- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 26, 2010

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — President Hamid Karzai’s order to replace private security companies with Afghan policemen and soldiers leaves two big unanswered questions: What policemen? What soldiers?

With police attrition rates high and the pace of the war increasing, Western security officials believe there’s simply not time to train enough police before Mr. Karzai’s Dec. 17 deadline — and the possible shutdown of millions of dollars in development projects.

“Where are they going to get the manpower?” asked David Black, a London-based consultant to commercial defense analysts Jane’s Strategic Advisory Services. He said redeploying tens of thousands of police or soldiers would force the Afghan government to rely more heavily on NATO, just as the alliance is eager to see the Afghans begin operating with less support.

NATO and Afghan forces are engaged in daily battles as they try to push insurgents out of their heartland in the south of the country. Attacks have surged in the north, normally considered safer. There are daily attacks and bombings in the east along the border with Pakistan, and in the west, four suicide bombers on Saturday attacked a U.N. compound in a province bordering Iran.

Sami Kovanen, a Kabul-based security analyst, said that given all the difficulties, it was unlikely the deadline would be met. He thinks the Interior Ministry has focused on finding protection for convoys but has not yet made plans to replace all private security guards, who protect everything from Afghan government officials to road construction crews to the long lines of trucks in NATO convoys snaking their way through the mountains.

So far, Afghan officials have been reluctant to say which units might replace disbanded contractors. Several declined interview requests or did not return calls seeking comment.

“It’s not sure where the police will come from yet,” Interior Ministry spokesman Zemeri Bashary told the Associated Press on Monday, “but there is a plan.”

On paper, it looks possible. The government has about 117,000 police and 136,000 soldiers to draw on to replace the 40,000 to 50,000 estimated security contractors.

But attrition from deaths, desertion and injuries in the police is high; a March report by NATO put attrition at 25 percent annually. Most police are illiterate, about 10 percent tested positive for drugs, and by October only a third had undergone NATO’s basic training.

The police have some reserves, but they vary by province and mostly are tiny. Kabul province, with by far the largest police force at 15,000 men, has a reserve of only 500. Analysts say although they’re training recruits as fast as possible, there’s just not enough police to replace the companies immediately.

As for the army, most soldiers are already fighting Taliban insurgents or are on active duty throughout the country. Only 45,000 of them have undergone NATO training. Illiteracy and desertion are also common.

Few would dispute Mr. Karzai’s long-term objectives. Wary of the chaos caused by cowboy companies operating in Iraq, he brought all private security companies under Afghan law more than two years ago. But many companies remained unregistered and outside the law, scooping up money as subcontractors while falling under the umbrella of legal outfits.

Since then, security contractors have been in trouble for everything from paying protection to the Taliban to killing unarmed Afghan civilians. Two former workers for the company formerly known as Blackwater — now Xe — are on trial in Virginia for a double shooting and the wounding of another unarmed civilian.

The majority of contractors are Afghans, and some have powerful family connections to members of the government or insurgency.

If the companies were replaced, it’s unclear what would happen to the suddenly unemployed gunmen. Afghan officials have spoken vaguely of absorbing them into national forces, but there’s not nearly enough places in the NATO training programs to take them all at once. NATO’s police training takes eight weeks. The deadline is in seven weeks.



Click to Read More

Click to Hide