WASHINGTON The United States and Afghanistan should develop a joint plan to replace private security guards gradually rather than enforce a ban that could threaten millions of dollars in aid work, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recommended on Saturday.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Clinton telephoned Afghan President Hamid Karzai to offer ideas on his decision to ban all private security contractors from December, a move that could force some development and reconstruction projects to stop due to lack of protection.
Clinton "suggested building a joint plan to steadily replace contractors while managing the impact on existing operations," Crowley said in a message on Twitter.
"Clinton pledged to work cooperatively to support a smooth transition to full Afghan security responsibility," Crowley said.
U.S. media reports have said the proposed security guard ban could imperil about $1.5 billion in reconstruction work, including projects key to NATO's counterinsurgency strategy in the Afghan war.
While providing vital services in the war-torn country, the private security firms have become a point of friction because some have been involved in high-profile shootings and other incidents.
A U.S. Senate inquiry into private security contracting in Afghanistan concluded this month that funds had sometimes been funneled to warlords who were linked to the Taliban, murder and kidnapping.
Karzai issued a decree in August banning all private security contractors in Afghanistan within four months. The move caught U.S.-led military forces by surprise, and many officials expressed concern about the difficulty of achieving Karzai's goal so quickly.
Thousands of private security contractors -- both Afghans and foreigners -- guard everything from U.S. military bases and embassies to development projects, key infrastructure, supply convoys and important officials.
Some 26,000 private security personnel -- a large proportion of them Afghan nationals -- were in Afghanistan under U.S. Defense Department contracts as of May 2010, the report said, citing figures from the U.S. Central Command's Armed Contractor Oversight Directorate.
Some U.S.-funded development companies have reported that they already are scaling back projects to be ready should the ban come into force in December as scheduled, spurring concern in Washington that essential aid work may already be starting to suffer.
Karzai modified his decree last week, agreeing to permit private security guards to protect embassies, military bases and depots, diplomatic residences and the transport of diplomatic personnel.
(Reporting by Andrew Quinn; Editing by Philip Barbara)