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How About Those Other Private Military Contractors?

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Most media coverage or private military and security contractors focused on Western companies. There are understandable reasons for this, given their size, capitalization, monetary value of the contracts they hold, their connections, and, their clients.

But there are far more non-Western companies, especially on the security side, who are essentially off the radar. And for all the criticism that Western private security contractors receive, much of it, though not all, unjustified, they often are veritable paragons of virtue compared to local firms providing security.

As a case in point consider a study released last month by the Washington, DC-based
Institute for the Study of War.

Written by research analyst Carl Forsberg the study "Politics and Power in Kandahar" reported some astonishing things regarding the provision of security in Afghanistan. While this is not a secret in Afghanistan it is hardly ever talked about in the U.S. media

He writes that since 2006, the Karzai family has established its own major private security firms and private militias, which give them even greater influence over the commanders who have become their dependents.

Several of these firms have major interests across Afghanistan, not just in Kandahar. The largest Karzai family-controlled firm in southern Afghanistan is the Asia Security Group (ASG), run by Hashmat Karzai, the cousin of President Karzai.

Last December the New York Times reported that Hashmat Karzai allegedly murdered Yar Mohammad Karzai, a cousin of President Karzai.

ASG once claimed to have over 10,000 security personnel available, and operates an office in Kandahar, among other cities. The scale of the operation suggests that the militias of key regional actors may fall under the aegis of ASG and provide it with its manpower. The ASG, in turn, is part of Asia Group International, which includes construction and logistics contracting firms. In addition to ASG, the extended Karzai family also runs Watan Risk Management. Headed by another pair of cousins of the Karzai family, Ahmad and Rashid Popal, Watan is a major provider of security for international convoys moving along the Kabul to Kandahar road. It, like ASG, is part of a
larger business conglomerate, the Watan Group, which is also invested in telecommunications and logistics. The financial resources of these groups, as well as their access to lucrative ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] contracts, puts them in a position to incorporate subsidiary militia groups across Afghanistan, and particularly in the south, where these firms can further Ahmed Wali Karzai's [President Karzai's half-brother] political interests. Karzai-affiliated contracting firms have benefited from the influence of the Karzai network over the Ministry of Interior in Kabul. The Afghan Ministry of the interior introduced a licensing procedure for private security companies in the spring of 2008, denying licenses to a number of previously active Afghan firms, but, despite some controversy, authorizing Karzai-affiliated firms like ASG and Watan.

THE ISW report says "In the course of eight years, President Hamid Karzai's brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, has, with the support of family members, built a political and commercial empire in Kandahar. By the end of 2009, all significant institutions desiring influence within the framework of the post-2001 afghan government were dependent upon his blessing."

Now that's clout. Erik Prince, who helped found Blackwater, can only look on with envy.

Yesterday WIRED's Danger Room reported that early this week, the Afghan government barred two private security firms after separate incidents in which hired guards shot and killed civilians on a dangerous southern highway. One of the firms, Compass Integrated Security Solutions, maintains offices in Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Iraqi Kurdistan; a second, Watan Risk Management, describes itself as "Afghan owned and British managed."

Also on May 10 the Financial Times reported that the US government is facing fresh questions on its oversight of war funding amid mounting evidence that a $2.16 billion trucking contract is enriching Afghan warlords linked to Ahmed Wali Karzai, who is also the chairman of Kandahar's provincial council. Investigators are looking into whether millions of taxpayers' dollars are being paid to militia commanders to protect convoys ferrying supplies through Kandahar province, where US troops are preparing an offensive.

For more coverage of Watan see here.