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A “Private Army” for Afghanistan?

Blackwater, aka Xe, over Afghanistan, Photo: US Army  via Danger Room

Blackwater, aka Xe, over Afghanistan, Photo: US Army via Danger Room

Nathan Hodge over at Danger Room is reporting:

The U.S. military is mulling a plan to build a private army to protect bases throughout Afghanistan. On July 10, the Army issued a request for information from companies interested in bidding on an Afghanistan-wide security contract. While a formal solicitation has not been launched, the idea would be to provide security services for approximately 50 or more forward operating bases or command outposts throughout Afghanistan.

Use of private security contractors to protect bases is not new: In Iraq, the U.S. military hired guards to provide fixed-site security at installations throughout the country. Old joke from Iraq: Q: What’s the password to get into the dining facility? A: Jambo, rafiki! (”Hello, friend!” in Swahili — lots of Ugandans were employed as private guards in Iraq.)

As we’ve reported before, Afghanistan has also seen a surge in demand for private security contractors. Back in November, the government issued a solicitation for armed guards to protect installations in southern Afghanistan. In January, U.K. security firm Aegis won a contract to run Afghanistan’s “armed contractor oversight directorate,” which is responsible for keeping tabs on armed contractors hired by the U.S. military, much like the Reconstruction Operations Center in Iraq. Companies like Blackwater Xe have long provided contracted air services (pictured here).

The proliferation of private security operators in Afghanistan could be problematic, however. As Danger Room pal Nancy Youssef reported last week, residents of Kabul are growing resentful of the intimidating convoys of armored SUVs that block traffic and wave their weapons at frightened commuters. Private security firms should be mindful of Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s directive, which instructs the troops to “respect and protect” the Afghan population.

I realize that the US military is over-extended and that the Afghans are not in a position to take over this role. But is this really a good idea? Given the experiences of  contractors like Blackwater and others, does it make sense to rely on such use of these private security forces? Indeed, these groups are still in some what of a murky status under international law.

(HT: MollyDugganLLC)

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Anthony Clark Arend is Professor of Government and Foreign Service at Georgetown University and the Director of the Master of Science in Foreign Service in the Walsh School of Foreign Service.

Commentary and analysis at the intersection of international law and politics.