forces. Since 2001, a range of private security providers (PSPs) has emerged, including international and national PSCs operating with or without the required Afghan licensing permits, as well as militias hired as “armed support groups” (ASG) by international military forces. Many PSPs are controlled by prominent Afghan families, including Hashmat and Ahmed Wali Karzai, brothers of President Hamid Karzai; Hamid Wardak, the son of Defense Minister Rahim Wardak; Gul Agha Shirzai, the governor of Nangarhar province; and Hajji Jan Mohammad Khan, the former governor of Uruzgan.
The use of unregistered PSCs and militia groups by the NATO International Security Assistance Force and US military contingents is widespread. Many of these PSPs serve as ready-made militias that compete with state authority and are frequently run by former military com-manders responsible for human rights abuses or involved in the illegal narcotics and black market economies. Financing armed, alternative power structures fulfills security needs in the short-term at the cost of consolidating government authority in the long-term.
Drug trafficking and other criminal activities in which commanders may be involved – and for which their militias provide security – is a lucrative source of illegal revenue that can then be used to bribe government officials and strengthen shadow structures of authority. Illicit taxation of PSPs escorting convoys and other scams on private transport and security are also an important source of funding for corrupt police and insurgents. The Kandak Amnianti Uruzgan, for example, secures protection “by paying a hefty toll to the policeman in charge of the road.” Although it is transportation and construction companies, both international and national, who are the main source of “protection” revenue, private security escorts also pay Taliban not to be attacked. According to an Afghan intelligence official, there are examples of PSPs paying as much as 60 percent of their gross profits for convoy security to the Taliban and other insurgent-cum-criminal groups for “protection.”