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Aid Agencies Threaten To Leave Afghanistan As President Karzai Orders Private Security Firms To Dissolve

“Companies and aid organizations implementing hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S.-funded projects here say they are preparing to leave Afghanistan unless President Hamid Karzai amends a decree that outlaws their private security protection,” the Wall Street Journal reports. Accusing private firms of “causing civilian casualties and colluding with the Taliban,” Karzai ordered them to dissolve by 2011; he has made an exception for foreign military bases and embassies but not aid and development organizations, according to the newspaper.

“The aid groups and U.S. Agency for International Development contractors are increasingly worried about staff safety as violence continues to rise. Under Mr. Karzai’s plan, private security guards should be replaced with Afghan police, a body seen by many foreign organizations as inept and unreliable,” the Wall Street Journal continues (Abi-Habib, 10/21).

A report put together by the Overseas Security Advisory Council and delivered to the U.S. Embassy in Kabul estimates “that of a total of $5.1bn worth of US aid earmarked for spending by the 59 companies, 18 projects worth $1.4bn would have to be shut down, starting at the end of this month,” the Guardian writes, noting that there is “widespread scepticism about [Karzai’s] motives for suddenly bringing forward the deadline” for ousting the private security firms (Boone, 10/21).

CNN adds that the government set a Dec. 17 deadline for “unregistered companies to shut down.” Caitlin Hayden, the U.S. Embassy spokeswoman in Kabul, said “[w]e’re not aware that any U.S.-funded projects have stopped operating, but without clarity our partners are making plans for the possibility they are unable to continue their work here,” the news service reports (Starr/Dougherty, 10/22). Meanwhile, the State Department “said earlier this week that it was working with Karzai’s administration ‘to fully understand what it is trying to do’ with the ban,” Associated Press/Washington Post reports (Lee, 10/21).

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.