- Associated Press - Sunday, October 3, 2010

KABUL, Afghanistan | The Afghan government said Sunday it has started dissolving private security firms in the country by taking steps to end the operations of eight companies, including the firm formerly known as Blackwater and three other foreign contractors.

“We have very good news for the Afghan people today,” presidential spokesman Waheed Omar told reporters in the capital. “The disbanding of eight private security firms has started.”

Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced in August that private security contractors would have to cease operations by the end of the year — wiping out an industry with tens of thousands of guards who protect military convoys, government officials and businesspeople.

Some security contractors have been criticized for operating more like private militias, and the government said it could not have armed groups that were independent of the police or military forces.

The eight companies include Xe Services — the North Carolina-based contractor formerly called Blackwater — as well as Virginia-based NCL Holdings LLC, New Mexico-based Four Horsemen International and London-based Compass International, Mr. Omar said.

Two large Afghan firms, White Eagle Security Services and Abdul Khaliq Achakzai, are also on the list. The remaining two companies are small operations with fewer than 100 employees, so he declined to identify them.

Xe, at least, has been the subject of investigations. In February, U.S. Senate investigators said Xe hired violent drug users to help train the Afghan army and declared “sidearms for everyone” — even though employees weren’t authorized to carry weapons. The accusations came as part of an investigation into the 2009 fatal shootings of two Afghan civilians by employees of the company.

An owner of White Eagle, Sayed Maqsud said his firm had handed over to the Afghan government weapons used for a contract to guard fuel convoys for American troops in southern Helmand province, which has ended. He said he fired 530 guards who had been working under that contract.

None of the employees Mr. Maqsud let go joined the police, he said — noting that the pay is low and that police are targeted by insurgents in Helmand.

“I think most of them joined the Taliban,” he said.

None of the other companies named could be immediately reached for comment.

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