It would be up to the Afghan National Police (ANP) to provide security for US military fuel and supply convoys bound for Afghanistan, along with storage depots inside the country, if a ban on private security firms is implemented. Experts believe such a potential development would be a disaster waiting to happen.
To date, private security firms have guarded fuel convoys and fuel depots. However, the Pentagon says it can no longer work with contractors who intend to use private security firms, even though fuel convoys are a favorite target of Taliban militants.
“On August 17, 2010, Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai issued a decree formalizing a four-month deadline for private security companies to disband, and that security within Afghanistan is an internal Afghan issue to resolve. The Afghan police are expected to provide the requisite security heretofore provided by mobile private security contractors,” Mimi Schirmacher, a spokeswoman for Defense Logistics Agency said on October 22.
US and NATO officials have engaged in intensive negotiations with Karzai’s administration to secure a compromise under which some projects and commercial activities might be allowed to continue using private security firms. But it remains unclear if fuel convoys and depots would be included in any compromise package.
On October 27, Karzai’s administration issued a presidential order that delayed implementation of the private security firm ban. The statement said a joint committee would draw up a timetable for the closure of private security firms. That timetable is supposed to be ready by November 15. Once adopted, firms would have 90 days to comply. Previously, the closure deadline had been December 17.
On October 25, appearing at a joint news conference with Tajikistan’s president Imomali Rahmon, Karzai accused private security firms of destabilizing Afghanistan. “These private security firms have caused insecurity and they've caused infringement of people's rights," he said, going on to allege that private contractors were behind “blasts and terrorism."
“In fact we don't yet know how many of these blasts are by Taliban and how many are carried out by them,” he claimed.
As it currently stands, only foreign embassies and military bases would be authorized to continue using private security, if and when a ban is enacted.
The Afghan government remains determined to implement some version of a ban, according to a statement posted on Karzai’s website on October 24.
Karzai’s intention has stirred worry among commercial contractors who contend that fuel, be it in transit or storage, would be in constant danger of attack. Fuel storage and delivery in Afghanistan is a commercial activity and contractors are responsible for their own security and insurance.
“It’s unbelievable. The Afghan police are just not up to the job. To be frank, it’s a joke. Anyone moving anything around Afghanistan will become a moving target,” a US contractor who ships goods across northern Afghanistan told EurasiaNet.org.
In a questions-and-answers amendment to a fuel solicitation for Bagram Air Base posted on the Federal Business Opportunities website on September 24, unnamed bidders expressed surprise at the proposed security arrangements.
The solicitation states that “proposals using armed private security to escort the fuel will not be considered acceptable and will not be considered for award.” That provision prompted one unidentified bidder to ask; “Is it the Government’s intent for this contract to be UNARMED?” (sic)
“Yes, proposals using armed private security to escort fuel and for reserve storage will not be considered acceptable and will not be considered for award,” DLA replied.
The ANP does not enjoy a reputation for professionalism.The illiteracy rate among ANP members reportedly hovers around 80 percent and wages average $240 per month, only slightly more than what the Taliban is said to be paying its fighters.
“The ANP is in no way prepared to take on the massive task of guarding hundreds of fuel convoys across the breadth of Afghanistan,” said Candace Rondeaux, the International Crisis Group’s senior analyst in Kabul.
“The logistical systems are simply not in place for the national police to handle this kind of challenge and the Ministry of Interior has a very long way to go before it has the necessary capacity to handle this kind of mission,” Rondeaux added.
Since 2002 NATO and the US has spent more than $6 billion on training Afghan security forces. A July 2010 report from the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) found that the Afghan security forces, both police and army, are blighted by corruption, absenteeism and drug abuse.
“The ANP will simply stop doing what we asked them to do as soon as we leave the area. This is especially troublesome in areas of security and patrolling,” warned members of a Regional Command North police mentor team in response to written questions from SIGAR.
Deirdre Tynan is a Bishkek-based reporter specializing in Central Asian affairs.