Ahmed Wali Karzai (ISAFMedia photo)
Ahmed Wali Karzai (photo: ISAFMedia on Flickr)

In a Reuters article on Sunday, we see yet another call from Hamid Karzai’s government in Afghanistan for the disbanding of US private security firms. It is undisputed that these firms represent a huge destabilizing presence, as seen by the small riot that ensued in Kabul on July 30 when a vehicle driven by DynCorp personnel was responsible for the deaths of four Afghans in a traffic accident. But in calling for the disbanding of US security contractors, is Karzai promoting peace or simply consolidating businesses controlled by his brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai?

After providing the background that there are probably between 30,000 and 40,000 private security contractors in Afghanistan ostensibly under the control of US firms, but noting that last year the US was unable to provide an accurate count, the Reuters article then quotes Hamid Karzai:

Karzai has criticized private security guards often in the past but launched a stinging attack at the weekend, saying they were too costly and were "daily creating miseries."

/snip/

"We ask the international community to dissolve these private security companies because Afghanistan no more has the ability to afford these companies."

But I found this throw-away sentence buried near the end of the Reuters article especially informative:

Karzai’s government tried unsuccessfully last year to register the firms, find out the amount of arms they had and where they came from, and how much money the industry was worth, an Afghan security source said.

What possible reason would Hamid Karzai have for wanting to know the value of the private security market in Afghanistan? For the answer to that question, here is a portion of the testimony of Danielle Brian, Executive Director of the Project on Government Oversight, on June 18 of this year before the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan:

In the short term, we need to significantly improve the government’s capacity to oversee security contracts. One of the biggest weaknesses in the government’s oversight of PSCs [Private Security Contractors] is its inability to scrutinize subcontractors, particularly in Afghanistan. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) is currently auditing the number and volume of contracts in place to provide security services in Afghanistan. As Raymond DiNunzio testified before the Commission last month, “The U.S. does not have the ability to monitor Afghan security contractors or determine the nature of their affiliation or allegiance. Similarly, the U.S. government has difficulty identifying and monitoring second and third tier subcontractors that are Afghan or third-country-owned businesses. Multi-tiered subcontracting is problematic and results in weak oversight control and accountability.”[9]

Rumors abound that there is massive corruption at those subcontractor levels. The Afghanistan Ministry of Interior encourages private security companies to partner with Afghan companies, many of which are allegedly controlled by relatives of President Karzai.[10] When you are talking about corruption in security contracting in a war zone, this is not simply about dollars wasted. PSC personnel have repeatedly told POGO that the only way convoys are assured a safe passage is if the security contractors pay off the local warlords not to target their convoy. The issue here is that we don’t know who U.S. dollars are paying—are they actually paying off the very people our troops are fighting?

Digging a bit further, here is an excerpt (pdf) from footnote number 10 in Brian’s testimony, where she mentions control of subcontractors by family members of Hamid Karzai:

Although there are numerous private security companies in Kandahar, they are ultimately controlled or influenced by a small number of powerbrokers. Ahmad Wali Karzai retains significant influence with the PSCs run by the Karzai family, including Asia Security Group and Watan Risk Management. He also directly controls other forces, including his own personal security detail and the Kandahar Strike Force.4 Finally, his hand-picked commanders, Haji Seyid Jan Khakrezwal and Akhtar Mohammad, respectively control the Provincial Council Security Force and the security forces that operate in Ayno Mena, the gated community in Kandahar that he financed and developed.5 Finally, Watan Risk Management has subcontracted to the security forces of Commander Ruhullah , Haji Seyid Jan Khakrezwal’s nephew, to secure Highway One from Kandahar to Kabul.

Ahmed Wali has thus already largely consolidated the PSCs in Kandahar under his influence, although the units retain their own commanders and individual unit names. He does not control all PSCs in Kandahar, however. Other powerbrokers, including Gul Agha Sherzai, the former governor of Kandahar and the current governor of Nangarhar, maintain private security forces in the province. For example, Gul Agha provides security for Haji Abdullah Khan (a wealthy banker and owner of the construction firm that built the houses in Aino Mena).6 Further consolidation of private security forces in Kandahar may allow Ahmed Wali Karzai to bring his rivals’ security forces under the control of a commander loyal and responsive to him.

Most people who are aware of Ahmed Wali Karzai only know of him through the rumors of his ties to the drug trade or the disclosure that he is on the CIA payroll. But even the New York Times story where the CIA connection was first disclosed has a hint of these security contracting activities, while suggesting his paramilitary group called the Kandahar Strike Force mentioned above is directly paid by and partially controlled by the CIA:

The relationship between Mr. Karzai and the C.I.A. is wide ranging, several American officials said. He helps the C.I.A. operate a paramilitary group, the Kandahar Strike Force, that is used for raids against suspected insurgents and terrorists.

When Hamid Karzai’s government asked the US to provide an estimate of the value of private security contracting in Afghanistan, it would appear that Hamid was just doing market research for his brother, who appears to be in position to control that market entirely when US companies are excluded. If Hamid Karzai is able to drive US private security companies out of Afghanistan, then it stands to reason that Ahmed Wali Karzai will be able to price his services appropriately when the Afghanistan government puts out its own security contracts. I suspect that once these contracts are kept within the family, Hamid Karzai will no longer claim that Afghanistan cannot afford them.