Category Archives: Updated or Corrected Posts

Document Dump: Private Security Companies and the Afghan Public Protection Force

Document: Private Security Companies Give Way to the Afghan Public Protection Force
Author: Mark Checcia, NATO Civil-Military Fusion Center (CIMIC)
Published: October 1, 2011
Source: This report is hosted by CIMIC on its website, which is balky and requires that you request an account to browse through the most recent files; they do have a section on Afghanistan reports released to the public, but don’t offer an RSS feed for new releases. I found it through the Human Security Gateway Project, which frequently posts reports culled from CIMIC (although sometimes a few months after their initial publication date), among other sources. I’ve also uploaded a copy in my Scribd library.

Key Content: Never having worked for NATO command myself, I’m not certain exactly how CIMIC feeds into the process in actual practice, but my understanding is that it’s meant to act as a sort of auxiliary research / think tank arm with a particular focus on civil-military issues. This particular brief outlines some of the latest developments on private security contractors in Afghanistan, although it primarily relies on other secondary or tertiary sources and doesn’t do a lot of new reporting itself. It’s a quick read but not the most detailed take and parts are now out of date, so I’m mostly going to use it as an excuse to riff on the issue of private security in Afghanistan. The whole process of the privatization and outsourcing of security by the U.S. government in the post-Cold War era has been explored at length in books like Peter Singer’s Corporations at War or Deborah Avant’s The Market for Force, but as the chart on page 2 of the CIMIC piece shows, the surge of U.S. forces and money into Afghanistan that began in 2009 was closely matched by a surge in the number of private security personnel operating in-country.

March 2011 data indicates that the vast majority (95%) of these contractors have actually been Afghan nationals, not foreigners, which is almost the reverse model of Iraq, where most were either American or third-country nationals (this CRS report, from which a lot of the CIMIC brief is drawn, indicates that only about 6% of Iraqi security contractor personnel were Iraqi nationals as of March of 2011; see charts on page 15 and 18 of the pdf). There was an early emphasis under the McChrystal command in Afghanistan to locally-source U.S. military contracts for materiel, security and logistics; Afghanistan also has a fresh history of independent armed groups, many of whose “demobilized” commanders were happy to take advantage of the surge in U.S. spending to put their gunmen to work in the security contracting sector.

As the CIMIC piece gingerly notes, Pres. Karzai has not been thrilled by these developments and for several years now has been pushing for NATO and other international donors working in Afghanistan to stop relying on private security contractors and instead support Afghan government-controlled security forces. Any Karzai speech or interview these days is almost guaranteed to feature a couple of references to “parallel institutions”; he makes many of the same points about Provincial Reconstruction Teams. The popular conception of the Karzai government still sees him as a marginalized figure, the “mayor of Kabul,” but as I’ve attempted to highlight in the past, the actual formal authorities of the Afghan government are highly centralized and in practice he has been relatively successful at coopting or removing rivals. Plenty of “local power brokers” (the euphemism of choice) operate semi- or totally independently from the Afghan government (even if some carry official titles or affiliations) thanks to direct ties to international military or development organizations, but the Karzai administration has been able to leverage the badge of international legitimacy as the recognized state government to capture a reasonably sizable portion of the resources and use its power of appointments to coopt potential challengers through patronage.

Ultimately the Afghan government is a rentier organization seeking to capture control over international resource flows; this more than anything I think should be understood as Karzai’s overriding goal (it is one past Afghan central governments have also shared; Barnett Rubin’s Fragmentation of Afghanistan discusses at some length the historical dependency on external aid of a number of Afghan governments). The international community has never consistently prioritized the delivery of its contributions to Afghanistan through the government, though, which has seriously complicated its ability to consolidate control over the country. The Karzai government is neither politically inclusive enough to mobilize broad popular support on its own, nor does it have a sufficient monopoly over resources or force that it can suppress rival claimants to power (insurgent or otherwise). It’s a rough position to be in and for all his flaws, it’s frankly amazing Karzai has been able to balance it as long as he has.

