Crackdown on contractors in Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan – Afghan authorities this week shut down two private security companies and said more than 10 others – some suspected of murder and robbery – would soon be closed, Afghan and Western officials said yesterday.

In a crackdown echoing efforts by Iraqi authorities to rein in private security contractors often accused of acting with impunity, authorities Tuesday shut down two Afghan-run security companies, Watan and Caps, where 82 illegal weapons were found during the two raids in Kabul, police said.

A Western security official, speaking anonymously because of the issue’s sensitivity, said some major Western companies were on the list of at least 10 others tapped for closure. He would not identify them.

The Sept. 16 incident in which Blackwater USA guards are accused of killing 17 Iraqi civilians has focused attention on nebulous rules governing private guards and added to the Bush administration’s problems in managing the war in Iraq.

Dozens of security companies also operate in Afghanistan. Some are well-known U.S. firms such as Blackwater and Dyncorps, but also many others that may not be known even to the Afghan government. The U.S. military employs about 29,000 private contractors in Afghanistan for a variety of goods and services. About 1,000 of those are security contractors, a Defense Department spokesman said.

The Afghan government’s main complaints against the companies are lack of accountability, intimidation of citizens, disrespect of local security forces, and companies that don’t cooperate with authorities, according to draft rules up for debate by the Afghan government.

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