KABUL Afghan security forces will be more than capable of safeguarding the country, the government said on Sunday, repeating in some of its strongest criticism yet that troublesome Western private security units should be disbanded.
Siyamak Herawi, a spokesman for Afghan President Hamid Karzai, said the push to scrap firms employing tens of thousands of private security guards was linked to Karzai's 2014 timetable for Afghan forces to take over all security and operational responsibilities from U.S. and NATO-led forces.
"The government wants to deal thoroughly with the companies and now that the capacity of the Afghan government is gradually increasing those entities in need of security individuals can use organized and educated Afghan soldiers," Herawi told Reuters.
Private security companies competing for contracts worth billions of dollars have long been an irritant for Afghan and U.S. and NATO forces in the country after a series of scandals.
The companies, who the Afghan government estimates employ 30,000-40,000 guards, work mainly for Western enterprises in Afghanistan. Last year, the U.S. government said it did not know how many contractors, of any kind, it employs in Afghanistan.
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."
"They trample our people's rights and disrupt security," Karzai told the Civil Services Institute in a speech on Saturday.
"We ask the international community to dissolve these private security companies because Afghanistan no more has the ability to afford these companies."
A senior spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) backed Karzai, saying binding rules were needed and that such firms should be properly registered.
"ISAF is welcoming this initiative because obviously private security companies are a concern," ISAF spokesman Brigadier General Josef Blotz told a media conference.
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.
More than 140,000 foreign troops, and some 300,000 Afghan security forces, are battling the Taliban in an insurgency that has reached its worst point since the Islamist militants were ousted by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in 2001.
Casualties for troops and civilians have reached record levels but U.S. President Barack Obama, who has committed an extra 30,000 troops to the fight, wants to begin a gradual reduction from July 2011.
Herawi said Karzai was drawing up a plan to convince his allies the companies were causing instability.
Some of the firms also have ties with Afghan regional power brokers who are involved in multi-million dollar reconstruction projects by foreign forces. Afghans particularly see them as accumulating wealth and power rather than caring for Afghanistan.
The former commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, said in April the use of private contractors to support military and security operations in conflict zones had gone too far.
This came soon after Washington said it was looking into accusations of a rogue unit using contractors to help hunt militants in Afghanistan.
The U.S. State Department said last year it would review its use of contractors at overseas embassies after a scandal over sexual hazing by security guards at the U.S. embassy in Kabul.
(Additional reporting by Andrew Hammond; Editing by Paul Tait)