Karzai pushed the private security company issue to the brink most recently last spring, initially vowing to bar all companies from operating in the country by the end of 2010 but backing off in the face of a concerted pushback from international donors who lack the in-house capability to secure their projects around the country and don’t trust the Afghan security services to do the job for them. (And since those donors control the purse strings, Karzai can only push the issue so far.) The compromise “bridging strategy” plan calls for a gradual phase-out of the use of contractors through 2013, to be replaced by the “Afghan Public Protection Force” (APPF), which just so happens to be a government-controlled security force. This force will be controlled by the Interior Ministry, which already controls the Afghan National Police and at least nominally is supposed to control the Afghan Local Police militia program; the APPF will supposedly provide “static security” and recruits are offered minimal training and pay. In theory, APPF members will eventually be merged into the ANP and the Afghan army.

Unanswered Questions: Despite pleas from the Afghan government for continued support, it is a fair bet that the transition process over the next two years is going to be accompanied massive shifts in the level of resources currently pouring into the country, and while the productive impact of that spending may have been limited, the political impact has the potential to be quite high. Afghanistan is a resource-poor country and will become resource-poorer as direct international financial flows decrease and the indirect contributions of a large-scale international presence are reduced.

The security sector, like the construction sector and a few others, will likely be disproportionately affected by this change (as it was disproportionately affected by the surge of spending over the past two years) and those currently working in it will have to chase what sources of revenue remain — which as of right now, appears to be the Afghan government at least as far as private security details are concerned. (The other big source to consider of course will probably be opium production; I’ve seen at least a few analysts suggest that some recent drops in poppy production in Afghanistan can be attributed to the fact that tapping into international aid flows have in fact been more lucrative in recent years.)

The big unanswered question behind the APPF plan is what’s going to happen to the approximately 18,000 Afghan contractors who are going to be put out of business when private security companies are officially banned. The APPF, at least in pilot form, is only about 8,000-strong. As the chart of Afghan-owned private security companies that have already been disbanded by the government (on page 3 of the CIMIC report) shows, many of these companies in fact have links to powerful figures within the Afghan government. We can expect some of these contractor outfits with existing official links to then don official APPF uniforms and start collecting a government paycheck with little change; noted Uruzgan strongman Matiullah Khan has already made this transition with a new provincial police chief appointment. (With a stronger base of support from which to suppress rivals, the Karzai government could try to establish an entirely new security force altogether, but given its uncertain position, cooptation of existing armed groups is probably a safer strategy.)

But for those individuals who lose out in the competition for government legitimacy and continued access to resources, the value of maintaining a foot in the government camp may diminish as contracting dries up, leading them to consider other strategies and complicating the Karzai government’s ability to keep them on board. If no efforts are made to plan for their effective demobilization and these private armed groups and their political patrons do split from the government, they will join an already combustible mix of insurgents (of varying levels of cohesion), regular Afghan security forces (which the Afghan government cannot sustain at current sizes and the international community appears increasingly unwilling to do), and irregular militias like the ALP.

As it is, the latest reports suggest that preparations for the scheduled phase-out are still lagging and that little has been done to actually train up the APPF, or plan for its long-term funding.

Update: Reader Paul Cassidy (@ketkhost) flagged an issue over e-mail that I glossed over in my first pass through the CIMIC report – the $100-250 a month salary for a member of the APPF represents would represent a substantial pay cut for many currently-serving Afghan private security contractors. I believe Afghan salary differential issues are usually discussed in terms of the professionals and translators working in the Afghan ministries or for the international coalition, many of whom have received “top-ups” to their government salaries as a form of incentive (and possibly a way of keeping them independent from the government and attentive to the concerns of the international donors, although I don’t know if that’s the intention). Part of the transition process is going to involving triaging just which of these ministries’ employees the international community will keep funding at these higher levels and which face cuts; there appears to be little plan right now for the armed professionals serving in the private security sector who are now facing an 80% pay cut and competition for a government job.

Additional Context and Further Reading:

If you have suggestions or documents you’d like to share for future installments of this feature, on any subject, please feel free to contact me.

Disclaimer: During my brief time working in an election observation mission in Afghanistan last year, I relied, like many others, on the protection of a private security company during my time in Kabul. From my perspective they were professional, relatively flexible in their willingness to accommodate travel around a dangerous country, and mostly British. I don’t think my subsequent opinions or writings on the use of private security contractors were substantially impacted by my interactions with them in Kabul, but take it for what it’s worth.