KABUL: Afghan President Hamid Karzai said on Sunday he was committed to disbanding private security companies, but signalled he may consider exceptions for some development projects after Washington asked for more discussions.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Karzai on Saturday and recommended the United States and Afghanistan develop a plan to replace private security guards gradually, rather than enforce a ban that could threaten millions of dollars in aid work.
A spokesman for the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said the president had ISAF support but the disbanding should not hinder development work.
Karzai issued a decree in August banning all private security contractors in Afghanistan by the end of the year, with an exception for those guarding embassies, military installations, diplomatic residences and the transport of diplomatic personnel.
The move caught US-led military forces by surprise, and some US-funded aid companies have reported they are already scaling back projects to be ready should the ban come into force in December as scheduled.
This has spurred concern in Washington that aid work may already be starting to suffer.
At a meeting of Karzai's security council, to which top diplomats in Kabul and the head of US and Nato forces in Afghanistan General David Petraeus were also invited, the president repeated his commitment to banning the companies.
But he also suggested he might consider exceptions on security provisions for major development work.
“The President of the Republic of Afghanistan thanked the international community for development projects,” Karzai's palace said in a statement about the meeting.
“At the same time he asked those big international development projects which need security to present a list of their projects and security needs to the Afghan government so it can review these and take a decision.”
Many of the organisations that deliver hundreds of millions of dollars of US aid work in violent parts of Afghanistan, or are targets for insurgents because of their ties to the US government, say they cannot operate without security.
However private security firms have become a point of friction because some have been involved in high-profile shootings and other incidents.
A US Senate inquiry into private security in Afghanistan concluded this month that funds had sometimes been funnelled to warlords who were linked to the Taliban, murder and kidnapping.
Clinton “suggested building a joint plan to steadily replace contractors while managing the impact on existing operations,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said.
Nato-led military forces are also talking to the government about the disbanding process.
“For ISAF (private security companies) have been a concern for years already, so we are in clear support of what the president is looking at,” spokesman Brigadier-General Josef Blotz told a news conference.
“However the point is that we need to talk about a very prudent and reasonable way to implement the decree,” he said.